Collins Dictionary's word of the year in 2017 was 'fake news', which meant 'false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting' (Collins Dictionary 2018. s.v. fake news).
President Trump speaks of fake news that has morphed into the phrase, 'Enemy of the people'.
Egypt has enacted 'fake news' legislation, as have France, Belarus, Russia, and Singapore. Malaysia has rescinded fake news laws with its new government.
What is fake news? 'The BBC defines fake news as false information distributed deliberately, usually for political or commercial purposes'.
So, fake news is false, sensational reporting of information that is supposed to be news' journalism. But it is used deliberately for other purposes.
Have we seen it crafted in our Australian culture in a recent political example.
2. Four steps to generate fake news
These are four steps that I've identified:
Step 1: Somebody makes a statement about any issue.
Step 2: Others breed false information about this statement.
Step 3: This false information is spread through the media as newsworthy journalism. In Australia, MPs have joined in.
Step 4: Conclusion: Fake news is created.
Let's follow this story.
Step 1: Senator Fraser Anning's 'final solution for immigration'
This article is not about whether I agree or disagree with the content of Senator Fraser Anning's maiden speech in the Australian Senate on 14 August 2018. That's for another time.
His speech can be read at: Full text: Senator Fraser Anning's maiden speech.
In my view, some news sources have fallen into the fake news' trap with making one phrase in Senator Anning's speech, the 'final solution for immigration', parallel to Hitler's 'final solution'.
The Guardian Australia reported that Anning 'didn't even think about' the historical connotations. His speech was taken 'completely out of context' and his remarks had 'nothing to do with' the Nazi party's Final Solution. Anning said: 'The fact is all I said was the final solution to the immigration problem is a vote of the Australian people…. I don't regret anything ... I'm not going to apologise or regret anything I say'.
Step 2: The 'final solution' beat up
Senator Pauline Hanson admitted on Q&A 'she didn't know what the term 'final solution' meant when Anning used it in the Senate. Bob Katter MP was absolutely clear in his support for Anning: He told Q&A Anning had 'absolutely no idea' that the term, 'final solution' described the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe. Katter said his Party was pro-Jewish and described the speech as 'absolutely magnificent'.
Step 3: False information spread
This is only a taste of what the media and MPs have been reported as saying.
Hype by MPs and Senators
Concerning Anning's 'final solution' statement:
- Former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: 'We reject, we condemn racism in any form, and the remarks by Senator Anning are justly condemned and rejected by us all'; it was a 'shocking insult' to the Jewish people;
- Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition, 'repugnant and disgraceful'.
- Senator Pauline Hanson said the speech was 'straight from Goebbels' handbook from Nazi Germany'.
- The energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, a Jew, labelled the comments 'extremely ignorant' and 'hurtful, divisive and unacceptable'. He added in an interview with Channel 9 that Anning 'should not only retract his comments last night but he should also immediately go and visit a Holocaust museum ... and hear first hand from survivors how raw the pain is and hear about and see the destruction and devastation caused by the Nazi killing machine'.
- The leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale: 'Referring to immigrants, particularly Muslim immigrants, with the same language that the Nazi's used to discuss the extermination of Europe's Jews during the Holocaust is vile, racist, bigoted and has no place in our society, let alone our parliament'.
Not all parliamentarians were against Anning's 'final solution for immigration' association with the Holocaust. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm called the response a 'ridiculous overreaction' to a phrase that could have 'multiple meanings'.
Huffing and puffing by the mass media
It was an unusual alliance of politicians joining with the mass media to create what has a striking resemblance to fake news.
Step 4: Fake news has been created
We've moved from:
- A person making a statement about one issue, to
- Other people placing another spin on the statement.
- The new spin is spread by mass and social media.
- So, the fake news has been generated.
In the Aussie example, what was the original statement?
3. What did Senator Anning actually say?
Please analyse his speech. He outlined his immediate concerns and what he saw as critical problems for Australia. They were:
- 'My most immediate concern is saving agriculture in this country'.
- 'My next biggest concern is rural infrastructure development. First and foremost, my priority is water…. My first solution is to build the Bradfield scheme'.
- 'The next critical problem that we need to address is immigration. Australia currently has the highest per capita immigration rate in the world'.
- 'Finally, it should go without saying that, as a nation, we are entitled to require that those who come here not only have useful work skills and qualifications but also the commitment to work and pay taxes'.
It was in the last statement that Anning fired up those who took his comments out of context and beat up a story. Politicians and mass media generated fake news hype – in my opinion.
Part of what he stated was:
In the days of Menzies, immigrants arriving here were not allowed to apply for welfare and that attracted exactly the right sort of hard-working people this country needed. We should go back to that and ban all immigrants receiving welfare for the first five years after they arrive. The final solution to the immigration problem is, of course, a popular vote. We don't need a plebiscite to cut immigration numbers; we just need a government that is willing to institute a sustainable population policy, end Australian-job-stealing 457 vis. What we do need a plebiscite for is to decide who comes here (emphasis added).
In this 35.10 minute speech, he acknowledged he was a 'conservative Christian'. The sentence that got on the goat of politicians, the mass media, and led to fake news being perpetrated by them (in my view) was: 'The final solution to the immigration problem is a popular vote'
Bob Katter MP, leader of Katter's Australian Party (KAP), said he 'supports his colleague Fraser Anning "one thousand per cent"'.
The context of Anning's maiden speech in the Senate on 14 August 2018 was what to do about immigration policy in Australia's intake of migrants. He wants the Australian people to decide with a vote. He confirmed that his 'final solution' had nothing whatsoever to do with Hitler's 'final solution' in the Holocaust of World War 2.
It sure sounds like the MPs and media have taken Anning's comment out of context and made it mean what he did not intend. That's how fake news is developed and promoted (based on the definitions above).
It seems to me that the 'fake news' definition from the Collins Dictionary has been played out before my eyes in Australia in 2018.
A new replacement senator, Fraser Anning, made a maiden speech in the Australian Senate and listed several of his priorities. One of those was, 'The final solution to the immigration problem is, of course, a popular vote. We don't need a plebiscite to cut immigration numbers; we just need a government that is willing to institute a sustainable population policy', were his words in context.
MPs, Senators and mass media picked up two words, 'final solution', took them right out of context and applied them to the Nazi 'final solution' to exterminate 10 million Jews in the Holocaust of World War 2. They bred and fed false and sensational information from a simple statement about immigration. One doesn't have to agree with Anning's content, but what the MPs and Senators made of those two words was fake news, in my view.
These falsely generated particulars were spread through the mass media.
So, fake news about immigration in a Senator's parliamentary speech was developed into 'real' news about Fraser Anning promoting a 'final solution' to the immigration problem that was like the Nazi's 'final solution'.