Separating fact from fiction on the news desk

From aborted day trips to Salisbury Cathedral to the motives behind payments to adult film stars, claims put forward by influential figures across the world are forcing the media to be more critical, more discerning and more inquisitive than ever before

Will Kirby
Thursday 25 October 2018 01:03
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It took 18 days for Saudi Arabia to admit missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been killed. Despite the intensifying global demand for answers, the kingdom repeatedly disputed allegations it had played any role until, on Friday evening, the pressure seemingly became too much. Abandoning previous denials, the Saudis claimed Khashoggi had, in fact, been killed accidentally in a fist fight.

The Saudi explanation immediately raised eyebrows. Was it really feasible that a man, who’d apparently gone into the embassy to pick up some marriage paperwork, could have engaged in a fight with 15 other men – a fight which ultimately cost him his life? If this was the case, why had Saudi Arabia feigned ignorance for more than two weeks? And where was the body?

These were just a few of the questions bandied around the newsroom as the Saudi explanation emerged. A key part of a journalist’s job is to go through any information with a fine-tooth comb, but this is made more and more difficult by some of the increasingly questionable defences offered by people from all walks of life. From the man on the street to the man in the Oval Office, misinformation has becoming part of our daily lives. Holding power to account is one of the central purposes of journalism, but the erosion of truth and the subsequent lurch towards spin, deception, distortion and ‘alternative facts’ is changing the way we work.

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