Newspapers carry out social mission to provide solid, reliable information

Unreliable information and malicious false rumors have been spreading in society. This is especially intolerable when it comes to the novel coronavirus. We wish to bring to mind again the role media organizations should play in verifying facts and conveying them correctly.

Newspaper Week will start on Oct. 15. Regarding the coronavirus, suspicious information was observed mainly on the internet, such as conspiracy theories claiming that the spread of infection was artificially induced, and supposed preventive measures backed by no scientific evidence. Around the world, many people believe the false rumors and refrain from getting vaccinated.

False information that incites social anxiety prevents people from acting properly. Precisely because now is a time of crisis, it is essential to have access to accurate information based on scientific evidence and to calmly make decisions.

According to a survey conducted by the Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association in light of the coronavirus pandemic, 70% of respondents said newspapers were “reliable,” the highest percentage among media. This result can be said to show that people have high expectations of newspapers.

False information can lead to defamation of people. Recently, false rumors spread on social media that children had died after getting vaccinated at an elementary school and a high school in the Kansai region, leading to libelous comments such as “the school is covering it up.”

Certain people, including even a local assembly member, are believed to have been involved in spreading the false rumors. The schools, inundated with protests, had to respond to the false rumors by posting comments refuting them on their websites. This must have caused great worry to guardians and students.

Newspaper companies try to engage in news gathering and report stories from multiple perspectives, such as by checking the authenticity of information through multiple sources and objective data, as well as introducing the opinions of experts. In circumstances, such as the coronavirus pandemic, which can easily produce anxiety, the importance of these efforts becomes even greater.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, in addition to reporting on the ever-changing infection situation, has proposed measures offering solutions to related issues. The Yomiuri even put forward its own proposals last year and again in March this year. The latest proposals called for the government to construct a strategic system to provide medical care for infectious diseases with specific measures, including the establishment of temporary facilities to provide medical and convalescent services to COVID-19 patients in preparation for an infection explosion.

It is also an important role of newspapers to continuously cover and record certain topics. Since the day of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, the Yomiuri has been reporting the actual situations of damage caused by the disaster and the reconstruction process in the afflicted areas. This year, marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster, the Yomiuri reported in special features, focusing on the significance of handing down memories of the disaster to future generations and making effective use of the lessons learned from them.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to two journalists who have been defying the regimes in the Philippines and Russia. In the world, the rise of authoritarian states has shaken free speech, which is the foundation of democracy. This award may show a sense of urgency about the current situation.

It is vital for us to bear in mind the need to protect a society by ourselves, in which people can speak freely.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Oct. 13, 2021.