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Journalists come together to fight lies, their common enemy

Staff Reporter

The media is instrumental in creating more educated, more informed, and more responsible citizens, capable of making decisions that are good not only for themselves but for society also.

This was said by the United States ambassador to Lesotho, Maria E. Brewer, when opening the ‘Protecting Democracy from Disinformation’ conference for editors and workshop for journalists in Maseru this week.

Organised by the Sky Alpha HD with support from the U.S. embassy, the two-day conference aimed to examine efforts to counter the dissemination of disinformation and misleading reporting and explore various ways editors can use to verify reliable sources of information and counter disinformation.

Tello Leballo, the founder of Sky Alpha HD, said the conference also aimed to capacitate editors to be able to detect false information and provide citizens with accurate information.

“The U.S. Embassy is supporting this ‘Protecting Democracy from Disinformation’ conference and other initiatives like it because we recognise that the single best check and balance against misinformation and disinformation is an effective, independent media,” Brewer said.

She indicated that while a strong, independent media that operates with integrity was what was best for people and societies, many actors – including governments, businesses, and other non-state actors – sought to spread dis- and misinformation for their own gain.

“We have seen such attempts to manipulate people’s perceptions of reality being used to sway elections, destroy businesses and harm economies, and instigate violence, often resulting in the loss of life,” she said.

Misinformation is the spread of false information agnostic of intent, while disinformation is the intentional spread of false information.

In the age of social media, where a malign actor can spread harmful information to tens of thousands of people in minutes, Brewer said, the need to combat disinformation was greater than ever.

She also vowed that the United States was committed to exposing efforts to spread disinformation and to strengthening the capacity of its partners to push back against it.

“In Lesotho, we have been and will continue to invest in programs that encourage strong and sustained support for democratic governance, respect for human rights, a strong civil society, media freedom, and government transparency – these are important precedents of a well-functioning democracy, of course, and when these institutions are strong, they are much harder to exploit by malign actors,” she said.

A five-day ‘Protecting Democracy from Disinformation’ workshop for journalists started yesterday at the American Corner at State Library in Maseru.

“As bearers of truth and factual accuracy, journalists have a duty to protect democracy from disinformation and misinformation by elevating authoritative information and tackling all forms of misinformation,” Leballo said.

However, he added, some journalists are not well-trained and equipped to tackle misinformation and disinformation.

He said other than causing embarrassment – and ultimately eroding journalists’ standing in the public – duplication of fake news “does considerable long-term harm”.

This workshop aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in the media landscape. We hope that at the end of this workshop you will be able to hold leaders accountable by pointing out anything that they say that is not true,” he said.

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