The term ‘post-truth’ as in ‘post-truth politics’ was declared the word of the year in 2016 by Oxford Dictionary after considering its widespread popularity in the backdrop of 2016 US presidential election where Donald Trump emerged triumphant and the Brexit Referendum in UK. The Oxford Dictionary defines post-truth as “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In the Indian context, the term has been even more relevant to the nationalism narrative being swept across the country simultaneously with the rise of Modi into power.
In such a scenario, the biggest hurdle being put to the field of journalism is the ever mounting struggle to remain factual in the post-truth era. What is even more challenging is the blurring of lines between the definitions of opinions and news. As everyone with a mobile phone or internet connectivity becomes content generators in the highly digitised modern world, Fake News which can be defined as a deliberate attempt at disinformation for some gains, has posed a serious threat to the fourth pillar of democracy.
Any student of journalism would agree to the fact that they are being taught to report only facts without inserting their personal views. They are also encouraged to take pride in themselves for maintaining the objectivity of their reporting and not adding their personal stance on the matter being reported. Thankfully, we have a section called ‘opinion’ which is entirely different from those being published as ‘news reports’ or ‘news articles’. Writers of opinion pieces such as this one published with a name undersigned, do as the category suggests; it gives personal opinions, not factual reporting. An unsigned editorial that may represent the views of a news organisation, is also different from an opinion piece which comes with an undersigned and both of them should not be confused with news at all.
If one of the purposes of a personal opinion piece is to persuade readers to adopt a particular position on a subject matter or event, or simply ignite a public debate on a prevailing issue, opinion givers are allowed to be aggressive, hot-headed or emotional. If truth is contextual, the best way to arrive at its most accurate version is though multiple voices of consent and dissent, refutation or acceptance from the public generated by such an opinion piece that may or may not be based on factual premises.
In regards to post-truth politics, experts have pointed out that election is a controlled spectacle, managed by professionals in ‘techniques of persuasion’ in a range of issues. Election campaigners repeat their slogans which have a strong emotional appeal even if they may not be factually accurate. This has been the defining characteristic of post-truth politics. Here, the sketch writer of UK publication, The Daily Telegraph, Michael Deacon accurately captured the essence of post-truth politics as “Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic.”
Setting aside politics and politicians, personal opinions that intend to spark a public debate should not be confused with post-truth politics. It may be considered in the pure essence of ‘Post-Truth’ define by the Oxford Dictionary, if not always, as an attempt to shape public opinion by appealing to emotion and personal beliefs. But how it is perceived by the readers also depends on their personal opinions as well. It is the very essence of Democracy which gives them the equal right to refute or accept the personal views presented here.
Leader Writer – Arambam Luther