CHOICE membership

Is the truth always necessary?

Every day there are many reports in the media about fake news and how we live in the post-truth era. Daily a new account appears of one of our leaders being economical with the truth, of cover-ups and secrets kept through careful management of freedom of information legislation, or freedom from information as some would have it.

There are cases where we are told secrets must be kept for reasons of national security and it is hard to argue that this is not reasonable - if the matter really is of national security. Similarly we are given ‘commercial in confidence’ as a reason for secrecy and it must be required sometimes during complex multi-party negotiations but too often it seems to me that this is code for ‘likely to cause embarrassment’.

Some sections of the media proudly proclaim their credentials in tracking down and exposing government and corporate lies and truth hiding, some create their own lies hourly and some are in between.

Look at government and media responses to the pandemic. There seems to be some tension between governments who want to prevent panic (or disguise their incompetence) and the media who want to ensure we read the truth (or beat up a story and sell more clicks and subscriptions).

So what is new you say? In war the first casualty is always truth. The pandemic has been described somewhat excessively as a war. I have two questions.

  • When is it reasonable for governments to conceal facts and when is it reasonable for the media to abet this?

  • Given that all vendors try to make their product as saleable as possible, how far should media go in selling their product by expanding anxiety and outrage?

It did not help the situation to incite people to want facemasks and COVID tests that simply were not available.

Images of empty toilet paper shelves went a long way towards causing shelves to be empty. Society created a problem out of nothing. Sections of the media, social media in particular, make a living out of generating and sustaining such self-reinforcing loops. There are obviously times when this is quite destructive.

The pandemic will be one of the great economic disruptions of our time and sadly some people are dying but it isn’t of the scale of a world war. How serious must the situation become before we give serious thought to the question of what truth should be told and when?

2 Likes

Never. The media should obey the law, nothing more. This forces the government of the day to expose any proposed restrictions to the scrutiny of parliament and the political process, rather than relying on cozy back-room deals.

Partly. You could equally well blame profiteering or even foreign entities.

However the right way of addressing that, in my opinion, is not to censor images of empty toilet paper shelves, but instead to ration - as supermarkets have done (voluntarily).

In my opinion, commercial-in-confidence should never apply to public projects. Part of the cost of doing business with the public sector should be transparency. If a company is not prepared to be transparent then it should voluntarily exclude itself.

I think many, myself included, would share your cynicism regarding how FoI and C-in-C are used to conceal failure and incompetence, and to avoid embarrassment.

There are times when this applies, but we definitely don’t have the balance right at the moment.

3 Likes

Reviving this topic because it seems relevant to a Chrome addon that was recently recommended to me. Increasingly, it seems, truth is relative. There’s a part of society that views any conflict between reality and its beliefs as a problem with reality. Associated media tend to report belief as reality. The addon deals with some of that media.

image

1 Like

A pity that Big Tech caved in to the government then. You could have had those news web sites blocked automatically :wink: without having to install an add-on with unknown functionality.

I personally would prefer to use something like PiHole if I wanted to block content - because I control it and I know what it is blocking.

2 Likes