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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of February 6, 2017

Unreliable, not quite fake news outlet shamed
Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

The widely popular and notoriously right-wing UK tabloid Daily Mail and its online sister MailOnLine has been deemed “generally unreliable” by Wikipedia editors, said a posting on the English-language website (February 8). “Its use as a reference is to be generally prohibited, especially when other more reliable sources exist.” Wikipedia’s volunteer and anonymous editors have been, apparently, debating the issue for a couple of years, citing “the Daily Mail’s reputation for poor fact checking, sensationalism and flat-out fabrication.”

All of that is, of course, great for circulation and, presumably, ad sales. The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and MailOnLine reached a monthly average of 18.4 million UK readers between July 2015 and June 2016, according to Audit Bureau of Circulation figures. Second place went to The Sun, Sun on Sunday and related websites at 14.1 million. MailOnLine cracked 200 million monthly worldwide visitors in 2015 after passing 100 million visitors in 2012.

The Daily Mail published earlier this month a climate change denial “exposé” that was widely ridiculed by scientists, those darned book-learners. Melania Trump, current wife of US president Donald Trump, filed suit for libel in New York last week against Mail Media, US subsidiary of publisher Mail Newspapers, over a rather dodgy article that referenced her early professional career. An earlier lawsuit filed in Maryland was vacated. The Daily Mail will not be included, so far, in Wikipedia’s fake news container of “hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation purporting to be real news.”

Daily Mail (et.al.) publisher Mail Newspapers is owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT). The publisher makes a pile of money though, like others in the UK media business, digital development is expensive and profits have slipped. A new chief executive, Paul Zwillenberg, hired last May from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has fueled speculation certain assets might be jettisoned or media assets split off from other businesses. Quite colorful and very conservative editor Paul Dacre is the highest paid newspaper editor in the UK. (See more about UK newspapers here)

“It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry at this move by Wikipedia,” said a Mail Newspapers spokesperson, quoted by Press Gazette (February 10). “All those people who believe in freedom of expression should be profoundly concerned at this cynical politically motivated attempt to stifle the free press.”

“I’m off to hide somewhere where Dacre won’t find me,” posted a Wikipedia editor involved in the decision.

Media literacy should be taught, beware of the teachers
“provocation”

Rising with digital media a multiplicity of views and ideas are available, instantly, to one and all. Some of this is quite scary. It is a particular challenge for those concerned with the impact on children. Teaching media literacy in schools is seen as an antidote to fake news, hate speech and propaganda.

The Hungarian government opened this week a media literacy center in Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, about 200 km east of Budapest. It is for 9 to 16 year olds. There are a lot of computers. In 2014 a media literacy center was established in Budapest. (See more about media in Hungary here)

On hand for the Debrecen center opening was media regulator National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH) president Monika Karas. “We believe that if we reach the children’s interest with critical deliberation and through smart devices… they will be more balanced, confident and responsible adults,” she said, quoted by hirado.hu (February 8). “I am confident that at the Debrecen media center the experience will last a lifetime and will be an experience they can take home with them.” Media consumers, she added, should be aware of the motivation of creators and critical of all information.

To that subject video journalists from news portal 444.hu (February 8) attempted to ask Dr. Karas about recent developments in the Hungarian media sphere, such as the arrival of political operatives at newspaper Figyelot and the closing of daily Nepszabadsag last October. "This is a celebration for children on issues which have nothing to do with the Nepszabadsag,” she said, abruptly ending the interview calling the questions a “provocation.”

The 2016 RSF Press Freedom Index ranked Hungary 67th in the world, between Malawi and Bosnia-Herzegovina, down from 10th in 2006.

User experience enhanced by focus on users
“wildly irritating”

A mainstay of media conferences is the always well-attended seminar on enhancing the user experience. There’s even an acronym: UX. Suggestions include more content, different content, content targeting, artificial intelligence, multi-device interaction. The list goes on.

Sometimes simple irritants are overlooked. Denmark’s Marketing Practices Act tackles one for even the least technical. One publisher - Politiken - has been caught out, reports journalisten.dk (February 7). (See more about media in Denmark here)

Politiken has a Facebook page, like nearly every online publisher. Content - formerly known as articles - is previewed there with the appropriate link to the Politiken site. Alas, the Politiken website is protected by a paywall to which the Facebook page snippet makes no mention. Irritating.

“I would say that it is a misleading omission,” said consumer protection lawyer Heidi Højmark Helveg. The term “misleading omission” is specific to the Marketing Practices Act (Markedsføringsloven - 2013). “I think there are a lot in media who do not pay attention to the rules. It is just such a thing that people will be wildly irritated by.” (See more about paywalls here)

"We have done it based solely on the fact that it provides the best user experience,” said Politiken publisher Jyllands-Posten marketing manager Signe Roholt. “I was actually not aware that it was written in the Marketing Practices Act.”

Advertisers bolt news channels on political coverage
journalists on black list

Romania TV executives are pleading with media buyers to bring back the ads. Advertisers, reportedly, have pulled their pitches because of the all-news channel’s coverage of recent demonstrations, reported media news portal paginademedia.ro (February 7), which also noted a drop in the number of advertisers using Romania TV and all-news TV competitor Antena 3. Media regulator CNA has invited TV news channel representatives, including B1 TV, to an “informal” meeting.

“In the current environment, we believe it is necessary to remind you that commercial advertising has nothing to do with politics or political debate and does not mean that presence in ad breaks on news stations, such as Romania TV, implies in any way (support) for any party or politician,” said the letter to advertisers, obtained by paginademedia.ro. “Please ask whether, during one of the most tumultuous periods, misinformation and intoxication is not meant to discredit news station Romania TV, destabilize its work.”

Protestors took to the streets of Bucharest and other Romanian cities after the government ordered a relaxation of corruption prosecutions last week. After a week which saw thousands expressing their dismay through this past weekend, some reports suggest 500,000 people, the order was rescinded. Descriptions of the Sunday (February 5) Bucharest demonstration on the TV news channels, the largest in Romania since dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was driven out in 1989, varied widely. (See more about media in Romania here)

Last week Interior Minister Carmen Dan specifically named several journalists who “support these protests on the street,” reported realitatea.net (February 2). One of the named, Catalin Tolontan, shot back: “Citizens pay the Interior Minister to find thugs on the market, not journalists on Facebook,” quoted by Evenimentul Zilei (February 3).

Romanian media proprietors are quite colorful, very rich and politically active. Former member of parliament Sebastian Ghita owns Romania TV and has been investigated for corrupt practices. He disappeared in mid-December, Interpol arrest warrant posted. Antena 3 is owned by Intact Media Group, operator of several Romanian TV channels, newspapers and radio stations. It was founded by Dan Voiculescu, a political figure convicted for money laundering in 2013, and his daughter Camelia Voiculescu is the current company president. The other privately owned TV news channel is B1 TV, principally owned by Sorin Oancea, once associated with Antena 3 and the Voiculescu family.

Fake news in check and less bling
“we have to fight back”

The rise of fake news meant to sow confusion and mistrust has distressed real news outlets whose currency is fact and truth. Also distressed, for different reasons, are giants of online distribution Google and Facebook. Real news outlets always trade on the trust of their readers, viewers and listeners. Google and Facebook, fonts of every online possibility, are under pressure to take a stand.

Both Google and Facebook announced fact-checking initiatives in France this week (February 6) following similar projects in the United States and Germany. Google News Lab and First Draft network will be offering fact-checking tool CrossCheck in collaboration with nearly every real news provider in France from February 27th through the French presidential election rounds in April and May. Separately, Facebook is launching its fake news ‘name and shame’ platform in France with several of the same real news collaborators.

“As with journalists’ safety, media do not need to compete when it comes to fighting disinformation and manipulation,” said Agence France-Presse (AFP) news director Michèle Léridon in a statement. “Between post-truth and conspiracies, the core values of our profession are under attack and we have to fight back together.” News agency AFP will participate in both projects along with publishers Les Echos, Le Monde, L'Express, Libération and 20 Minutes, public broadcasters France Télévisions and France Médias Monde and private broadcaster BFM-TV. (See AFP presser here) Students from Science-Po Paris School of Journalism will provide some of the fact-checking manpower, supervised by AFP.

“I’m confident we will be able help to stem the flow of misinformation at this crucial time for France,” said First Draft News managing director Jenni Sargent, quoted by capital.fr (February 6). “For a challenge as great as this, strength really comes in numbers." First Draft News is a non-profit network of 80 news outlets, principally funded by Google.

Last week newspaper La Croix and researcher Kantar Public France released their 30th annual barometer of confidence in French media. The results were hardly unexpected and not pretty. Confidence in all media fell to 64% from 75% in 2007. Radio broadcasters, on aggregate, led with 52% of those surveyed granting confidence. Newspapers followed at 44%, then TV with 41%. (See more about media in France here)

By contrast a majority of French people (52%) don’t believe the internet is credible. Nearly three-quarters don’t trust anything they see on social media. Shaping this, perhaps, survey respondents named three news items from 2016 they felt were overexposed: the summertime row over the burkini ban (62%), theft of Kim Kardashian’s bling (62%) and the US presidential election campaign (55%).

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