We Need a Fact-Checking Website in Hungary and Here’s Why
Disinformation, misinformation, fake news – these words are now familiar to every person on the planet. Sometimes we don’t even notice how we become trapped in a series of lies that we read, see or hear in the media.
By Renáta Gajdos
In Hungary, disinformation has become a huge problem. People see propaganda in tabloids, on television screens, in newspapers, on the radio, on the internet, and social media. Most of Hungarians who rely on these sources for their news will get a distorted picture of the world. That’s why we need an organization that can fight disinformation in Hungary.
Launching a fact-checking project requires a tremendous amount of energy, hard work, and courage. In Hungary, most of the media outlets are directly or indirectly financed by the government. For independent media sources, it is very difficult to remain free. The only way they can survive is by the support of the public via donations. This means that establishing a fact-checking organization can be extremely challenging.
They say a journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step. In my opinion, the first step is explaining to the community why we need a fact-checking website in Hungary. That’s why I have compiled a list of things that can shed light on the issue and convince people to make a change. I have also created an infographic from the text, which helps to understand the essence and purpose of fact-checking in the information ecosystem to a broader audience in a simple, easy-to-understand form.
Pro-government media dominance
In Hungary, most of the pro-government media operations have joined forces and created a massive pro-government media conglomerate composed of almost 500 titles and outlets. It goes by the name of Central European Press and Media Foundation and headed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s supporter and media owner Gábor Liszkay. Government advertising and sponsorships favor pro-government outlets. This has created a situation where independent and critical outlets are in a financially precarious position. Hence, the government has an even stronger and centralized voice than any other outlet. The pro-government media create a narrative that is more suitable for the government and try to promote the populist agenda of Mr. Orbán and his party, Fidesz. Today, most of what we see in the Hungarian media is considered to be pro-government propaganda. An essential element of the government media propaganda is the dissemination of false, misleading information, including the taxpayer-funded anti-Brussels and anti-Soros campaigns. To draw attention to this, a fact-checking organization is required.
POLITICIANS AND OPINION-MAKERS USE TRADITIONAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA TO CONSTRUCT OTHER NARRATIVES
Author and scholar Barbara Hardy says, “We dream in narrative, daydream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, despair, believe, doubt, plan, revise, criticize, construct, gossip, learn, hate and love by narrative.” People understand the world by relying on different narratives. In the political context, narratives can sway our thoughts and opinion. Fact-checkers can save time and energy for us by checking information spread by politicians and legislators.
If we don’t have an organization that monitors politicians’ statements, then it becomes easier for them to develop narratives of their own. People’s political identities and predispositions can often lead to a situation in which they believe everything that politicians say, even if it`s not credible. Politicians love to use the label “fake news.” When some controversial true story related to them becomes public, they often try to blame the media and journalists in false statements. We need an organization that can check the manufactured truth created by politicians.
Misinformation can have major consequences
Misinformation has become a serious issue of our generation. The more you hear false statements, the more likely you are to believe it to be true. The public discourse about the migration crisis is a perfect example. Several media outlets, not just in Hungary, used photos of migrants out of context to incite hatred towards these minority groups.
Imagine that you are reading an article about the migration crisis, which claims that refugees have attacked the police, and it has the photos to prove it. You decide to share the story with your friends on Facebook or any other social media. Later, it turns to be a total fake, but the damage has been done. Hundreds of your friends and their friends have already seen it, and it caused hate, and increased chauvinism and racism toward migrants. You didn’t mean to cause harm; you just wanted to raise awareness about the issue. At the same time, you contributed to the demonization of refugees. We can prevent such situation from happening by creating a fact-checking website which can help us understand which facts are valid and which are not.
TO INCREASE TRUST IN THE MEDIA
As more fake news has spread across the media, we have started to think that all we read, watch or hear is a lie. That’s not true: noteworthy, non-partisan, and independent media outlets still exist. A fact-checking website can change the way we look at things. It can provide useful tools for journalists to fact-check information they need, and it can also help to identify which media outlets we can trust.
If we acknowledge that the fact-checking organization can become a sort of a watchdog of the media, then we will trust it more. Fact-checking isn’t an old-fashioned way of reporting. It’s the opposite, a creative type of journalism. It contains a large amount of data, but it can establish some strong and powerful statements creatively.
Exposing the truth to the public
The most important thing the organization would do is to debunk dis- and misinformation, fake news, and hoaxes. Anytime you are not sure about a claim, you could get in touch with the organization and ask it to fact-check it. You will see where propaganda and disinformation come from and how they spread. With time you would become more informed about the news you consume.
A fact-checking organization can make a change not just by debunking false news but also by raising awareness of this phenomenon and by investigating its mechanism and influence on the decision-making process in different countries. The credibility of such organizations is their independence.
Avoid being manipulated
Last but not least, with the help of such organizations, we don’t let political parties, government, and legislators shape us. We can become more aware of the problem of fake news, thus become more skeptical about the things we read, watch, or hear.
Ultimately, fact-checking is putting power in your hands, in the hands of citizens. It gives you the ability to be a part of the process, to decide for yourself what is valid and what isn’t. Together we can make a change. Together we can make a collective decision that will build our bridge to a decent future.
There are already many fact-checking organizations across the world that can be an example for us to fight against misinformation. Launching a fact-checking website doesn’t require many resources: just two or three good journalists, a website, and funding. Most importantly, we need your support. It is only possible with your help. By recognizing that we need a fact-checking organization in our country, we are making a small step to start our journey of building a fact-checking community in Hungary.