John Lansing, the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the parent organization for the Voice of America, told a panel commemorating World Press Freedom Day that there is a war of information happening in the world.
The BBG and George Washington University's (GWU) School for Media and Public Affairs organized the panel in Washington on Monday to discuss the challenges of international journalism, the rise of fake news and how media can establish credibility.
Lansing brought up the allegations that Russia interfered in the recent U.S. election and said people should be alarmed by those reports and step up their investment in factual information. If not, he said, "I really fear what the consequences might be."
The acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, D. Bruce Wharton said it "feels like the media environment around the globe is deteriorating." He said during the keynote address that "it is important that we are all here today to stand in defense of press freedom."
Michael Oreskes, senior vice president of news and editorial director at National Public Radio, said the rise of fake news is undermining a fundamental base of journalism — the belief that there are facts. He said journalists "believe in our role of what is a fact" and know "how to track down where information came from."
He said in "a war of information, journalists cannot be sucked in as combatants … we are not on any side." Oreskes said journalists must reestablish their credibility and establish a relationship with an audience.
Elise Labott, CNN's global affairs correspondent, said now that some media are being seen as fake news, and “it’s causing us to spend our day either defending ourselves or repacking the facts to show that our facts are right instead of our original mission, which is to just do the reporting and let it speak for itself.”
Lansing says he sometimes hears the argument that if the United States is trying to oppose propaganda from foreign countries, then it should respond with propaganda. However, he said if the BBG did that, it would lose its credibility.
"We hold ourselves accountable to these audiences that they trust us," he said.
Moderator Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at GWU, said the media must do better.
"We are not trusted, we are not transparent," he said, adding that the media must do a better job educating people every day about how they gather information.
"That needs to be a much more conscious campaign," he said.