Herts Ad Comment: The antidote to fake news

Rev Peter Crumpler, Associate Minister at St Leonard’s Church, Sandridge.

Rev Peter Crumpler, Associate Minister at St Leonard’s Church, Sandridge. - Credit: Archant

Guest columnist Rev Peter Crumpler, associate minister at St Leonard’s Church, Sandridge, explains why local newspapers are the best solution to fake news.

‘Fake news is not our friend’ runs the headline on an ad from a social network company trying to distance itself from criticism.

But ‘fake news’ and disinformation are no one’s friends. They undermine the concept of truth, build a climate of mistrust and make national and local debates so much harder.

Yet I believe strongly one of the most robust antidotes to fake news lies much closer to home than Silicon Valley.

It’s in front of your eyes now.

I’ve held a passion for local newspapers and radio throughout my life, and have spent more than 40 years contributing to them.

Now, as a parish priest, I see even more clearly that ultimately everything is local, and we should cherish organisations that enhance local life.

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I’m in good company. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called for all government bodies and businesses to focus on the local. This, he said, would boost accountability, build close relationships with the communities they serve and ensure “a sense of the local” was driving their agenda.

Local newspapers have a key role to play. Look through the Herts Ad in newsprint or online, and you’ll see news of what grassroots organisations are doing, helping them to recruit volunteers or raise funds.

You’ll see local politicians being held to account and concerns of residents being aired and supported. In contrast, the lack of an effective local media meant the valid grievances of the Grenfell Tower residents went unheard.

Churches and other faith groups play their part in local life too. Take the wide-ranging community, education and arts work at the Abbey, or how churches run food banks and other welfare projects.

Relations between the church and the media can be difficult. Rightly, when the church has been slow to respond to wrongdoing, or fails to meet its own professed moral standards.

But I want to declare my support for a strong, challenging and campaigning local media that stands up against fake news and disinformation.

I pray that the Government’s current review into the future of local and regional newspapers finds a way forward that protects accurate, truthful local news.

A powerful antidote to fake news, and a champion for localism is in our hands and on our screens, on paper and digitally.

Let’s all value it and help to promote its wellbeing.