The public needs to be more vigilant in consuming news from social media and mainstream media has to work hard to protect the Tongan public from fake news.
That’s the message from Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, who said Tongans were becoming confused by fake news and biased, unbalanced stories.
He said these emanated from a handful of Tongan social media sources that acted as professional news outlets.
“This unfortunate situation happens at a time of significant transformation in Tonga society, a time when enlightened, robust and healthy public discourse that can lead to wise decisions, is sorely needed to ensure a relatively smooth change for the better in all domains of society, and for the collective good,” Tu’itahi said.
“It is timely then to revisit the role of the traditional and social media in society today.”
Writing in the latest edition of his series Talanoa Tufunga Fonua: Discourse on Nation Building, Tu’itahi said the primary aim of the media was inform, educate and entertain.
“The media’s task is to tell the truth as it sees it without fear or favour,” he said.
“Truth in this case is about accurate, full, and timely facts, told in balanced, fair and unbiased ways.”
He said opinions of the media should normally be kept to a clearly labelled space, such as the editorial page, so that facts are not diluted with its opinion, which can confuse the public or cause undue influence.
People had the right to know.
“It is the duty of the media to tell,” he said.
“It is a fundamental responsibility of policy and decision makers to inform its constituents with the whole truth in a timely manner. This is the virtuous cycle that can ensure a progressive society where truth is sought to enlighten decisions that can build and enhance a peaceful and prosperous community and nation.”
As the public platform for diverse perspectives that connected the views and voices of the rulers and the ruled, the media played a vital link and role in community and national building. More than any time before, the Tongan media must rise to the occasion in executing their duty with professional and moral courage in a small society where almost everyone is related to each other.
“In 1979-1980, the nurses went on mass protest and later resigned, unhappy with a decision by the Government of the day over who their new manager should be,” Tu’itahi said.
“One of the only two news media at the time, reported on the resignation in a biased manner, giving voice to the Government only. Amid public confusion and rising anger, the other outlet fortunately reported the story fairly, giving the views of both sides.”
At the end of the whole process, the Government listened to the nurses and changed its decision for the happiness and betterment of all. The nurses returned to work and the public was fully informed. It was a win-win situation after all.
“So what can be done to address these new media challenges?” Tu’itahi asked.
“How can we manage the opportunities and challenges of information technology and the social media?”
He said the Tongan news outlets and their journalists could strengthen their professional media association to train their members in the knowledge, skills and ethics of journalism.
“They must aspire to be exemplars in protecting their media freedom and the freedom of speech of the public, thus ensuring a healthy exchange of informed views in public discourse,” he said.
“They can investigate and expose those bogus, biased groups of media whose masquerades ruin their profession and propagate untruths that lead to unhealthy, uninformed, negative exchange in many Tongan social spaces.”
He said the public could be more vigilant in consuming the so-called news from social media outlets who propagate biased stories and false news.
“Consuming such information is like taking medical advice from a bogus doctor, and heading to the abyss in the darkness of night, with your headlights off. Faith and prayers cannot save you,” he said.
“In a strong oral culture like Tonga, where research-based literature has yet to become the foundation of community story-telling and social discourse, the media profession must be relentless in upholding its code of professional conduct, exposing the bogus media, educate the public on its role, and continue to maintain high standards in its duty to tell, and the right of the people to know.
“In the final analysis, no nation on earth, Tonga included, will last if it is built on falsehood and one-sided truth. As the mirror of society and the fourth estate, the Tongan media, must continue to lead by both words and action.”
The main points
- The public needs to be more vigilant in consuming news from social media and mainstream media has to work hard to protect the Tongan public from fake news.
- That’s the message from Sione Tu’itahi, Executive Director of the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, who said Tongans were becoming confused by fake news and biased, unbalanced stories.
- He said these emanated from a handful of Tongan social media sources that d as professional news outlets.