The “Fake News and Media Viability” Conference Concluded its Sessions in Beirut; the 3 days conference was organized by Maharat Foundation and Deutsche Welle Akademie from the 24th till the 26th of April, 2018 at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamra-Beirut. This conference aimed at discussing the arising issue of fake news and the way media is dealing with it; and it was organized within the framework of the “Digital Media Viability Lab” initiative which aims to provide concrete solutions to the problems media institutions are facing in the digital age, and how to approach viability by supporting innovation to help develop future ready business models that can create and distribute quality content.
High impact presentations
During the last day of the conference, some short presentations were given by journalists and startups where they presented examples about pilot and independent experiences in journalism and the way they affected society. Louai Hazem, the content Manager at al-Hudood.net in Jordan talked about the reason behind people generally react to content on this satire website and sometimes share it as if it was real news. Hany Bahgat, the founder of Da Begad in Egypt presented the Da Begad fact-checking initiative which has more than one million followers on Facebook. As for Patricia Torres Burd, the vice president of UBC International Media Consulting in the USA, presented innovative examples about independent and entrepreneurial journalism and how they affect their community.
The challenges of journalism startups
Based on the need for more media institutions producing high-quality journalism, but the challenges for startups in the journalism sector remain immense, a session was held gathering a selection of startups to discuss their experiences and reflect on viable business models. The session was moderated by Roula Mikhael, the executive director of Maharat Foundation. Mikhael presented the study conducted by Maharat Foundation in support of Deutsche Welle about the Viability of Media Startups in Lebanon, explaining the emphasis of the study on the legal framework supporting such initiatives and the challenges faced, besides the necessity to find innovative business models.
During the session, Walid Mejri, the founder of Inkyfada in Tunisia talked about his exoerience and the challenges faced by startups to ensure viability and quality content. Ranjan Roy the CEO of the Edge Group in the USA tackled his experience in working on economic sections in American media and media startups. As for Cristina Tardáguila the director of Agência Lupa in Brazil, she talked about the difficulty of shift from a reporter to a business woman which is something that requires courage and time and innovative ideas, considering that the hardest part is developing a budget. Christian Gesellmann, a journalist at Krautreporter in Germany refered to the need of new initiatives in Germany where some think that it has the best media environment but in fact they are facing the issue of liability with the audience. He added that he used to work in a media institution and was not paid accordingly, so this pushed him to work independently. Omar Said, a journalist at Mada Masr talked about his experience in Egypt where he started working on the website in 2013, and tackled the legal challenges faced by the website.
The psychology of Fake news
A session was held during the last day of the conference entitled “The psychology of Fake news”, where Albert Mkheiber a Neuroscientist, Psychotherapist, Researcher and Co-Founder of Chiasma in Lebanon talked about his initiative “Chiasma” that aims to help people understand why we only believe facts that suit our prior beliefs.
Mkheiber said that fake news is not related to intelligence, this it is not that smart people won’t believe fake news. He added how we can differentiate between true and fake news and what affect us to build our reality and said that we usually tend to deal with news with motivated reasoning. He differentiated between learned helplessness and the illusion of knowledge, and said that the solution lies in metacognition to find a doubt that makes us slower in finding answers and believing what is presented for us.
At the end an open discussion was held among participants aiming to answer the following question: Is the public ready to pay for quality journalism? The discussion was moderated by Dima Tarhini, a senior anchor and editor at DW Arabic in Germany.