Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation: John Bitove’s Call to Action for Canadians
Canadian businessman John Bitove delivered an impassioned speech on the importance of Canadian-owned and operated media in supporting democracy, during his visit to Ottawa on March 28, 2023. Bitove addressed the question of how to balance nostalgia for print journalism, which is still significant but may become obsolete due to changing technology and interests, with the need to support trusted journalism in the years to come.
Bitove discussed trusted media’s critical role in informing communities and defending democracy. He also highlighted the challenges faced by Canadian media, particularly concerning disappearing revenues due to the shift towards digital advertising monopolies such as Google Meta and Twitter.
Bitove noted that over 80% of digital ad revenue now goes to these monopolies, with implications for Canadian media, specifically in terms of disappearing newsgroups. He cited the News Poverty Map, which tracks the closure of 361 news units across Canada since 2008. The Canadian Media Directors Council tracks the number even higher at 448 news elements in 323 communities.
Bitove warned that fewer reporters meant fewer stories and tighter coverage, resulting in a significant gap in local information and accountability across the country, including major cities such as the Ottawa-Gatineau region. He also highlighted the risk of losing local context and the implications for justice when there is no trusted, accountable journalism.
The rise of digital technology and the internet has led to a decline in the popularity of printed newspapers. With the ease and convenience of accessing news online, fewer people are subscribing to print newspapers, leading to a decline in their circulation and revenue. As a result, many newspapers have been forced to downsize or shut down entirely. While some traditionalists still prefer the tangible experience of holding a physical newspaper in their hands, the reality is that printed newspapers are becoming increasingly obsolete.
The future of news seems to be digital, and online news sources are likely to replace printed newspapers. Many newspapers have adapted to this shift and developed robust online platforms to reach their audiences. Social media and news aggregator websites are also gaining popularity as people increasingly rely on these sources to stay informed. However, while online news offers a wealth of information, it can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. As such, the need for credible and trusted news sources remains crucial, and journalistic integrity and ethics are more important than ever.
Bitove advised Canadians to be vigilant about the prevalence of misleading and false information in this current evolving information environment. He cited examples such as Joe Rogan's promotion of conspiracy theories and George Santos' lawsuit against the United States government because there were not enough news outlets to pick up on questions raised about the 2020 presidential election.
One way to combat misinformation and disinformation is through media literacy. Bitove suggested that Canadians should prioritize learning about media literacy and critical thinking skills, including how to fact-check sources and identify bias in news reporting.
He also recommended that people take the time to verify the information before sharing it on social media platforms, as the spread of false information can have serious consequences.
Bitove emphasized the importance of supporting and promoting reliable news sources that adhere to journalistic standards and ethics. In a world where misinformation and disinformation are rampant, trusted sources of information are more critical than ever. Bitove's statement can be paraphrased as follows: Canadians can maintain the accuracy of the information and uphold public trust in crucial institutions by being well-informed, practicing media literacy, and endorsing dependable news sources.
Without journalism, citizens would be left in the dark about the actions of those in power, making it much easier for those with nefarious intentions to operate without fear of consequences. Journalism plays a vital role in holding the powerful accountable, informing the public, and facilitating informed debate. It provides the necessary information for citizens to make informed decisions and participate meaningfully in democratic processes. In short, a healthy democracy relies on a free, independent, and vibrant press to ensure transparency, accountability, and informed public discourse.
Photo caption: John Bitove at the Podium
Photo credit: Tashi Farmilo