By Tang Ziyi

The Journalism & Media Studies Centre (JMSC) held a talk titled “Why media ethics matter in the era of fake news” at the University of Hong Kong last Wednesday. Two senior members of the Agence France-Presse (AFP) management team discussed key aspects of their code of ethics.

Former editor-in-chief Eric Wishart and Asia Pacific regional director Philippe Massonnet talked about how to fight fake news in the era of social media. They talked about the importance of ethics, morality, accuracy, and objectivity. Common issues such as taking freebies, dealing with conflicts of interest and protecting victims’ rights were also discussed.

The AFP code of ethics was previously published in English, French, Spanish and also Arabic. Working in collaboration with the JMSC, the code was also published in Simplified Chinese in November last year.

“Chinese media is becoming more influential and powerful in the world,” said Massonnet. “Even foreigners consume Chinese news.”

Massonnet worked as a foreign correspondent for 14 years in Beijing. He said that in the past few decades, the way the Chinese people consume news has changed a lot. There are a large number of young people now who read news on their mobile phones, changing the way Chinese journalists produce news.

Even though fake news is becoming common due to social media, journalists are working with platforms like Google or Facebook to fight it.

While journalists should strive to give both sides of the argument, they should avoid what is known as “false balance”—giving a platform to discredited views in an attempt to appear unbiased, such as systematically quoting climate change deniers when covering global warming. This became an important issue in the US election, when CNN and other networks gave large amounts of air time to supporters of Donald Trump—know as “surrogates”—who defended factually inaccurate claims he made.

“The most important thing is always accuracy,” said Wishart. He learned this when drafting the AFP code of ethics and reviewing codes from other media organizations. “And also minimizing harm to people.” He continued to say that the code set a red line to inform journalists what they should and should not to do.

“We should not put everything on social media platforms as soon as we see it,” said Matthew Xia, a JMSC student who did a social media internship with Forbes in Hong Kong. “Check the source, find the original article and then post it.”

But Massonnet said fact checking is not enough to fight fake news. “If you’re producing news without quality, you would lose.”

Massonnet said that he expects the code to teach journalists how to survive in a world of fake news, social media and heavy communication, especially for Chinese journalists.

“It won’t change how the Chinese government limits freedom for Chinese journalists but if it can help them become better, as it has for French and American journalists, then I think it’s a good tool.”

“Go on the ground, go in the field, see with your own eyes,” said Massonnet when offering suggestions to young journalists.

“The purpose of a journalist is to find what’s happening, not to copy what others are doing.”

 

Tang Ziyi is a student in the Master of Journalism programme at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre.

Photography by Li Chen.

14 February 2018

AFP hosts talk on evolving ethical concerns for journalists today

By Tang Ziyi The Journalism & Media Studies Centre (JMSC) held a talk titled “Why media ethics matter in the era of fake news” at the University of Hong Kong last Wednesday. Two senior members […]
7 February 2018

Hong Kong court overturns protest leaders’ prison sentences

2 February 2018

JMSC students broaden their skills, cultural horizons with winter internships

By George Russell From stray dogs to censorship, JMSC’s Master of Journalism candidates encountered a range of real-world issues during their exciting winter internships, in which 55 students were placed in newsrooms around Hong Kong, […]
12 December 2017

Master of Journalism 2018-19 Admissions Webinar: 13 January

You may not be able to make it to the HKU campus, so we’re coming to you… Sign up for a webinar about the HKU Master of Journalism (MJ) programme to ask admissions-related questions directly to our […]
8 December 2017

Time to move on

  By Thomas Abraham In the autumn of 2003, I stepped into a classroom on an upper floor of Meng Wah Complex with all the confidence of a condemned man being delivered to an executioner. I […]
9 November 2017

Master of Journalism 2018-19 Information Session (6 Dec)

Date: 6 December 2017 (Wednesday) Time: 6:30–8:00 p.m. Venue: Digital Media Lab, G/F, Eliot Hall, HKU Register at jmscmj@hku.hk or call +852 3917 4113. Applications for the 2018–2019 Master of Journalism (MJ) programme is now open, and the […]
6 November 2017

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong talks to TIME about life behind bars, by Kevin Lui (MJ 2015)

1 November 2017

2018-19 Master of Journalism programme open for applications

By George W. Russell Applications for admission to the 2018-2019 Master of Journalism (MJ) course are now being accepted, and MJ Programme Director Kevin Sites and his team have a sharp vision of the type […]