In a society where journalists are the enemy, Stephen Ward is leading the fight against fake news and authoritarianism. At his lecture titled “Demagogues, Populists, and Rebooting Journalism Ethics” on Nov. 22 in St. Thomas University’s Kinsella Auditorium, Ward emphasized the importance of journalists shaping ideology.
“I believe that global values are primary, and our moral task is to reduce racism and intolerance,” Ward said.
He discussed how people can combat extremism, intolerant groups and media by reforming moral ideology, practicing that and interacting with the public.
According to Ward, populism is the belief that the needs and interests of the common people are more significant than those of the powerful elite.
An extreme version of populism, used by the corrupt elites, creates an us vs. them mentality where minorities are put into a subclass of citizens. This results in a hostile and aggressive environment, which threatens to replace democracy with authoritarianism.
“One of the things you always need to watch out for in a leader is how they treat their opponents,” said Ward.
“If they debase them [and] treat them like enemies, they say, ‘Lock them up,’ and so on and so forth, you need to be very careful at that point. There’s authoritarian sort of bubbling up in such attitudes.”
Journalists have the ability to confront this extreme version of populism by informing the public about the activities of the group and identify any false information. They also question and challenge the leader’s views to encourage the public to critically think about what’s being said. While journalists need to hold the government responsible for their actions, they also need to reflect and reform their own practices.
“There’s always been a choice of what models [of journalism] you want to take.”
According to Ward, there are three types of journalism: neutral, partisan and democratically engaged. Ward believes neutral and partisan journalism only creates more issues with the public and encourages a greater political divide. Democratically engaged journalism allows journalists to state their political views through evidence-based arguments instead of simply stating their opinion.
He said that journalists will hold the government accountable for their actions but the public needs to hold journalists accountable for what they write. Ward wants to create a Canadian hub of media accountability where students, as well as members of the general public, will learn to fact check articles to make sure they’re coming from credible sources. He also wants to create an app to help identify these sources.
Ward said citizens and journalists can work together to create democratic and ethical journalism.
“I think we’re going to have a core of citizens and journalists who care about the media democracy, and yes, we can push back,” he said.
“[It] may not perfect, but [we can] push back against the toxifiers.”