Bernd Fesel

Deputy Director, European Centre for Creative Economy - ECCE


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Can Social Media alone improve Truth in the News? Or is Policy Action needed to stop the Media System of Murdoch or Berlusconi?

Paul Lewis explained the benefits of citizen reporters providing independent reality bytes to his newspaper. He could create, puzzling, a new picture of reality which was closer to truth than the police stories. Technical opportunities of Social Media became moral benefits for him and for us as an society - because his newspaper had an interest to publish the social-media-reality.

As we all know the Murdoch and Berlusconi Type of Media use the same technology to some times distort reality and and to create "their" puzzle of reality which sells best. According to the newspaper journalists of News Corp. are supposed to have hacked in mobile fones and even mailboxes of a dead child. Such Media systems have vested interests in Billions per year - it is in their best interest to have news for their best business. If the news of this world are not appropriate..... News Corp. just lost 738 Millionen Dollar of earnings (3. Quarter 2010 / 2011, Süddeutsche Zeitung)

Are such econonmic interests of news companies the right incentives to generate truthful news or to critize the political class?

Doesn´t society deserves a media system built on other more moral incentives? Like Non-Profit-Foundations?

Do we need a new media system if a more sustainable and peaceful global world is to be build? Do we need a Media-Reform as we need a Banking-Reform?

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    Nov 12 2011: I do think that the world deserves a better source for news, Bernd and that is why I keep bringing up the idea of a TED playhouse. I am tired of guessing how much each bit of news is 'spun' and whether or not it is unbiased. I am truly worried about how great an effect corporations -not just news corporations- have by investment to influence the public's perception of things. The TED Playhouse of my imagination would provide an outlet for amateur and beginning documentary film makers to bring us front line perspectives. Then, as Christophe says below, we could all be our own journalists by checking other sources and questioning things but at least we would have a fairly pure first hand account as it happens in whatever location around the world. There are many important things happening daily in various places around the world that we never hear about because the media is spending 9/10s of its air time or space on meaningless celebrity gossip.
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      Nov 12 2011: good idea to centralize the amateur-reality-bytes. this could be also a research resource for the traditional media, but most of all by transparency an easy self-feeding "media-watch"....
      Debra - I like it the more I think about it.
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      Nov 12 2011: "The TED Playhouse of my imagination would provide an outlet for amateur and beginning documentary film makers to bring us front line perspectives"..."We could all be our own journalists", as bearing witnesses.
      This way truth would have a better chance.
      Great idea Debra !!
      And Christophe.
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      Nov 13 2011: I agree with you Debra. Do you know what stuck me when I was 15? For my English lessons, my teacher had us read some US magazines (I guess this was Time mag.) and I just discovered that there were a lot of news about a lot of countries we mererly never hear about in France.

      Just because, I guess for some obvious reasons, news of your country focus on what might more or less affect its audience. And nobody in France cares about what happens in New Zealand except catastrophes and world championships (these are world wide interest events), and when an event involves French Spies....
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      Nov 22 2011: Debra,
      I always assume the news in spun one way or the other because the primary goal of news is to sell shows and papers. Reporters run B role to fill in and editors make the final decisions on what gets on the air and what is hidden away. Newspapers have editors and they are guided by sales, politics, and bosses. All news is suspect because it cannot reveal the whole truth and story. Even as I write this comment and try to stay neutral biases show through.
      News paper reporters try to get those coveted awards and those who set the guides for the awards set the standards for news to some degree. This is not wrong it just puts a spin on the type and quality of news that is placed in the public eye.
      Even the Nobel Committee has standards that must be met. You do not see cartoonists getting Nobel Prizes for peace yet they give them to politicians who have done nothing for peace but sell a good line. This sets the standard to some degree.
      Maybe I am more cynical but I have seen to many bad news stories and too many poorly researched programs that miss critical facts to believe much in the news media today.
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    Nov 12 2011: I think we should not mix 2 things: journalists and witnesses. The formers are professional, the later not. This makes a big difference as journalist should work out the truth beyond just one person can witness:
    - he is supposed to get information from several sources and check they tell the same story
    - he is supposed to question things, ask some whys, hows,... and explain us how something come to happen (and not just tell what happens)

    Moreover, he is supposed to report honestly, so be either really objective, either be subjective but be clear of how are his opinions.

    Now we get what we buy for the effort we give: if we play it "lazy", let media choose what stories to be told, what opinions to have, without any ethics control, we should not be surprised that this happens and that ethics is trampled. But I agree both medias and public are responsible.

    (In the same idea, you can tell that it is immoral to see paparazzi bug famous people, that they also have the right to shop/dinner/whatever quietly, but if there were not so many people living other's life instead of taking care of their own, this would not happen.)

    So I don't think that social medias can replace the news, but I believe that it can improve the Truth there as long as it can be a counter-power, by witnessing issues/facts that medias did not mention or which contradict any forged news.
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      Nov 12 2011: Good point ! I would very much like to agree - but unfortunately pros and non-pros are mixing already. The line is being blured by the digital shift as it is already in film, book, music....
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    Nov 22 2011: How about a rating system for news broadcasts and political interviews much like the movie rating system?

    x = this segment contains untrue or misleading information and cannot be used to make intelligent , informed political decisions

    g = This segment is based on verifiable facts and contains no evidence of bias.
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      Nov 23 2011: I like this.... you can even extend "x" to "xxx". In memory of Murdoch we might even make the rating system "m" to "mmm".

      Transparency - a Media Watch by citizen. You are right. In this direction might be a solution. It will be slower than legislation, but in the end more effectively. Just think of Human Rights Watch.

      There are members of TED who proposed a similar idea to TED itself. What role can TED play in Media-Watch is also an interesting question, but I believe this would change TED very much. I feeel this must be a separate plattform.
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        Nov 23 2011: A rating system that evaluated the quality of reporting of major broadcasters and reporters on a simple objective scale that included using poor reasoning. challenging misleading and false statements, asking clear follow-up questions and confronting someone who avoids answering questions could have an effect on the ego's of the broadcasters and ratings of their programs. Combining this with a fact-check system and providing daily ratings of every major reporter and broadcaster could have an effect.

        Legislation could only pass through a ballot proposal that bypassed the legislatures. The Clean Politics Act would accomplish this in the States if enough signatures were gathered to put in on the ballot.
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        Nov 23 2011: Berndt wrote "In memory of Murdoch we might even make the rating system "m" to "mmm"."

        I would suggest that if we want a rating system that reflects the contribution of Murdoch to journalism that "AAARRRGHHHHHHHH!" be considered to designate some of what passes for news.
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    Nov 13 2011: @Bernd (no reply button?):

    Boycott is illegal as it is consdered as a discriminatory action
    (see, in French :

    Then call to boycott is illegal as is illegal any call to illegal action.
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      Nov 14 2011: And what about the french traditions of boycotting and demonstrating so much and so often? I see it on tv - or is this the wrong impression via media ?
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        Nov 14 2011: Well, demonstrating is another thing. Happily, we can still demonstrate against what an organization (company, Country, ...) does if we disagree.

        Now, medias may zoom a bit too much on this. Demonstrating is not our first leisure :) Good food primes !!
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    Nov 12 2011: Allan - Demand and its Products - of course interdepending, some times a vicious circle. How do we turn it to a good circle? In many other fields of society regulations to demand is accepted - in oder to keep the system as a whole running. Take the speed limit to stop traffic from being traffic jam, take the costs of health care - if they are not regulated a doctor could take a huge price before he saves your life....many markets need boundaries to function. that is my question to certain media structures - I am afraid these boundaries can not be set by the customer and demand? Or can you think of one?
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    Nov 12 2011: I wonder if it is actually us, the media buying public, who are ultimately responsible for those reality distortions?

    If so, then it is a sad idictment on our own sense of morality - addicted as we seem to be, to bad news and gossip.

    News Corp are responding commercially to what is in demand, a demand that we have created.

    Should we therefore be questioning the morality of the likes of News Corp, or the media-buying public and the addiction that it has for page after page of derogatory, inflammatory tittle-tattle?

    Hacking the phone of a dead child represents the absolute nadir of morality that anyone can ever conceive. It is outrageous, and probably happened also as a result of the morally impotent self-regulatory control that the media seems to hold up as a paragon of virtuous behaviour.
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    Nov 23 2011: I like this.... you can even extend "x" to "xxx". In memory of Murdoch we might make it an "m" to "mmm".

    Transparency - a Media Watch by citizen. You are right. In this direction might be a solution. It will be slower than legislation, but in the end more effectively. Just think of Human Rights Watch.

    There are members of TED who proposed a similar idea to TED itself. What role can TED play in Media-Watch is also an interesting question, but I believe this would change TED very much. I feeel this must be a separate plattform.
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    Nov 14 2011: In many business sectors monopolies and oligoplies are prohibited - doesn´t this apply to Berlusconi and Murdoch media? Maybe there is a legal reason in media laws in the certain countries for this also?

    In Germany media is highly decentralized and regionally strong - a tradition after the 2nd WorldWar.
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    Nov 12 2011: I totally agree with you about pronon-pro blurred line for anything related to raw media - a picture, a movie.

    I totally agree that the digital shift has helped this. Not because making a good picture would have become much easier - I don't think it is true - but because it is so much easier to share (so among all that people, it is easier for a good pic to reach medias) AND because we are so getting used to seeing low quality on-the-fly taken pictures and movies from phone that our requirement for a picture in media is getting lower.

    Now, when it is about journalism itself, i.e. managing information, I'm not sure that the digital world has changed a lot in the need for a pro to validate and investigate to give us sound and relevant content. I guess it has changed the means, not the need. What can change this need is our requirement: if we, as public, accept shallow and questionable information from pro media, no doubt that the competitive pressure will have pro do less before revealing something.

    And IMHO, this has
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      Nov 12 2011: Christophe, I am not familiar with IMHO or is it just an unfamiliar acronym?
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        Nov 13 2011: In My Humble Opinion.

        Sorry for this one.

        (and it seems somehow my text has be truncated :( )
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      Nov 12 2011: You are so right on the quality topic: It has not become any easier to make a good picture !

      But how do you keep up pressure on journalism pros to validate in a media system of Berlusconi?
      The people in Italy were demonstrating in the streets in front of the public television station - protesting to be report on! public tv was simply advised by Berlusconi not to report. they just designed an image of the public on tv which however did not exist.

      By the way: the financial crisis will put Berlusconi out of office finally. I never expect anything good of this crisis. I have to change my opinion now...
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        Nov 13 2011: I guess this is where social media can actually help. As we said, media works to make money, and to do so, they need an audience as large as possible.

        Social media has demonstrated 2 interesting here: the ability to share ideas and information without preliminary censorship and the ability to "mobilize" people for a cause. (look at the flash mobs for instance).

        Could we hope to use social media to ask for a boycott of censoring news feeds such as Berlusconi's companies?

        (Please note that call to boycott is illegal in some countries like France....)
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          Nov 13 2011: Now that is interesting - it is illegal to call for boycott in France.

          But is it illegal to boycott ?
          France has such a great tradition of demonstrations, opionion taken to the street.

          Thank God it is legal to report about boycott - smile.
          when artists engage we report also. our mission - culture changing the world.
          F.e. in London lately:
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      Nov 12 2011: I like "response-able-ity".
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        Nov 12 2011: Indeed "response-able-ity" is great, but still I can not agree totally with Ed: I care if my children are polluted by bad media. For me it is not enough just to say: "i choose the good media".

        It is the same as with burglars. I can not feel safe if the burglar "only" hit my neighbour, can I? Especially if the burglars are a well organized system.

        Certain media tpyes are not serving the needs, they were created for - and were even privileged for by society ! If society does not apply some rules to media - as to taxi drivers which have to show their liscence (transparency !), such media might turn out to be the mass destruction.
        Just look what happened to the British Government: Credibility lost in space? Which mustn´t bother us, but in times of finance crisis this means some Billions extra in debt, being paid by us. Media makes these news - today tripple AAA was accidentily questioned for France. A perfect chance to make profits at the stock markets in a few minutes.
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        Nov 13 2011: I like too !!
  • Nov 12 2011: There is no question that the media displays a lot of bias, Obama spot ads for almost anything he says or does that the media calls news, hides news, check out the documentary "The Secret War" (Pakistan complicity and American deaths with Congressional knowledge), etc. That's the negative side. At the same time the classical newspaper fiefdoms are dying and MOST IMPORTANTLY investigative reporting by citizens as opposed to journalists (where are the journalists like Woodward that kept the pressure on?) is unceasing along with intelligent blogs, opinions and analysis (also in the major newspapers and reflected in the ABC, CNN, BBC, Fox worlds etc. Looking back 40 years there was very little of this by comparison. This obviously translates to change...evolution and it appears healthy in many areas, Syrian news is muted by comparison to other Arab Springs as a relative example, at least in the USA. Money, politics readership polls influence this as opposed to "fair and balanced reporting? And the lack of that obviously influences public opinion. Okay so much for a statement of what is. The question is where are we going? First, readers are significantly brighter today (more informed) than yesteryear. Secondly, if you want to make money off of Ad Sense or subscriptions amongst the very competitive Internet you need to be good. That standard is actually being set today by the competition as opposed to the big guys. Perhaps a first step could be as simple as a site that ranks newspapers for quality, integrity, etc. While I am not a big fan of front page news about who the the current murdered child is or the celebrity world it's not possible to regulate this type of horror and false glitz (despite the fact it does have an impact on people and our culture) and one must accept different strokes for different folks. Standards, set by media, might be step in the right direction....the same playing field,,,, but I don't see other options.
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      Nov 12 2011: "Where are we going?" - Thinking about your proposal for a "standard". .... Do the standards for privacy and fotos work? We know that newspaper make fotos to "ask" celeb or politicians for a story.... How can me make sure that any standard could work? If they are at the same time the only one reporting about violating the standard?

      I like your idea with the ranking - what about a website which just simply lists which media is just being sued for violating laws and media regulations? or paying fines? The reader might see then that the article he is just reading has been realized under a violation off....
      • Nov 12 2011: Actually WOT, if you are familiar with it, is not a bad idea except for the fact that the various factions, democrats versus republicans, fundamentalists versus atheists, and others would simply black list each other and one would not know who to trust. But a credibility and importance ranking might be a big user hit as opposed to the glaring Danger Danger sign that Wot uses. Anyway that's a possible project that might make sense (spread the word if you agree as there may be someone interested in making more than few bucks via AD Sense - a potential mountain of "hits" as I think about it). Regulations as in law won't work for Constitutional reasons although I would subscribe to some set of rules but these would be extremely difficult to define. Take pornography as an example. If you look at US crime stats rape has actually gone down since the early eighties. My own research into this doesn't give me other probable causes. Is then pornography good or bad (particularly when 69% of this country go there). Back to standards for a moment. There are some things we could agree on. Child pornography is one already in place as is hacking to change content as examples but I personally have a difficult time trying to define come up with unacceptable content that should be banned, fined or regulated. My guess is both as we mature as a species and become saturated with what we individually consider unacceptable the culture will change and what is in vogue today will not be tomorrow. Some positive examples that support this can be seen today.....being fat, energy consumption, excessive materialism (despite the overwhelming blitz of ads everywhere - actually a sign of desperation). These subjects were non-existent not so many years back. There are undoubtedly many other ideas but in the final analysis it's the individual that must make a choice. The additional options are being vocal to influence others and teaching our kids, providing an ethical foundation for life
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          Nov 12 2011: Agreed, Agreed - it is really difficult to "come up with unacceptable content that should be banned, fined or regulated".

          But if we agree that we should try to set limits to a system like Murdochs it would be a great step. Traditional limits are economic limits like competition laws asf... But as you said: It is more about moral rules.

          But as you said: If it worked with "fat", I am hopeful that in the end enough individuals decide to say no to "bad media" !