RSF, the press freedom watchdog which in 2017 chose Taipei as the location for its first Asia bureau, also used the conference to introduce a new media standardization certification. The Journalism Trust Initiative, officially launched on December 19, was described by Cédric Alviani, director of RSF’s East Asia bureau, as a way to “incentivize and reward” compliance with professional norms by media outlets.
The certification standards assess the processes by which media outlets source their news, fact-checking, accountability, general editorial standards and transparency on ownership and funding. The aim is to remove much of the dross, such as that produced by content farms, from the algorithms of social media and subsequently strengthen the public’s faith in the news-gathering process, effectively creating a whitelist of reliable news sources.
Alviani said the standards act to filter out the worst offenders in the battle of disinformation and do not include a value judgement on the editorial line of outlets.
Social media, he said, is like a giant department store “which is currently embarrassed because they are selling a lot of fake Guccis and Pradas.”
Alviani expressed confidence that the scheme would help cut off fake news and disinformation at its roots by limiting its reach and virality, rather than simply countering false stories with fact-checking.
“It is useless to act on fake news after it has been distributed,” Alviani said after the event. “If Taiwan wants to protect against disinformation, it has only one solution, which is to strengthen its journalism environment.”
Taiwan’s domestic media has been plagued by accusations of Chinese influence over the content and editorial standards of certain Taiwanese outlets. More broadly, Taiwan’s media ecosystem has a poor reputation for fact-checking and verifying information prior to publication. Social media networks, such as LINE, Facebook and Taiwan’s PTT, can act as incubators for the spread of false or malicious information, a phenomenon the companies are acting to combat.
LINE Taiwan, Facebook and Google are among 120 listed partners in RSF’s Journalism Trust Initiative.
J. Michael Cole, the editor of Taiwan Sentinel, condemned as “preposterous” the current media trend in Taiwan of quoting a social media post to create a “news item,” creating a ripple effect in which other outlets pick up the story without verifying its details.
Once such an item enters the news cycle, it becomes a topic of discussion for talk shows lacking legitimate expert opinion, which further extends the item’s time in the news cycle, he said.
Alviani acknowledged that some larger media players would face stark choices. For instance, publishing paid content from Chinese state-owned media outlets like Xinhua and China Daily—a deeply controversial practice maintained by newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post—could lead to a failure to earn RSF’s certification.
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