Rain Kooli: Calling fake news 'alternative media' like calling outhouse 'alternative restaurant' (2)

Rain Kooli is the Opinion section editor on ERR's Estonian-language online news portal. (Siim Lõvi/ERR)
1/10/2017 10:13 PM
Category: Opinion

When talking about "alternative" or counter media, one must distinguish between fake news, the producers of which are at least self-aware, and partisan media, which rejects anything not fitting their worldview as biased or outright false, ERR Opinion editor Rain Kooli writes in his opinion piece.

I bought a new camera recently. One of its coolest features is a focus mechanism which allows one to bring a number of points in the camera’s viewfinder into focus all at once. One of the biggest drawbacks of my old camera was the fact that there was just one focus point — in the middle of the frame.

Last night, taking pictures of the moon shining above the trees, something dawned upon me.

Over the past few years, the expression "mainstream media" has seeped into use in the Estonian language. As far as I have understood, people who use this term are referring to all kinds of conventional journalism, regardless of via which platform it reaches its readers, listeners or viewers.

A contrast to "mainstream media" has increasingly more openly emerged which lacks a commonly understood term. Talkers have spoken of "counter media"; its producers and consumers of "alternative media."

True, in the case of the Finnish fake news and hatred-inciting website MV, for example, the question arises whether calling it alternative media isn’t the equivalent of calling an outhouse an alternative restaurant. But anyway.

All of these quasi-media products are characterized by one common factor — they present themselves as final and indisputable sources of truth. Not one of them is — because not one media outlet can be by their very nature — but they present themselves as such.

Fake news and partisan media

The distinction needs to be made here between two subdivisions of counter media, however.

One consists of fake news (this means completely false and fictional news) and websites or publications deliberately spreading hate. They may even declare that they are final and indisputable sources of truth but they do not believe it themselves either. Somewhere in their sweatshops they are dying laughing among themselves, encouraging one another to come up with even greater gibberish.

The role of such fake news has been observed the world over, from conflicts in the Middle East to Ukraine to the election campaign in the US. Their only motivator is personal gain, money for the most part — be it from clicks and ad money or some propagandist state structure.

The other subdivision, however, consists of quasi-media products that I would refer to as partisan media.

Money is essential to them as well, however it is not the goal of but rather the fuel supporting their activity. The foundation for the activity of partisan media is the dissemination of their creators’ ideological, religious or political worldview to as many people as possible. In a certain sense, a missionary’s work.

And while producers of fake news will at some point themselves admit what they are doing — such as the teenagers from the Macedonian city of Veles who had contributed to the success of Donald Trump in the US elections in an interview with [Finnish] newspaper Helsingin Sanomat last December — producers of partisan media themselves do not even realize that anything is wrong.

They do not understand because, like on my old camera, they have only one focus point in the middle of the frame. Their own faith, their own beliefs regarding what is right. And anything that does not fit this to a T seems suspicious, biased or even outright false.

Distorted beyond recognition

In partisan media, information from the whole wide world is forced through this one focus point like the eye of a needle — and out the other side comes stuff that is in places distorted beyond recognition but which still gets the same seal of final and indisputable truth.

That which is published in the real media is likewise seen through the same eye of the needle: that which supports one’s worldview is picked up; what is neutral is ignored; and what doesn’t fit it is pinned with accusations of bias, having been bought and all seven deadly sins.

In partisan media, information from the whole wide world is forced through this one focus point like the eye of a needle — and out the other side comes stuff that is in places distorted beyond recognition but which still gets the same seal of final and indisputable truth.

That which is published in the real media is likewise seen through the same eye of the needle: that which supports one’s worldview is picked up; what is neutral is ignored; and what doesn’t fit it is pinned with accusations of bias, having been bought and all seven deadly sins.

At the same time, actual media together with all its flaws still works like my new camera — finding focus points all over the entire frame and ultimately attempting to create an image of society, the world and reality which is not true in the sense of right or wrong but rather corresponds as best possible to all this diversity which constitutes the world.

And if you look around you with your eyes even remotely open, this diversity is so great that there is no need to add — that is, make up — anything more.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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