The document highlights as dangerous the manipulation of public opinion, with the aim of obtaining certain political objectives or inducing social behaviour with lies in the information (fakenews).
By Miguel Julio Rodríguez Villafañe
On July 29th of this year 2021, the Argentine Federation of Press Workers (FATPREN), a second degree trade union organisation, which brings together the press unions of the Argentine Republic, proposed an “Ethical Pact against Disinformation”.
It is worth highlighting the proposal as an important step forward in democratic civilisation.
The initiative states that the fight against “intentional disinformation campaigns is the responsibility of everyone, especially the media, in their role of controlling and checking information”.
The document highlights as dangerous the manipulation of public opinion, with the aim of obtaining certain political objectives or inducing social behaviour with lies in the information (fakenews) and points out that this “becomes much more complex to avoid as a consequence of the massification of digital media, through which it often becomes very difficult to detect the authorship or origin of false news”.
All of the above, the Pact affirms, implies the necessary responsibility to assume ethically, from journalism and from all sectors involved in information, not to let lies negatively flood the critical judgement of citizens, because the health of the democratic system “requires offering citizens truthful information, duly checked, both from journalism and the media, as well as from political organisations and individuals who dispute in the electoral arena”. It emphatically maintains that “society needs political discussion to be built on the basis of accurate data that emanate from reality, as well as to make the ethical values on which the country’s democratic quality is based prevail”.
It is more than evident that the use of lying and disinformation mechanisms against political opponents must be eradicated. And a more than important step is taken by determining that the “fight not only implies not generating or disseminating false news, but also the responsibility to clarify and apologise when they are produced or disseminated by members or sympathisers of any party. And in this sense, there must be an obligation on the part of political parties to publicly clarify and apologise when such situations occur”.
FATPREN also emphasised that “as a defence of democratic transparency and the quality of our profession, it assumes the responsibility of promoting among the country’s media workers the need to train themselves to act accordingly when disinformation mechanisms or false news campaigns for political purposes appear”.
Citizens and society as a whole “need political discussion to be built on the basis of accurate data that emanate from reality, as well as to make the ethical values on which the democratic quality of the country is based prevail”.
It is clear in the commitment that this must be implemented with respect for freedom of expression.
The initiative has fundamental contours in its gestation, since not only the press unions participated in the launching of the proposal, but also other unions linked to communication, information and dissemination, such as the graphic workers’ union and the canillitas union. Universities, the Ombudsman’s Office, the Argentine Forum of Community Radio Broadcasters (FARCO), academics, intellectuals, journalists, legislators, among others, also supported the proposal.
The proposal calls on Argentine political parties and organisations (national, provincial and municipal), and related civil society organisations, to sign this agreement and commit themselves “not to generate or promote false news or disinformation campaigns to the detriment of political adversaries”. And it adds that they assume the vocation to “promote among their affiliates and militants the need for good coexistence practices in the use of social networks”.
It also seeks to agree on a permanent consultation mechanism to monitor the Ethical Pact “in order to respond quickly to any situation that could affect the fulfilment of this public commitment”.
The Pact is a basic agreement in defence of democracy and has the courage to emerge from information workers, rescuing their historical role of ethical defence of the function of journalism, in favour of truth in information.
It is also clear that it is necessary to rescue the economic and labour dignity of journalism in general, with respect to the different types of conditioning that may try to affect its due action.
The “Declaration of Chapultepec” of 1994 is the international instrument that establishes a series of principles on freedom of expression and freedom of the press which, in a good practice, the Association of Argentine Journalistic Entities (ADEPA) makes candidates for various positions sign. However, the Declaration, which is not always complied with by the signatories, does not include an essential right, such as the right to rectification or reply in one’s own time. This is an aspect that the Pact now proposed by FATPREN does adopt concretely, which foresees a permanent consultation body for urgent response and apology in the face of lies, particularly in political campaigns where, as we know, the truth that arrives after the elections does not repair the damage caused by the lie spread before the election.
The pact had its valuable precedent in a similar one in 2019, promoted by the Uruguayan Press Association (APU).
It is therefore essential that the Pact is signed by all sectors, assuming the commitment to good practices in communication, as an essential step to strengthen democracy and ethical journalism.
Miguel Julio Rodríguez Villafañe is a constitutional lawyer and opinion journalist from Cordoba, Argentina.