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Fake news vs. real news with Norway’s leading journalist

Skilled media is a crucial premise for modern democracies.

01.04.2020

Investigative journalist, economist and editor, Vibeke Holth has been uncovering white-collar crimes such as corruption and money laundering for almost ten years. She marked herself as one of the journalists in Norway who has revealed the most cases of financial crime.

With her vast experience from the industry, she takes Equality Check readers through the important role the media plays during the current COVID-19 pandemic, how to capture nuances in reporting, source reliability and distinguishing fake news from real news.

Since 2009, Holth has worked as an editor in Kapital. Here she has built up the magazine Kapital Travel. It is also Holth who has been responsible for the magazine's annual selection of Norway's most powerful women, which has earned great recognition from leading politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders.

What is the media's role in communicating current events to people?

Our job is to be an independent broadcaster of news and information. Not only by day-to-day reporting on ongoing events, like the COVID-19 pandemic but also by providing comments and analyses, such as the economic impacts that we focus on at Kapital.

Skilled media is a crucial premise for modern democracies, and I would argue that its importance is in no way less than that of politicians. It is through the media that people become aware of so many aspects of the life of which they are normally ignorant. I dare not think about how many more lives would have been lost these days if it had not been for all the important information that journalists around the world have published regarding the virus.

As a public watchdog, uncovering everything from lies and double standards to crime and corruption, journalists are not always so popular, but I hope everybody will realize that the “Fourth Estate” is more important than ever.

We see an exceptionally saturated media-landscape reporting on the current COVID-19 situation. How does the media ensure a nuanced narrative?

Good question! I think it is especially difficult for online newspapers, who need to publish their news fast and are measured by clicks, to capture all the nuances in their reporting. So if you only stick to the online news channels, be aware that you can miss many perspectives in your news feed.

If you want to make the best out of the ongoing crisis, my advice is to grab a good magazine, a cup of tea or coffee, lean back in a comfortable chair and get more insights into our multifaceted world.

Luckily, we live in a time with an extremely diverse media landscape with a record-high number of various newspapers, TV and radio channels, magazines, online papers, podcasts and social media that all together provide a variety of angles. By digging into TV documentaries, podcasts and magazine articles, not the least from foreign media, you can easily get the broader perspectives that many daily news channels fail to communicate. For my own part, I love the more in-depth analyses and insights that many magazines provide. If you want to make the best out of the ongoing crisis, my advice is to grab a good magazine, a cup of tea or coffee, lean back in a comfortable chair and get more insights into our multifaceted world.

The importance of trustful sources and accurate facts are maybe more important than ever with various experts’ opinions and messages circulating. How does this influence reporting? And has this changed the way journalists work?

According to a report published in the Washington Post, there were around two million tweets containing conspiracy theories about the coronavirus published during three weeks in January and February. Personally I think the rise of these online “experts” and bloggers has improved journalism. Competition is good, and I think it has made the readers more aware of the value-added that traditional journalists provide when it comes to following ethical guidelines, being objective, choosing several, and the right, sources and reporting accurate – values I think serious journalists embrace even more now.

I think the crisis by far exceeds our worst-case scenarios. The good news is that readers are now gathering around the traditional and credible media to gain information, and I think this is because they report in a neutral manner.

The need for ethical journalism is key these days. How do media-outlets stay clear of the temptation for sensationalism and clickbait?

The pandemic itself is so fatal that there should be no need to dramatize it. With more than 1.2 million confirmed infected, approx. 70.000 deaths, crowded hospitals, shutdown of schools, kindergartens, training centers, hairdressers and restaurants, the worst unemployment since the 1930s, numerous companies going bankrupt, children and elderly people suffering at home, and an almost unimaginable increase in public spending – before we have seen the peak of the pandemic – I think the crisis by far exceeds our worst case scenarios. The good news is that readers are now gathering around the traditional and credible media to gain information, and I think this is because they report in a neutral manner.

There is a lot of misinformation circulating - what is your advice to people for separating fake news from real news?

Ask yourself Who? What? Where? When? Why?

The Five W's is a simple, yet effective, tool to reveal fake news. Check out who’s the author and what are the qualifications of the author in regard to the topic that is discussed. What type of source is it? Where was the information first published? When was it published? And why was it published? By answering those questions you’ll easily get a clue whether the information is false or not. But confusingly, some fake news also contains a mixture of correct information, which makes it more difficult to spot what is true and accurate. Serious reporters will quote their sources and often include links to the documents or memos they’re referencing. You can also check out the URL to see if it looks off in some way. This is often a sign of a website that shares fake news.

Lastly - the tone and extensiveness of media coverage on a particular topic influence people's wellbeing. Do you have some advice to newspapers and media-outlets on the balance between “regular news” and educational news related to the current situation? And what is your advice to the average news-reader?

On the one hand, it is very important for everybody to follow the news picture to get information on how to deal with infection risk, illness and what the authorities are doing to help all those who are financially affected so that they can receive help. On the other hand, readers are running the risk of being exposed to information overload, and many can easily get depressed and scared by all the gloomy news. But the news media should in no way influence or balance the news stream to protect the readers. We must correctly report what is happening, and when it is happening, or else we will lose our credibility.

How is the corona-crisis affecting equality and diversity? Spend 2 minutes and get instant feedback on what others are saying. NOTE: Survey is in Norwegian.


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