The Labour MP leading the party’s inquiry into fake news has weighed in on the Donald Trump dossier debate as he tells journalists they have a “clear duty” to make efforts to verify information.
Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East and former shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said Trump deserved scrutiny “on the basis of truth and reality – not on fake news”.
Buzzfeed published the full, unredacted dossier containing salacious claims about the President-Elect this week after it was first leaked to US broadcaster CNN.
A number of UK media publishers, including the Guardian, the Times and the BBC, revealed they had passed on the dossier last year after being unable to verify its explosive claims.
Dugher wrote in the Guardian today: “There is a clear duty on news organisations and journalists to make strenuous efforts to verify the information they receive to ensure it is accurate and to avoid the temptation to publish clickbait nonsense in a voracious quest for web traffic.
“It is not good enough to say we have serious doubts about this story, but we are going to publish it anyway.”
Labour’s fake news inquiry has been set up by shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport Tom Watson MP following concerns over the growing prevalence of fake news.
The party has said it is “open-minded” about the findings and has called on members of the public and news media platforms to submit evidence, with a report expected in Spring.
Fake news is defined as stories portrayed as real but which are actually fabricated and have either been created as political propaganda or as a cynical source of online revenue (or often both).
The issue gained focus during the US Presidential Election, where stories such as the one claiming Pope Francis endorsed Trump for President are thought to have influenced voters, despite being completely made up.
Dugher said: “In Britain too, our politics risks becoming infected by this contagion. Rumours on social media can quickly get picked up by the mainstream media and given wider circulation without proper checks.
“We must not allow fake news to undermine our democracy or we risk the prospect of people’s political choices being formed on the basis of lies.”
But the Labour politician said the inquiry did not aim to undermine the “increased plurality” of news provided by the internet, adding: “For too long, the way news is reported in Britain has been concentrated in the hands of those who run the mainstream media
“The news agenda has been dominated by national newspapers, large sections of which are controlled by unaccountable billionaires. The explosion in the number of outlets means people have more choice than ever about how, when and from where they get their news.”
He added: “Everyone who wants to see honest and rigorous news reporting, proper fact-checking, investigative journalism and robust political debate also has an interest in fighting fake news.
“The only people who have anything to fear from this inquiry are those who are deliberately spreading stories they know to be untrue or those who are turning a blind eye to it.
“We have a responsibility to stand up for good journalism everywhere. It is an essential part of our free speech and our democracy. The old adage that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes has never been more true.
“The growing risks posed to our democracy mean we can no longer ignore the threat from the proliferation of false news stories.”
Picture: Reuters/Darren Staples