Truth defenders gather in Germany to challenge fake news and "lying press" smears

by Jane Whyatt

Everyone, it seems, is talking about fake news. And the ECPMF is not only talking, but taking action.

ECPMF truth conference

In this year of elections and referenda all over Europe, in the Netherlands, Turkey, France, UK, Germany and Italy, journalists are battling against political propaganda. Some face death threats, imprisonment, intimidation and smear campaigns by those who defame them as the "lying press".

To help the journalists and their defenders, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom offers practical case studies, new technology solutions and strong solidarity at an international conference and Members’ Assembly in Leipzig on 13 and 14 June. It's open to non-members and free to attend.

In a nutshell

"Defending the truth in a post truth age" is an ECPMF conference for members, journalists, lawyers and activitists being held on 13-14 June 2017, in Leipzig, Germany. Participants will try out new tools for fact-checking whilst debating examples and case studies from all over Europe regarding fighting fake news. The conference is free to attend and coincides with the ECPMF Members Assembly. Sign up via e-mail to receive more details.

The latest case studies include the Centre's fact-finding mission in Germany. On their own doorstep, journalists and media workers are frequently attacked and cybermobbed by political activists who use a hateful label, first used by Nazis in the 1930s: "Lügenpresse" ("lying press").

Truly.Media live demonstration

Participants in the Leipzig meeting also get a preview of a new fact-checking system - Truly.Media. It is currently being tested in newsrooms in Germany and France, and is based on the EU-funded InVID and REVEAL projects.

Technologists at the University of Southampton, UK and the University of Athens, Greece are working together on the project with Deutsche Welle’s Jochen Spangenberg in Berlin. The software allows journalists to check stories originating in social media and to verify images. A live online demonstration will reveal Truly.Media's full potential to the conference.

Researchers from First Draft News present their findings to the Leipzig conference from the election campaign in France, where the ECPMF is also undertaking an on-the-spot investigation with Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Mosul family 900X600 A father and his daughter at the scene of an incident in West Mosul, after airstrikes reportedly killed all of their family members (via Iraq News, 5 March 2017:

France is currently ranked at number 39 out of 150 countries in RSF's World Press Freedom Index.

The first casualty

Truth is said to be the first casualty of war (it was US Senator Hiram Johnson who first said it, in 1917). So two case studies at the Leipzig conference will reveal the full extent of cover-up and misinformation around Europe's involvement in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Airwars's Amsterdam correspondent Eline Westra presents shocking facts behind the bombing of civilians, with bombs paid for by Dutch taxpayers. And James Harkin, the new director of the Centre for Investigative Journalism, reveals the results of his fact-checking in media coverage of Syria, now published as a book.

But most battles against fake news are being fought online. One is nicknamed "elves against trolls" – and its Lithuanian leader Ričardas Savukynas will show the Leipzig conference how he, as the chief "elf", takes on the Russian-backed trolls who post propaganda on Baltic social media.

"Lie detectors" in schools

Many Twitter and Facebook users are quick to click and share news that looks exciting. To guide them away from lies and smears, and encourage critical reactions, a new project called Lie Detectors has been launched.

Its founder Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck says:

Children worldwide have long been taught not to accept sweets from strangers. As they increase their consumption of media, they need news literacy to do so wisely."

She will show-and-tell the project to conference-goers, and find out whether the adult audience can detect fake news as quickly as Belgian schoolchildren.

With insider stories from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, too, and reporters who reveal the truth about Germany’s refugees, the conference charts a map of Europe where the fog of lies is dense in some places. It aims to shed light and offer solidarity to all those who strive to report the truth.

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