Denzel Washington spoke in an interview, when asked about being subject of a false news story:
"If you don't read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read it you are misinformed. What is the long-term effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore. So what a responsibility the media has: to tell the truth. Not just to be first, but to tell the truth. We live in a society now, where it's just about being first. Who cares? Get it out there. We don't care who it hurts. We don't care who we destroy. We don't care if it's true. Just say it. Sell it. Anything you'll practice you'll get good at, including BS."
The way incentives are set within society is the way we can expect to be faced with our perceptions of the world - not the truth. If the truth is not incentivized in society, we will need to look harder to find it.
Following article underlines the importance of incentivizing truth in our systems. Society is a reflection of us individually. Any sustainable transformation on the role of media starts with us.
Miguel Angel Ruiz Macias, a Mexican teacher and author said: We only see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear.
Has it happened to you, that you read a book twice, and the experience of reading the book the second time is completely different. The words in the book can be taken as the truth, and the first time you read it, you will take your perception. The second time you read it, you will take another perception. The truth hasn't changed, so why the different experience? Because you are in a different state of mind. The difference in you from the time you read the book the first time to the time you read it a second time, is your progress, your growth, your change in understanding and your experience. Having experienced more. With time you will meet you new people, learn new things, understand new perspectives, and the book you once read seems like a new book.
Humans are social beings - we look for confirmation and validation in the people around us. And if we don't find it in the people around us, we search for it, until we find people that confirm our understanding. We like to be liked - like attracts like, right?
In the same way, humans don't like to hear opposing opinions. I argue, thought, that having open minds, is the only way for us to progress. In order for us to progress and build a better world, we need to let go of black and white pictures, polarization, being right or wrong. With open minds we can embrace the grey, understand opposing opinions and with every bone within us, sincerely and genuinely try to learn, expand our views, put ourselves in the shoes of the other to find a common denominator.
We feel comfortable engraving our opinion in stone, and defend them with our life to anyone remotely trying to influence or impact us. Because that is what we know. That is our comfort zone.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission writes about the Article 10: Freedom of expression.
"This includes the right to express your views aloud (for example through public protest and demonstrations) or through:
published articles, books or leaflets
television or radio broadcasting
works of art
the internet and social media
The law also protects your freedom to receive information from other people by, for example, being part of an audience or reading a magazine."
It further specifies that there are restrictions considering the upholding of peace in society:
"Public authorities may restrict this right if they can show that their action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:
protect national security, territorial integrity (the borders of the state) or public safety
prevent disorder or crime
protect health or morals
protect the rights and reputations of other people
prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence
maintain the authority and impartiality of judges
An authority may be allowed to restrict your freedom of expression if, for example, you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred.
However, the relevant public authority must show that the restriction is ‘proportionate’, in other words that it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the issue concerned."
Expressing our opinion is our right and if we are aware of the true intention of expressing our opinion. Why are you sharing your opinion? Do you believe society will be better off with your understanding of the world? Are your intentions pure? No one has the right to judge other people's opinion. We need to approach opposing opinions with compassion, love and understanding. Mahatma Gandhi said: "Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress." No one, but yourself, can know whether your argument was honest or not.
The main question to all of this is: Do you know your own truth? Do you know who you are? Do you know your purpose on this earth? Are you honest with yourself? These are questions only you can answer.
Truth in Business
From the infamous Enron scandal, to Lehman Brothers' collapse, which "wrecked the global economy and sunk the stock market" (Business Insider), business scandals showcased the lengths corporate financiers and business managers would go to defraud investors or customers. How can this happen?
Mahatma Gandhi said: "Happiness is, when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony."
Businesses are not happy. How can they be? Their actions are driven by money, their communication is driven to satisfy customers (this is opposing to their actions) and their thoughts are conflicted between their actions and their conscience.
As long as businesses interest oppose those of the benevolence of society, these scandals will continue. We rely on the investigative journalists and whistleblowers working with integrity in pursuit of truth.
Social businesses are profit oriented, but have their social value embedded into their P&L and Balance Sheet. Social businesses are the answer to end the conflict of truth within the business environment.
Your incentive of earning money should be aligned with the incentive to providing societal value. As soon as these are opposing, e.g. you can make more money by deceiving or lying to your customer, we can fight for truth as much as we want, without much result. Sooner or later this will lead to following examples: The business insider mentions 18 false advertising scandals that cost some brands millions. These brands include Uber, Activia, VW, Tesco, and many more.
Businesses are set up in a way to work along maximizing revenues, and that's ok.
As long as those revenues are not opposing societal benefit or interest.
Truth in Governance
I am quoting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, A US Representative for New York's 14th congressional district since 2019, from an Instagram story some time ago, when she was asked about the truth in media: "Ok, so first things first: journalists and members of the press are people with jobs that are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated. So I'm not here to dump on them because they deal with enough. I respect them a lot and admire those who conduct their work with integrity.
But the institutions and incentives in media overall is absolutely incentivized towards conflict and drama, because that is what generates clicks, views, and revenue. That said, when you see a FACT that is reported, cited and verified by several reputable outlets, 99.999% it's going to be true.
HOWEVER! There is a BIG difference between a fact and the story. And the story (often the headline) that's told surrounding the fact is frequently stretched, mischaracterized, or dramatized to get you to click. Sometimes the story is so misleading that even though it contains facts it is told in such a way that people will walk away thinking the wrong thing, or just getting angry about something that's actually not a big deal. And that creates lack of trust in media and institutions, and overall polarization."
What is the media?
ChangeCommunications.Org's Article on "The Role of the media in deepening Democracy" by Sheila Coronal, suggests the role of media to be the "conduit between the governors and the governed". Media has the power to build the opinion of the public. You can argue, that it is people's greed towards "sleaze, sensationalism and superficiality" and speed to judgement, that brought the current contribution of the media to where it is now.
The New Yorker Magazine talks about politics being a balance between spectacle and substance. I see the same factors relevant in media. In recent years the demand for spectacle vs substance has overthrown the balance. The New Yorker Magazine also shared below cartoon, to visualize this imbalance:
Denzel Washington rightly suggests, that transparency, truth, integrity are not incentivized by the media.
I wonder though, the same way that Simon Sinek suggests that the politicians are a reflection of society, is the same way, that the media communicates, what we want to hear. That's how they are incentivized. It is a chicken and egg situation. Working on it from both sides: supply (media) and demand (audience) side, will impact sustainable change.
Mahatma Gandhi said: "Be the change you want to see the world."
Perception is reality.
There is no questions, that the media carries the responsibility to truly and transparently communicate the reality of the governors to the governed.
At the same time the governed carry the responsibility to incentivize the media for truth, not sensations, drama and scandals.
As long as we don't demand for the truth and as long as media don't align the moral code with their work, there will be no change.
Be true to yourself, you will demand truth from your businesses and your government. That's how we improve society.