'Journalists must call out lies' says NCTJ patron Alex Crawford in charity's annual report

Alex Crawford, patron of the NCTJ and special correspondent for Sky News, has urged journalists to call out lies.

Writing in the NCTJ's 2018-19 annual report, published today, Alex said: "Let’s not forget our collective role is crucial in correcting the wrongs and the untruths, uncovering the reality and perhaps most critical of all, calling out the lies - on every occasion - tirelessly."

Read the full piece below:
 

This has been the year of the lie – and it’s down to journalists the world over to put a stop to this. Because no-one else can. It doesn’t matter how senior or junior you are; how skilled or inexperienced you are. Whether you’re just entering the profession after receiving an NCTJ certification or you’re 30 years into the news business. It’s a duty that never ends. So please help stop this.

When you’re setting your goals for the next year, maybe make this one of your top priorities? This is where top quality training provided by the NCTJ comes into its own. The NCTJ mission is to provide the backbone; the muscle; the foundations for journalists from all cultures, social groups and genders to thrive and hold all, ALL to account.

I’m thankfully far from alone in feeling very strongly it is our role as journalists not just to tell the uncomfortable truth but also to point out the awkward lie, however big, however small. So why do we seem to be failing? Because people, in many ways we are. Somehow, it’s now perfectly normal if you’re a publicly-elected official, world leader or industry leader to tell lies. You’re almost exceptional if you DON’T. And if we as journalists do not call out these lies – EVERY single time – then frankly we are complicit in this growing addiction with fairy story-telling.

I think what we’ve all got to realise is the rules have dramatically changed. And so too must our approach. Tear up that old rulebook which said ‘a journalist must be impartial at all times’ and replace it with ‘a journalist must call out lies’. Because there IS no impartiality about the truth. It is either true – or it isn’t. You either had sex with a 17-year-old or you didn’t. You either declared a personal relationship when you were meant to, or you didn’t. You either dropped bombs on a civilian area in Syria, or you didn’t. But you need to have done all the digging and unearthed all the ‘bodies’ so you can face every denial that’s coming.

Emily Maitlis led a masterclass in journalist interrogation with charm, persistence and forensic-attention to detail. There are others too leading the charge in uncovering truth and not being afraid to lay it all out there bare – but it needs board rooms, lawyers, editors and publishers too to have courage and persistence. And maybe more, much more. And we should all be trying to work out HOW, as journalists we stop this insidious rot which is spreading like a virus.

If a leader is elected on the back of lies, what then? If a referendum result is based on lies, how do we deal with it? If a war is begun on the basis of a fundamental untruth, how do we live with that? We have to accept the responsibility that if the public, our readers and viewers believe the lies then it’s because we journalists are failing in somehow getting the truth across. And that is the harsh reality. We have to be much more clever folks. And maybe much more drastic.

In America, senior journalists are calling for ‘inveterate liars’ to have the plug pulled on them. That is, stop putting them on air; no matter how powerful they are; stop allowing them to spread lies which gain traction just by dint of the fact the lies are heard so many times people begin believing them.

CNN has taken the unprecedented decision to refuse to air a Trump campaign ad which repeated blatant untruths about Joe Biden. I can hear the howls now: this kind of censorship will be abhorred in many quarters. Then, it is time to dream up alternatives. Because the current approach is leading to outcomes which may be the undoing of us all.

Perhaps the antidote is to unleash Tom Peck of The Independent on them all. Because he most certainly cannot be accused of holding back on calling a liar, what he is, a liar. ‘It is less than four weeks until the election,’ he wrote recently ‘and potentially less than four weeks until it is confirmed that you really can win a general election, in the United Kingdom, in 2019, by lying and lying and lying and lying and lying without stopping.’ Yet the establishment – and it has to be said – possibly much of the media is not doing enough to support their own colleagues and outlets who DO veer brazenly into the lion’s den.

Channel 4 has found itself excluded from most TV debates and Prime Minister’s interviews after one of its executives, Dorothy Byrne, called both the Conservative and the Labour Party leaders ‘cowards’ and questioned the impact on democracy if journalists continued to avoid using the ‘l’ word and refrained from levelling accusations when deserved.

Ms Byrne’s actual words were: ‘I believe that we need to start calling politicians out as liars when they lie. If we continue to be so polite, how will our viewers know that politicians ARE lying?’ But that kind of courage has led to exclusion and not an awful lot of collegiate support to be honest. More a wry, ‘great that puts THEM out of the competition to get the interview then’.

Journalism is more important than ever now – and that means the TRAINING of journalists to turn them into outstanding, creative, questioning, courageous hunters of truth is at its most critical. Let’s not forget our collective role is crucial in correcting the wrongs and the untruths, uncovering the reality and perhaps most critical of all, calling out the lies - on every occasion - tirelessly. Staying silent, letting this one pass, failing to speak out – are not options. And all this starts on Day One of any training. Good luck and have a great year.