News Media and Disinformation in an Unpredictable World

The 50and the anniversary celebrations of the NGO CSW/NY, which organizes the civil society component of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), begin this month. The civil society forum is the central stage for global advocacy to promote women’s empowerment, human rights and gender equality.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week declared war not just on the country, but on what now appears to be a different reality. Ukrainian media images depict the desperation of fleeing women and children, babies born in bunkers, men turned away from evacuation trains and the racist treatment of foreign students.

How do we make sense of the contradictions in our world, the coexistence of celebration with human suffering, of hope with despair, or of peace with war?

In the current phase mediatization of the war, information institutions have adapted to the present [digital] the media environment more effectively than Western governments and political elites, according to scholars Andrew Hoskin and Ben O’ Loughlin. Next, they ask us to consider whether the power – of agenda-setting and framing, for example – belongs to the news media.

It’s a dangerous path when some news outlets turn to misinformation. “Never has there been a better depiction of the alternate reality presented by Russian state media (of the current war in Ukraine) than at 5:00 p.m. GMT Tuesday (1 March 2022),” wrote BBC’s Simona Kralova and Sandro Vetsko, who monitored the coverage of the war. For example, news reports accuse Ukraine of bombing its own cities and citizens.

With power comes responsibility. As sectors such as the global financial system and sports go to great lengths to strongly encourage an end to the invasion, it is imperative that responsible media outlets use their power to “to prevent the war from escaping unintelligiblelyby fighting misinformation.

The strategies toolbox is clearer than it has ever been. Social media giants, including Facebook (Meta), Twitter, Reddit, Google and YouTube, are restricting the use of their platforms by Russian state media, banning access or ending advertising. Media organizations outside of Russiaincluding Canadian cable television giants, announced the end of Russian propaganda channels on their platforms. Global News even advised readers how to spot fake news about the invasion. Elsewhere outside of Russia, however, other voices continue to spread disinformation and confusion.

Peace is not given. Lived realities can and do change in the blink of an eye. Scheduled events can be reconfigured to respond to the unexpected. And more than ever, the responsibility of the news media to ensure the truth, especially in a world threatened by war, is paramount.