In the first lecture, we learned a lesson on the ‘false or erroneous testimony’ issues hence the importance and responsibility for journalists on testing the testimony they receive and publish.
Examples like the UK MMR (Measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, the invasion of Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction, and the USA credit rating agencies scandal were given by the professor. A student from Canada told the class a case on politics testimony, where the government told the public they were creating new jobs but in fact it only some people’s positions were changed and people were still losing jobs. While in China, I thought about the absurd iodized salt hoarding throughout the whole country after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis in March. Another example popped up in my mind was the exaggeration of the severity of the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic, commonly known as ‘swine flu’ in 2009.
As students we learnt the lesson in one hour, but did those involved in all these bad examples learn a lesson as well? So many cases have happened and afterwards been condemned, why there are still more to come? The media expanded the effects of the most of the events, did they learn a lesson from themselves?
Talking about the relevance of testimony to journalism, the ‘receiver’ and ‘provider’ theory is similar to the model of communication by Harrison which I think is more applicable to the question. Certainly, journalists shouldn’t be to blamed for the wrongdoings. We’re journalists – ‘senders’ who ‘encode’ information; ‘channels’ through which messages are sent out; and ‘receivers’ who decode. One of the key elements in this model is ‘noise’, which runs through the whole process. The noise could come from any kind of interest groups, politicians, governments, advertisers, threats, peers etc.. and when it’s a mixture of them, it’s just difficult and challenging for journalists to cover all aspects and more importantly, facts. Interestingly, another lecturer the next day raised a question “What is truth?” The answer from the students that ‘Truth is something based on facts” satisfied her. For me, this is not really an answer as the key issue is how to find out and prove that what you know is fact. Many things believed to be truth turned out to be wrong after some time.
The professor on testimony concluded in the end of the lecture,
We can never be entirely confident that what we are told by others is true is irrefutably true, and we can never be entirely confident that what we tell others is irrefutably true.But what we can do is employ various intellectual standards that are available to us to test what it is that others tell us, and to test what we, as journalists, tell others.