Douse The Wildfires

Public information should be both accurate and interesting. When there is a conflict between the two, many information users prefer an outcome based on truth. Lately, there have been growing scandals which taint media considered traditionally to be of quality.

Some believe that this is a problem only encountered by President Trump or the United States. Far from it, we are not alone! From around the world one learns about misdirections and shortfalls in media accuracy. For example, late last year the German magazine Der Spiegel had to admit that its key investigative reporter, Mr. Class Relotius, had plainly fabricated stories in many of his articles over the past seven years. The individuals he described or allegedly interviewed either did not exist or had not made the attributed statements. Relationships were mischaracterized and the context reported was either falsely described or non-existent. 

As the most important information source for many users, the media must take responsibility for the ethical and honorable delivery of fact-based and reliable messages. The opportunity is there. New information gathering capabilities can be a tool to improve quality.

Continuing poor work will further erode the public information space. For example, one can easily imagine a land without newspapers. Already, their role in the wrapping of fishes has been severely diminished.

The issue is of particularly great importance to the global investment community. Poor information leads to increased uncertainty and risk. In 2013, stock markets lost $130 billion in two minutes after AP posted false news about an explosion in the White House that was said to have injured President Obama. In the same year, the Chinese construction company Zoomlion’s share price tumbled 26.9% on the Hong Kong stock exchange when the state-owned CCTV network published a series of fake stories by a corrupted reporter.

For individual investors, wrong news will hurt their confidence in products or companies which they might use or invest. In consequence, lack of investment may lead to great opportunities missed.

In the long run, people have to learn, absorb, understand and react to surprising political results or sudden economic unrest. Life will continue to present spectacular events like the 2016 U.S. presidential election or Brexit, which can lead to confusing flows of information. Crossnational effects can be triggered by national inaccuracies. In German’s “Spiegelgate”, fake pieces largely focused on U.S. policies and segments of the American population. There were stories about U.S.-Mexican border conflicts with made-up “Mexicans Keep Out” signs, which may have intensified local disagreements.

Media worldwide need to regain public trust. Fact-checking must be improved. Credibility requires more transparency and a greater indication of global linkages. Also, the tasks of gathering and distribution should be viewed with appropriate humility.

It will be difficult for media both old and emerging to maintain and re-build credibility.  When President Trump tweets about an informational heap of bovine waste, he clearly reflects the risk of a decline comparable to that of the typewriter and medical application of leeches. Media need a commitment to honesty, accountability, transparency and personal responsibility, also for its global communication, in order to offer a safe and reliable public information space.

Professor Michael R. Czinkota (czinkotm@georgetown.edu) teaches international marketing and trade at the University of Kent in Canterbury and Georgetown University. His latest book is “In Search For The Soul of International Business”, (businessexpertpress.com) 2019.