In a week when fake news continued to dominate the news agenda, the spread of misinformation and its effect on levels of trust in society was discussed at the first of a brand new series of events created by the European Association of Communications Directors (EACD). Also discussed were solutions, remedies and strategies to fight back against the spread of fake news to rebuild brand trust.

Moderator Marco Magli, head of media and external relations at Avio Aero (General Electric) and EACD regional coordinator in Italy, set the scene by drawing on the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer to describe the low levels of trust among the general public in societal institutions. The assembled panel, representing the fields of business, politics, broadcasting media, economics and journalism, then took turns to reflect on the how and why behind the loss of trust in their respective professions – and propose ways to fight back against misinformation and win back trust.



Anthony Gooch Gàlvez, director of public affairs and communications at intergovernmental economic organisation OECD (he's also vice-president of the EACD), pointed out that, while there may be nothing new about misinformation and fake news stories, a perfect storm of debased journalistic standards zombie orthodoxy and politicians' willingness to bend the truth has enabled misinformation to become mainstream. Anthony called for the kind of protection for voters that is given to consumers, arguing that, if a brand can’t get away with false advertising, why should a politician get away with false promises?



Ryan O’Keeffe, director of communications at the evening’s host, Italian energy giant ENEL, drew on his background in finance to remind the audience of how a single fake news story can have a dramatically negative impact on the share price or on an M&A deal. What’s more, if reputation is the basis for the licence to operate, a loss of trust resulting from misinformation can fatally undermine a company. But, Ryan believes, people are increasingly willing to pay for news reporting that can boast bullet-proof accuracy, and a combination of empowered journalists, an educated media audience and even fact-checking algorithms, will help raise the level of public debate and begin the process of rebuilding trust in brands and public institutions.



According to Luigi Contu, editor in chief of the Italian news agency ANSA, too many journalists act like passionate supporters instead of impartial referees: as a result they lose credibility. To win back credibility, journalists must draw on their most effective weapon against fake news, which also happens to be their most traditional: good old-fashioned journalistic fact-checking. Fact-checking is a resource that is in danger of becoming a luxury in a time of cash-strapped media budgets and free online news, but the public need to be taught that, despite what they have come to expect through their Facebook news feeds, credibility has a value, and that reputable information does not come for free.



A more media-savvy public was also proposed by Paolo Messa member of the board of directors at Italian public broadcasting company RAI. Bemoaning the fact that the media business model has changed from being one that manufacturers consent to one that manufacturers dissent in pursuit of more clicks and shares, Paolo argued that it’s not just better journalists but better readers that are needed. The role of media companies like RAI needs to be teaching the young about media ethics, especially on social media. “Our mission as publishers should shift from information and entertainment towards education”, Paolo said, suggesting that a strong alliance between media, schools and families would form the main pillar of better, more accurate and more trustworthy media.



With important elections taking place across Europe this year, Aura Salla, adviser for communication and outreach at the European Political Strategy Centre of the European Commission, warned of the harmful effects of the type of misinformation prevalent in media coverage of the EU. When combined with a lack of spontaneity and immediacy in typical EU political communications, the result is a disengaged electorate that feels itself to be remote from the decisions taken in Brussels. If Donald Trump has one thing right, said Aura, it’s that he knows how to connect with people in a language they understand and on platforms they use. EU politicians need to learn from this.



A two-hour debate could only begin to scratch the surface of this multifaceted subject: to follow up on the discussion, watch this space for our interviews with the panelists, and follow the @eacdonline Twitter feed for more.