Around the world, the media is under attack, and not just in the obvious places. In democracies like the US, Poland, Hungary and India, populist leaders and would-be dictators seek to delegitimise the press to shore up their own positions.
One of the most interesting sessions at last week’s FIPP World Congress was ‘Navigating politically turbulent times’.
Part of the challenge for the press is to understand the context they operate in and the mindset and modus operandi of those who attack them. The populist’s playbook has four main tactics: lie big, not matter how verifiable the reality; repeat the lies (and slanders) incessantly; promise it all, no matter the inherent contradictions; make it all about ‘me’: I alone can fix it!
How should the media respond? For a start, resist the temptation to fight fire with fire. Be balanced and objective, not polemical. As Politico’s Kate Day said, “our role is to report, explain, set in context: call people out, not bring people down”. For India Today’s Aroon Purie, constant exposure will eventually show people that the “emperor has no clothes”.
The Berlusconi-era approach of some in the Italian press (“report what he does, not what he says”) was given short shrift by Polityka’s Jerzy Baczynski, because “words matter”; lies must be constantly challenged, lest they settle.
One of the recurring themes of the congress was the breakdown of trust. For me, the key takeaway from this and other sessions, was that the only way to win it back was for serious minded media to always report truth, expose lies and eschew advocacy.
This session included two book recommendations; Aroon Purie suggested we all read 'On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century', by Timothy Snyder, whilst moderator Juan Senor thought George Orwell’s 1984 might be worth another look.