How The Wire's Meta controversy could have been avoided | Global Journalism Seminar with N Ram
12:30PM Jan 18, 2023
Welcome to the Global journalism seminars. This is the briefing in October last year, an independent news outlet the WIA published a series of stories alleging that Netta was removing posts at the behest of Indian politicians. When meta refuted the claims the wire published what they say were internal emails, which were later shown to be fake. By the end of the month. The lawyer has retracted the stories, saying it had fallen prey to deception. The fallout has been catastrophic journalists charged officer search equipment seized. Today we'll discuss where it all went wrong. A poll of our international journalists fellows found 82% were aware of the controversy and said it left them feeling angry, frustrated, worried and irritated. They also said it reminded them to be wary of anonymous sourcing, byline dodges and a lack of transparency. That's the briefing. Let's begin.
Well, hello and
a very warm welcome to our audience. That's both our Reuters fellows and of course, our global audience that's joining in for the local journalism seminar. A series of conversations we have about issues that we believe are not just topical, but have ripple effects for journalists across the world. What you saw was a small slice of events that occurred through October and a bit beyond that I might add of 2022 were a digital platform based in India called the wire and legit allegedly or had an alleged report that indicated meta might be influenced by its decisions on what it posts and the content it takes down. That was coming from the ruling political party, the BJP. Interestingly, this was a story that came in from their own consulting reporter that then turned out to be false. It turned out to be an almost fantastical set of information that he had put together. And it had rather dire consequences both for the platform in terms of the hit that it took on the trust element, and of course, more importantly, a slew of police reports followed, there was search and seizure. And there was a very real backlash for that organization. What are the important takeaways for journalists, for editors for platforms that do do investigative work because that's something that the wire has been associated with. And really what are the lessons to draw for journalists across the world? To discuss all of that I am joined by a veteran of Indian media and ROM and award winning investigative journalist himself, who has had opportunity to write and report on some of the largest investigative pieces in India including the Bofors deal, the Rafale deal more recently. And of course, you will know him very well with his association with the Hindu groupies former editor in chief of the Hindu and now director of the Hindu Publishing Group, drums. It's such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you very much for joining us today. I think we've set a little bit of the context in terms of what occurred for the wire through the course of 2022. But I am curious to start first with what your initial impressions was, you saw this story unfold, because it almost immediately brought out very binary reactions. Some people supported the story while others said this doesn't smell
right. Yes, I think it was an egregious series of mistakes. If you want to call them blunders. Of course there are plenty of them in Indian newsrooms, and people get away with it. A lot of propaganda that is, which is the more toxic than this, but they're not called out here, but here was somebody taking you on meta, and also the it head of the BJP, the ruling party, so it became very prominent in the wire. has established credibility for standing up. It's an independent digital publication with very limited resources, but that is playing well. And now what you'd expect from you know, so young, digital news, the venture and not for profit, it takes on the government and have strong opinions. It did the Pegasus and part of the investigation in India and did it without any hitch or any stumble. So I think among those who share that kind of editorial viewpoint or those opinions you like, the wire had high credibility. And so when the wire made these egregious journalistic mistakes, not that it was completely isolated, it's it's something that people would gloat over because plenty of it is happening here and also elsewhere. Journalists make mistakes, very serious mistakes. Take the Judith Miller case. You know, the weapons of mass destruction, their stories, the New York Times ran, and The Guardian probably, you know, published an article on the big blunders it has made in history not not that this external weights are excuses what happened, but you got to put it in context. So there's no real so I thought there's no reason to gloat over it, but and then came something which you could argue, was in the wires favor, it looked really bad the police swooped down on them. Made a raid if you like, sees the devices of the older three founding editors, the journalist January 7, the others as well, who are nowhere involved in the story, including computers or these computers used by the accounts department. So this I think, what while it looked terrible for the wire, because you know this the process is often the punishment this actually won them a lot of sympathy. And my first reaction was I did a story for frontline, but and I tweeted before that was to come out in support to the wire saying that this was over the top and over the top response by the police set up by you know who right from the top because many journalists to television stations put out a lot of disinformation in India. I don't want to name names since they're not part of this discussion. But if I'm drawn out I will. But nothing happens to them. This is selective targeting. But I think ironically, or paradoxically, you like the wire one a lot of sympathy from the editors guild of India, from job organizations or working journalists. From press clubs, because this is this shouldn't be the response. That was the widespread view that of course the opinion was polarized to the wire. I don't think the wire it has been catastrophic for the wire by any means. There is a bad blow but credibility is not destroyed by just publishing one story or even a city three stories, a series of three investigative reports.
And I do want to touch on all those aspects the proportionality of the response and as you said, the idea of credibility and trust but just to go back to you know, one of the points you made earlier in your response. This is probably another phenomenon that has global echoes the fact that investigative work is increasingly happening by the smaller, scrappier outfits that neither have the kind of resources both by way of people or monies that some of the more established organizations do, but really do have the will to shine a light on what they see as wrongdoings, whether it is by the state itself or by very large organizations. Are there any early lessons to have drawn for outlets that want to do this work and are keen to do this Werkraum in terms of steps to have avoided what steps to not follow on?
I think it's hard to find those early warning signals in this story. Of course, tech reporters or techies claim now that they were skeptical, but I don't think they did say you know they got there early enough to point out that this is an egregious mistake. This is completely wrong deal. Meta came out. They said they I know that it is true that it is technically well informed people are tikkis raised issues but skeptical, but they didn't quite challenge the story the way it should have been done. Had they been have it been so obvious from the start. So I don't think now people can gloat over the mistakes that the wire made, and so on, but it wasn't that clear and evidence of that is this whistleblower, Sophie Zang was, was in a wisdom this was interviewed by the caravan. And I think that is well worth reading because she wrestles the issue. She didn't quite disbelieve it. She had doubts. She gave them they gave a wire the benefit of doubt. Then came then some moments of revelation for her if you like, this is not how nature handles it. They don't absolutely deny the authenticity of documents. If the documents are authentic, they will sort of play around it, but they don't do and so she says and then I think it's probably like they shouldn't have doubled down and in fact, in this case, trebled down, because I think the when the wire cutter and Metro comes out with a clear denial putting its neck on the line, like its reputation on the line, certainly then I think you got to take it seriously if Randy stone if they if they Rosen says that this is fake, then you take it take that seriously. And I think doubling down and tripling down was the mistake rather than they shouldn't have gone into the story. In the first place. They made mistakes. Some people claim I saw some articles claiming that this is not so much a tech story. It's just a failure to apply basic journalistic methods of verification playing the devil's advocate, being very, very suspicious or very of your sources and all that, you know, all that stuff is all at and it's still still relevant, of course. But that's not the only issue. I think there were some tech issues that were beyond the grasp of the people beyond the at least immediate grasp of the people who are working on this story. There was clearly fabrication. We don't know the motives of behind the fabric, you know, behind the fabrications. Dinesh Kumar, for example, who confessed to the wire I know this for a fact that he had fabricated the emails, but he didn't, but he said that there was another source which given him the initial material, the post, the post incident report and so on, and so on. So once so the motives are not clear. It's very easy to believe in conspiracy theories. But you could equally say, here is, you know, somebody was a fabulous was a fantasist in the tech world. And I think we have many examples of that. So that's, so it's not so clear that there were early warning signals, but there were clear warning signals after the denials came from Mehta.
You've, you've been part of and actually spearheaded investigative pieces as well. Ron, let me throw that statement back at you the one you mentioned about, you know, lack of skills, is it a different terrain, where those indulging in investigative journalism has to be not just have a strong nose for following, you know, the leader of the story for checking their sources, but also sort of doubling down on additional skills that they may now require to understand a fake email from a legitimate email, for example, because that was something that was presented as you said as the doubling and tripling down. Here's the email and here's another email.
Yes, that's where yes, they acquired some technical skills or at least I should have consulted somebody but they totally trusted they which Kumar given them tech fog, another very dubious story that is now being taken off this story about a stupid app. So there are some articles, blogs and so on questioning that but nobody really took it on and it got international coverage, the tech fog story about a super app, the BJP had, which could it could take down things from social media, you know, penetrate the security systems, all the technology giants and so on. And that story. didn't ring the kind of warning bells that the alarm bells that you would expect it had it been so clear to the experts. So so I really but the answer to your question is I don't think you need great expertise in the newsroom. Now. It's fashionable to say now that Indian newsrooms lack tech reporters. I don't think that's completely true. You see the columns they have they have tech reviews of technology products, consumer products, in particular, cars, for example. So I think there's a lot of skills, and I don't think they're short of IT skills and technology skills, whether they are deployed is the question. Now for example, Italy, we, we did WikiLeaks, the Hindu in partnership with Wikileaks, Julian Assange and so on. We did WikiLeaks, which required a sudden, I wouldn't say a great degree of technical expertise or knowledge, but you need to do secure you need to be you know, say take care of your security, data security. And we learned from Julian Assange, I myself, met him and the Hindu published 26 Straight to full pages based on WikiLeaks is a US Embassy India cables and later US Embassy Pakistan cables. And we set up a room nobody got I don't think there's a single mistakes that Roger has in himself founded, significant pattern that we were able to handle it isn't. You had engineers, the newspaper like major newspaper has engineers working for it. And you can always call them to consult and we did that. I think I'm yet to be stung or taken for a ride so far. And now fortunately, I've retired from journalism, or at least active journalism I write occasionally. So I'm pleased to say that because I, you know, I was suspicious about sources are skeptical. Then we learned about, you know, the rampant abuse of sources in the United States around the around the time of the Iraq War, and which Norman pearlstine and others have written on written the Judith Miller case, for example. So what are the rules before you give anonymously to a source? The other day we have an aeration College of Journalism, a very fine distinguished journalist, Matt Winkler of Bloomberg. And he you know, I don't think he would mind me mentioning it because it must be probably by now, the first 10 years he said, You refuse to use confer anonymity on any source. And, and the newsroom, the reporters. He said, we're mad investigative reporters, but he said I did that to establish credibility. The first 10 years zero use of anonymous sources, sometimes called confidential sources, you gave confidential status to a source and it leads to trouble. So what are the rules that I would I would summarize what we learned in terms of three rules? Whether it's the use of confidential sources, not just anonymous, but you know where you're willing to go to jail, willing to lay down your life to protect that source, if you will? Or use of serious deception? What are the rules one? The information shouldn't be available any other way. It should be clear to the authorized to the editor who's commissioning the story that are supervising it, that this information is not available in any other way. I can get it from public records. I can get people to go on the record, and so on. It's an and secondly, there's information as the on a significant issue, not not something purely private or trivial. There should be a public interest threshold that it must meet and this has to be judged within the newsroom and three, it has to be closely supervised this. But in this and the wires case, it was supervised by a top person in the organization. Siddharth Varadarajan, who choose credit didn't throw the reporter under the bus. He put his byline on one particular story and took full responsibility for it. And the reporter continues, the journalist continues to work for them. But they made changes. I don't know how much it's been reported. The wire has brought in a new editor, Seema chesty was very experienced in different media. And they've set up a new structure where an editorial board comprising the three founding editors, Siddharth Rajan, MKV, Anu and Siddharth Bhatia, they say you know, the editor is accountable to them, but day to day the editor is in charge. This is a change and I'm sure they have learned lessons from it as we all have. So I I am quite sympathetic to how they handled it. Some people say that they should have apologized to the person that name was not really defined. In fact, you should have been flattered that he was assigned he was assigned the power actually the power to through through being on crosscheck endow that gave them the power to take down or post anything on Facebook on Instagram and Instagram in this case of Facebook, but the but I think they should have asked him yes, they should have asked them at some point. The story those are mistakes, but these mistakes I emphasize are made quite often, and people get away with it.
Yes. So one is of course, as you said about the sources. The second is how significant is the issue? And then what is the level of supervision? You know, let me touch upon that through the lens of trust. Because for me, I think that was the more important outcome. There is trust, of course with your viewers, but there is so much implicit trust within an organization and an editor and a reporter, particularly in an environment like the one we have now across the world, really including in India, where increase in where reporters feel frustrated that a lot of their stories that might be critical in nature get stamped down by editors. Here you have an editor who wholeheartedly supported his reporter and his story who trusted the fact that he you know, was speaking to legitimate sources, and then finds that it's the reporter really, for lack of a better term that stabbed you in the back as also the fact that when police complaints were filed, they included everyone, the founding editors of the wire but not the reporter in question who stole technology, the consultant, the consulting reporter. I think that that's the more problematic one is indeed the way trust was broken within the the very sort of very, very crucial confines of a newsroom and and the delicate balance that is held with him that
yes, and in a very small newsroom that that is quite a blow this but why did why did the wire file a police complaint against the Escobar? The consultant in question who was was hired on a month by monthly basis? Yes, but also done stories. They didn't never put his by his name on any story that way that perhaps could have been a given giveaway. I don't know whether I would record it. I don't know. But people have criticized the WIA for filing a complaint against their sick but I think the truth is, they had no choice because as you say his name was left out. There it is not clear what his motives were. It is not clear whether he was going to be used as a color Brewer like prosecutions witness turned over, turned round. And so on. It does appear so far there's no evidence to show that he was anybody's killed. There is Kumar I'm being careful. I don't know about it. And he said he's been he's quoted as saying the wire was what the virus said is right. And so on. He's been interviewed by the police but his name is not. He doesn't figure as an accused. The wire will have legally no choice. This is what I learned from my lawyer friends, but to think, you know, filed a complaint against him but having said that, we know that nothing much has been done. The investigation has not been taken forward. I think it was mainly for a show. There is no case here. Most lawyers would say that to the whole criminal investigation is baseless. It wasn't it was a mistake. There was fabrication and cyber, any number of fabrications in journalism, and the answer is not criminal prosecution for this unless other issues are involved. If metal metal doesn't suit normally. So I think there's no no warrant no justification for this action. But the blow within a small newsroom is severe, but I think the wires are responded to it by saying we are looking at our methods and they made a major change in editorial operations, bringing in the new editor.
Let's talk for a moment about the point you raised around what what quantifies a significant enough apology or what should the response from the organization DRAM and I'm reading part of what was the note that the wire put out publicly After accepting the fact that this story did not seem legitimate that they will be drawing it basically to have rushed to publish a story we believed was reliable without having the associated technical evidence that it independently is a failure of which we cannot permit repetition. As you said, there was a lot of pushback saying well, you don't seem sorry enough. And you know, what is it that's expected of a journalistic organization whose job is to work at investigating wrongdoing? Having tripped up admitting that they tripped up you know, what, what else is it that you know, that would pass muster?
Question is how sorry sorry enough. And, you know, must you cringe must go down on your knees. I think people have different styles. And I'd like to remind you that the New York Times has hardly apologized in an unqualified way for the huge harm that it did. In my publishing Judith Miller stories on WMD based on you know, a very prejudiced source, Chalabi and so on. And Judith Miller is not remorseful at all she's defended that actions and the job was just to report but somebody said If you report false information or this information is leads to harm, then do you apologize? Do you show remorse? So each organization has a style I think that as in sorry enough? I saw those statements in my personal view, but there are people who feel he should apologize to malware, I think yes. Or to meta specifically, rather than issue a public apology. That's a meta question of style. It's a question of what you think you have your own self self. Respect. You can say it's pride in your work. So how many journalists apologize, cringe cringingly Because the whole thing started with a with a group called cringe? Cringe archivers was so how many journalists do that? So I think it's not a big, big deal for me. I have they retracted the story. Have they come clean? I think yes. There's more to be learned about tech fall. They've taken it off, but I think the results of an internal inquiry. We must look at it when it comes out. scrutinize it critically. What went wrong in that story, because that was an equally egregious, it seems to be blunder publishing that. But I think there have been sorry enough. That's my short answer.
Let's talk about the second strand of trust then because what happened after that story was released was that several Indian journalists who also do you know, critical work came out with a very public backlash against the wire saying they had destroyed the reputation for themselves but also for other news organizations seeking to do critical investigative work. That this was a body blow to Indian journalism that the wires on trust now stood in, you know, complete shambles, and no one would trust a story from them again, I'm curious to know what what your response or what your reading of that was, because much of it was quite, quite public, actually, by many smaller news outfits saying well there you've gone and done it, and now you've made it difficult for the whole, you know, for all of us.
I think it's, I think that's, I mean, it put in those terms, it's completely over the top Ott, because reputation is not just destroyed just like that. It's not either or you take a blow you work your way back to the kind of trust levels you enjoyed. You had you'd built it up. So I don't think it's completely destroyed anything it's it was a serious severe setback to the I wouldn't even say credibility to their to their reputation, you know, they must have shaken them also. Internally it did, but do the people who read the wire the other story wire has gone on since then after that, despite all these police, the police raid, do people have they lost trust? Have they switched off the wire? I think some revenues have been affected to a modest degree. But it's not that the wire has collapsed. It's not that the wire doesn't do the kind of journalism it's been doing the good journalism. It's been doing before. It will do more investigations but but I read this statement by Siddharth that in future we will not publish any investigative stories involving technical or not technical matters. Without consulting in an independent technology expert which I think is going pretty far we don't I don't think we will keep it you can hold on. Hold yourself up to that all the time. You can't demand that every every story leveraging technology has to be independently verified. Of course, he's talking about in the serious investigation here. But I think that's that's a good good safeguard. Some, some of the criticism has been that Oh, it's nothing to do with the tech you didn't require any great tech technology. Technology on this. You didn't have to be a domain expert. You didn't have to consult any expert outside expert. You just had to do basic journalism as not so obvious because the use of sources often involves the abuse of sources. You use sources for some particular purpose journalists use sources or abuse sources. And those sources also exploit the journalist it's a two way process. So you have to lay down very clear rules. ironclad rules, I'd say. The kind that Matt Winkler mentioned for 10 years. Bloomberg will not publish any story based on a law or any anonymous source to get into to get published. And I think you got to know that because the the this is a huge this is a minefield in India and in many countries just look at television say there always says they won't even say qualify or destroy the source. The sources said this and then you sometimes the journalist will invent a quotation because you know, if you you have license to do that dishonest decryption law in a certain number of cases, at least a small minority perhaps. But there has to be supervision a clear rules of the game codes of conduct, which laid down three rules. The you couldn't have got the information any other way to it has to be on a subject of public interest or some significance. Three, it has to be closely supervised and if you can play the devil's advocate if people who are not experts within the newsroom but just experienced journalist get in on the story and play the devil's advocate. I think that will ensure there is no for the wire and for everybody that they know repetition. For example, in Italy that and I was editor, the Hindu Editor in Chief. It was a very experienced and a woman journalist of great skill and ability to sell investigative stories I don't want to name because I don't have permission to come here. Come and do the story and caught. well researched story it looked like but she wouldn't tell me the name of the source or the identity of the source. So my response would be you're at liberty to keep your promise to your source, but this will not appear in the Hindu I think you got to take a position like that that kind of position. I think where somebody preferably the editor or somebody relative or somebody like you when you're working, you know, they could totally trust is has the responsibility and has held accountable if you get it wrong, and it'll lead to dismissals newsroom if a major investigative story implodes. So and so I think
yes, no. That's the one I'm intrigued by because I'm wondering what investigative journalists who are watching this thinking, you know, you tend to protect your sources like your babies, that's the one you don't want to go on to sort of let go off. I know my fellows have a lot of questions for you. But let me wind down with one final one before I open up to them on the point about proportionality of response from and I think that's that's the most disturbing takeaway. The fact that the police stormed into offices seized laptops, they will police cases slap, you know, left and right. One is, of course, a reaction to the action, and the other is the underlying lesson that you're trying to point out to this organization and others saying if you attempted and if we find that you made a misstep, it's going to be bad.
Yes, to send a message I think, at first I thought it was to bring them to their knees too and so on, but there seems to be no follow up in the investigation. And lawyers, as I said, mentioned that it's completely baseless. The kinds of allegations that are made, for example, criminal defamation, cannot be by the police. The Supreme Court has ruled that the police cannot put it in the first international report. Which is the beginning of criminal investigation, but it's included in the in the case. Yeah. And the first information report. So if if and when it goes to court, I think the case will collapse the government's the police case will collapse. This is my expectation. So they thought perhaps that this would create great distress for the wire but doesn't seem to happen. Although it's taken, there's been a cost.
Yes, yes, indeed. And some hard lessons. I mean, there's no taking away from that. It was it was an error. It was an error of judgment. But I think for all news organizations, as you said, the point is to pick up where you left off, learn hard lessons and and really carry forth from there. Let me sort of work really hand across to the room where all the writers fellows are waiting, and I think there's questions lined up already. Let me hand over to Caitlin to steer that agent.
Sorry. We've got a question for you from regime from the Philippines.
Please. Eugene, go ahead. Hi.
Thanks so much for speaking with us today. I was just curious. What would your tips be for how a newsroom or how the journalist could recover from such a high profile human error? Especially if that has been weaponized by people who are critics of the traditional media? How do you have any practical tips on that maybe for recovering trust and your reputation?
I think you you can. You can be a good journal. You do good journalism. Again, you continue to do what you were doing before. Till this big shout I I use the word egregious. Certainly the actions but Siddharth Varadarajan. The founding editor is CO editors. But others are the new editor. I think they will continue to go they will continue to do good journalism just as they handle the Pegasus investigation for the India part with great responsibility and nobody could question any any part of their stories. Basically, they verify they you know they had phone numbers and they had to find people who they belong to and they came out with a series of very good stories on Pegasus, which is so great public importance in India. So how can a journalist recover from it? I think it's they had to work hard to do that. But yes, I know. So in the United States, journalists get fired once they do this. Doesn't happen I think here and this is an organization which is not not for profit. It's it is independent. It believes in its in what it does, what its vision of journalism. It's out there in its website. And to the credit of the editors they have stood they have not made any anyone escaped. Got
a question for you from TARIO from Norway.
Hi. Thank you for this very interesting talk. I'm interested in in What rules do you suggest as as a veteran man of Indian press for the use of anonymous sources, especially interested in if you diversify between the promise between the journalist and the source while the editorial cannot know who the source is? Or if you also have the second layer where the Java has shares with the editor, but with no one else outside me through who the source is? Do you treat those cases differently? And then I'm also interested in if you have a suggestion for the case, we were the drama this wants to remove that byline from the article. Is that a red flag in your newsroom? Or, or is that something that happens from from time to time? And it's okay.
Yeah, that's, I'll take the second part is an interesting question. Yes, I think that would be a red flag. If a journalist have said that I, I think in this case, what I learned was Dinesh Kumar said, if you put my byline my source will get exposed, and I don't think there should have bought into that. So that would certainly be a red flag. If a journalist insisted the analyst or did the story or the bulk of the story says please keep me out. That would be it. I think it would be a red flag for you to question and the other one is yes. If the if the investigative reporter. Usually I think it'll be one person who wants to protect a source. That person may or may not even tell his or her colleagues working in that group. So if, if that journalist is willing was ready to tell the editor outside the newsroom, as you say, that would be the best. I would say the editor that's you have to disclose it to the editor. But if the editor is so busy, or or in a major organization says as many things to do different publications to say an editor in chief or a publisher like then I think the editor may delegate it to somebody else. But but then the editor has to be knowledgeable about about the story must have some basic information about the story. So it depends on the structure of the media organization and whether whether investigative journalism is sequestered treated as a separate, completely different division. I recall Marcus's statement that all journalism has to be investigated. Need must be investigated by which he meant all serious journalism has to be investigated. In that spirit. I think the editor would know what is happening in the newsroom because then he or she is in charge. So that may, you know raise the bar for using us they call it a confidential status by which they mean the journalist will go to jail rather than give up the information so I think that's that's my own. So you can you can enforce that. You may lose some some stories of people who will crumble but you got to hold on, hold on hold the line. Otherwise, you will get into trouble.
A question for you from Yossi who is from Finland.
Hello, thank you very much for talking to us today. I think one aspect that helped to turn this case into a global spectacle was the fact that the wire cutters defended. They defended their article, very public three. And on one hand, one could say that this is the kind of transparency that is expected of journalists these days. But on the other hand, one could say that because they were transparent and they wanted to engage themselves into our critical conversation about this article, big helped to put more fuel into the fire and it's a cynical person could say it provided a drama or circus that went on for days and weeks. So what do you think about their approach to going public with their
defendant? Yes, I think once story was challenged in a fundamental way. I think it was an egregious mistake to double down an email which many people thought was fabricated, they have doubts. That email from Andy stone, the language of it, the punctuation, so on, and then treble down actually produced a screenshot and a number of voices people, not just in India began to question it. That was a serious mistake, but that is what pride can you know, is involved that I can't or perhaps clear that I can't afford to get it wrong. i My reputation is at stake. So I thought that was a more serious mistake. And it's hard to say there is not a serious mistake in the first instance but this was an even more serious mistake, when it should have been clearer when it was becoming clear to many people. The the economist said a very nice little piece. Soon after the after is exposed as the story was shown to be baseless. That to the effect quite sympathetic to the wire but saying it's for matters of faith. It's alright to want to believe that not for journalism, that it made the point that matter. Delia Facebook, even when it denies a story flat out, its reputation is so poor, that everyone believes they're lying. They made that point I think and that operated in this case, took quite a bit and these guys who claimed all we knew it came it came a little late to the party. You're gonna you're gonna look at the look at the documents all of them guys are gloating over the wires misfortune, so I think you can check that out himself. Yes, the big missed the short answer. Yes. That was the real you know the major folly
any more questions from the fellows, Caitlin or shall I take some of the questions online?
That's all from me for now. You can come back to that in a second. But it looks like there's some good ones in the q&a box.
Yes, indeed. And let me sort of layer my question with a drum on the point that you just raised because someone has asked the question of whether there's media bias that's increased in India, and the wire episode did bring that part of the debate really to the for the confirmation bias, because I spoke as well with a lot of experts who said look, it's not implausible, it sounds something exactly like what, you know, a large organization like meta might do, but I'm not sure if they have actually done this as newsrooms How do you sort of consciously fight that confirmation bias and ensure that you're you're staying you're staying middle of road and you're not sort of veering this way? Or that because you might have you might have a preconceived notion to do so.
Yeah, for those who need a definition or working definition of confirmation bias. It's basically that you look at and interpret new evidence evidence in you know, in, in line with your own beliefs, your preconceived beliefs, so any new evidence looks like confirming a position you already hold? That's that's how I understand it. That's the working definition. I think the one part of that powerful part of the answer could be keep reporting and opinionated or editorializing relatively separate. It's hard to do it for magazines and so on. But for a daily newspaper or every investigation or report, you know, serious journalism I think that all line which, you know, assigned reporters a certain role and opening it, you know, editorial writers or opinion, opinion writers, a different spare space still holds true. It's hard to avoid opinions, even in a news story, or suddenly in an investigative story. There are all kinds of loaded phrases it can be used, I can spot them from a mile you many people can the use of language, in this case, the English language to convey certain bias if you like, ideas, but you can that line can be careful that you can't editorialize hear these stories. And that I think will it will not eliminate bias? No. Okay, so let's talk about objectivity what subjectivity in journalism, with some journalists profess to practice. A long time ago, Walter Lippmann entered this debate, said that object era and they've been quite a literature on it. It's not neutrality, or value neutrality. It's applying the scientific method to what you report that's how Walter Lippmann who thought quite deeply on these questions whether you agree with them or not on major issues, thought and I think the best journalists practice whether they see it in terms of science or not, you are what is the, in this book called The Elements of journalism, it says journalism is basically the discipline of verification. So verify. Then you have you make sense, you bear witness, you investigate. These are the four functions people have identified them. And that if you do that, I think the element of bias will still remain, but it will be minimized, but it will be tolerable. But in a highly polarized society, like India, or the United States or the UK, this is not an exhaustive list by any means. I think people will continue to hold their opinions. And if you say somebody, oh, Donald Trump's disinformation gets completely discredited No, 49% of the American people still support Trump. believe that what he said the election was stolen. Maybe it's not 49 But some trigger quite high. Surveys have shown that. So in this sort of situation, journalism, can write piggyback on this highly polarized situation and do quite well get away with it. So trust is not destroyed, I repeat, by your story, even a series of mistakes. That is a romantic notion that I also believe that trust is important, but trust doesn't operate in a straightforward way. I think in terms of when you talk about public opinion. We don't professionals, yes, among professionals, you can you can measure trust in a more reliable way. But when it comes to highly polarized public, or highly diverse public public's, I think it's it's hard to make any generalizations about the, you know, the, the, the destruction of trust or the separation of trust.
We don't seem to have indications of it so far, Ron, as you said, for the consulting reporter, they wish it looked like it was something he had fabricated on his own. But there are at least two questions asking about the possibility of this. Do you see an increased danger of fake claims, things that target the media, how do we mitigate those attacks? And the second one asking whether the wire episode seems to have been a carefully planned setup, attacking the organization itself?
So far, I'm not on the second question. The second question so far I've not seen any evidence. And the people I talk to in the wire also have not I don't think I've seen any evidence that it was some part of a great kind of political conspiracy. No, we don't know yet who who fabricated the you know, the original story about an a malware. I don't think it could have been invented completely by David Escobar. He said he talked to a source who the source is we don't know. So I don't know but I have not seen so at the moment, I don't think is any indication that it was part of some grand political conspiracy. And then the wire was set up. Because yeah. And on the other question, what was the other question?
How do you mitigate these sort of fake or planted attacks? Let's see. You can
you can be on your guard. Some people say it doesn't smell it doesn't smell right or, and so on. I think common sense doesn't always it's not always a safeguard, but I think you can use a large dose of common sense to see whether it it makes sense. Does this make sense? I don't know. And it's not a foolproof safeguard, but I think that can be used in greater measure, but apply the professional standards that's the best. For example, publication of pictures. You know, we once did this exercise all you know, what are the things that you've been? We've been doing right? In your newsroom? I speak here for the Hindu but I think the Financial Times I was in a meeting where we exchanged these ideas. They said the same thing. If if somebody came up with a photograph it has to be either your own photographer or somebody your photographer will vouch for because then you have to depend on the photographer but I think you know, then enough, you're the hobby you want to get a Devesh Kumar, in that sort of situation just as an example. I don't want to be too harsh. So it has to be vouched for verified rigorously, I think in every case, because you could also get into copyright you know, violation of rights, and all kinds of things but in newsrooms, this they use any picture that comes their way including photographs, pins from Twitter. And I think you can set up checks which belong to the pre digital age. What's more difficult now with all this information coming in, but those are the basic rules will see you through against things and be very, you have to be suspicious, maybe that are highly skeptical when it comes to taking up sensitive stories for investigation. I can give it any number of examples from our befores investigation, but I know Yeah, first you doubt you know, you can speak to the source for this, but is the source who he or she says he or she is how do you know if they're in another place? You're at the mercy of your reporter. In that sense, you got to trust the reporter. If the reporter puts the sauce on it happened once for me in both of us. And this also is authentic and you can trust our reporter.
And for those of you who haven't read about it, I urge you to read about the Bofors controversy. And the investigative piece that Rahm spearheaded it took the government down to put it in short. There's another slew of questions coming in. So I'm going to hop back into the room round Caitlin, let's let's go with it. I know we've got six minutes, but let's try and get as many as we can.
A question from Jordanian journalists menar.
My question is if you have material evidence as an anonymous source, or you feel more
comfortable allowing things, especially a big newspaper name. I'll just repeat that for volume purposes. Menara says if you have material evidence to hand backed up by an anonymous source, would you feel more comfortable accommodating an anonymous source at a big newspaper like to him Do
you mean material evidence that corroborate are the sources Yes, oh, no problem then but I'd still need to know the name of the source. Yeah,
and a question from I am from the US.
Hi. I'm gonna speak a little louder just because I'm, I'm all the way in the back. I'd actually like to dovetail off of UCS earlier question about, about the editors decision to double down even after Facebook publicly said that the story was based off fabricated material. Um, I know that there's probably a lot of things that the wire wishes it could have done differently. But in a case like this, what would you recommend reporters and editors do if the source does come after the story is published? How should the editor have basically reacted?
If a source comes, what was that part? Again, the
source if the source comes to you after the story has been published and says this is actually this is fabricated. I'm wondering
what are the next steps? Yes, it's for you as an editor.
I think that the next step would be to own up and expose the source. You mean the confidential sources given anonymously? Is that what you mean? Who comes and says it's fabricated?
Yes, I guess I guess, for me the whole notion of the editor kind of publicly having an argument with with Facebook really caught me by surprise. Usually it's the reporter who's attached the story that felt like the editor was very attached to the story in a way that I don't know if I've ever seen before. And so I'm wondering like, in this case, should there be kind of a wall between what the reporter does and what the editors do to make sure that there is some kind of transparency to make sure that like, this story is either taken down or proven to the right.
Oh, this is a very small organization, which has very few people. And as I said, they played well about that they played well above their level, in terms of resources and so on, or even journalistic resources. So the editor in this case, has simplifies the story. The editor, it's got very few people it's not. It's not it's not a large organization. It's not like a major newspaper, where the editor may not have done it. So. The question was when the source was given you the information comes and says it's fabricated. You mean that the source fabricated it or was the source was given fabricated information? It didn't depend, but if the source fabricated it, I'd have no compunction in throwing the sauce under the bus.
And a final question for you from Asad from Bangladesh.
Hi, sir, my question is, I agree with you first of all, that after the media response, the wire should have rejected. The concerns about cross check powers and the context of the initial takedown remain. At the moment, it feels like big politics and big tech already a good laugh at the expense of small journalists who may have been a mistake. How should the story proceed now?
Yeah, I've just been looking at the methodology, oversight Board's policy advisory opinion on cross check. And it's, it finds them shot. It's quite a serious critique. It's couched in somewhat kind language, but they lack transparency. They don't treat all people equally key findings. This shouldn't be, you know, yeah, I'm glad you raised this question because in the midst of all this, we can't let off the hook or crosscheck off the hook. Because even the oversight board has strongly criticized them and earlier, Metra didn't was not forthcoming with the information sought by the oversight board. And I think they, they threatened to resign. And then meta I think, given them information, it's worth I just got started today. It's I think, 67 pages. It's well worth reading. Please read it. unequal treatment of users delayed removal of violating content, failure to track all metrics. These are the headings. These are the problems they find lack of transparency around how cross check works. I think cross check is quite indefensible. Having looked at it, it's completely even within their business model. It's completely indefensible. And you know, you would expect somebody like Amit malware to be on that list. You know, you'd expect many people and people are not informed when they are on that list. So big tech cannot continue to laugh because I think good journalists will get back to the story, The Wall Street Journal, for example. And now you have lots of documents out there with the two major whistleblowers one of them I mentioned. So I think they can do good journalism with that material and continue to hold these vector in particular meta to account and this this report looks quite important to me. This oversight Board's policy is called policy advisory opinion. On the same day, find them well short of the standards they expect from from metta.
I think that's a great note to wind down the conversation on and you're absolutely right, Ron if large flaws exist in many of these larger than life organizations now, and that doesn't absolve them the fact that there may have been one investigation that went wrong which as well, the news outlet should be held accountable for and should be should should make sort of steps to correct that which I think they have and perhaps the next few months will show up what WIA does to rebuild credibility for itself within the newsroom, and without as well, thank you so much. We are so appreciative of your time today and all that you've shared with our fellows and with the larger audience and I hope it's been a meaningful conversation for everyone.
It's a pleasure to discuss this and I wish your fellows the best. You're a wonderful program. They're in Oxford. And greetings to all of them continue to be to do great journalism. Thank you.
wind it down. Thank you everyone for watching next Wednesday, we're back with another chat kitchen. Mercer will be steering that one. So thank you, everyone. Goodbye.