Why journalism is for social good

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CNN International’s Manisha Tank — who was in the country recently for the 2017 Media Congress of the Media Specialists Association of the Philippines — discusses journalistic integrity, the problem of fake news, and the heart of truthful reporting. Photo courtesy of MANISHA TANK

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Having an audience of 455.1 million worldwide is an immense responsibility, especially if you’re in the business of reporting and journalism. As one of the journalists working in CNN, Manisha Tank knows how her role as an international correspondent can provide a key to understanding the world that we live in now, especially in a time when the integrity of the media is put under scrutiny.

Tank has been a CNN correspondent for the last eight years, serving as anchor for several flagship programs such as News Stream, CNN Newsroom, and World Business Today. She’s been on the ground covering breaking news such as the Hong Kong umbrella protests and the spread of the Zika virus in Singapore. Tank has also occasionally hosted Talk Asia where she’s interviewed personalities such as actor Robert De Niro, chef Gordon Ramsey, and even Filipino executive Teresita Sy Coson. Prior to joining CNN, Tank has had a decade of experience working for Thomson Reuters and as a BBC news anchor.

“When news first breaks, we sometimes have nothing but a few facts and our sense of sheer responsibility to the world to add order, context, and meaning to the conversation, to get us through,” says Tank. “I’m serious about doing my best by our audiences and honoured by every journalist, technician and contributor who supports these efforts.”

Tank was recently in the country as a speaker at the 2017 Media Congress of the Media Specialists Association of the Philippines at Camp John Hay in Baguio City. In her presentation, Tank cites a quote from Thomas Jefferson about the role of the media, discussing journalism in the post-truth era:

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

“I think it really pertains to what Christiane Amanpour said,” says Tank, answering a question about Donald Trump’s accusations against CNN as ‘fake news.’ “She made the most important assertion, which was divided we all fall. So why are we all doing it in the first place? It's not because we're entertainers. We're out there because we believe in something. We believe in our democracies. We believe in knowing and understanding our world. We believe in a better world. How do you achieve a better world? By informing it and taking that responsibility on your shoulders,” she says.

She further explains that while CNN has a great breadth of global resources, the organization shares this responsibility with other press organizations, news organizations, and news wires. “... We’re all working to that goal. It really goes back to the fundamentals of why you do it in the first place,” she adds.

Manisha Tank CNN International correspondent Manisha Tank at the 2017 Media Congress of the Media Specialists Association of the Philippines. "We're going to be factual, we're going to be transparent, we're going to be accountable, we're going to be relevant, we're going to ask the questions that need to be asked," says Tank. "We won't back down from that. And the journalism only gets stronger." Photo by MARIEL FERNANDEZ

Tank sat down with CNN Philippines Life for a brief discussion on journalistic integrity, the problem of fake news, and the core of truthful reporting. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

During the media congress, you talked about post-truth where the public appeals to emotion rather than fact. How can journalists navigate around this culture of post-truth?

I think they have to be as close to the truth as they can. And I say “as they can” only because you know you've probably heard the phrase that one man's fact is another man's fiction. It is about sourcing everything that we say. It's about double-checking every bit of information that we consume. It's about being border-tight when we communicate with the public, when we put out a story, that it's rigorously fact checked; that our rigorous adherence to those core issues like the honesty, the earnestness behind it, the balance, the fairness, the trust, that we're hitting all of those particular pillars for what we do.

Could you take us to the steps that you actually take? Because I know that news programs for example or news reports, they're done in the interest of time ...

I can't speak for other news organizations, but in my extensive career, CNN was the first place where I saw the emphasis more on getting it right and taking your time. And there are times that we were against the clock, where we wanted to get breaking news out, but it hadn't been fact-checked, if it hadn't been through The Row — which is [the] nerve center of the editorial process — it [wouldn't] get on air.

I think that's a fantastic asset that we have and not a lot of people know about it. That's one of the reasons why I myself am so trusting of what we put out, because I know those processes are so rigorous.

Like I said in the talk, that example of when the pope resigned ... there's a lot of adrenaline that flows when you're covering breaking news and you might want to rush to get on air and cover it. But we are very measured, we're very calm. Just because we see something doesn't mean it's true. We have to check it. It's not that I'm going to wait for the Reuters news agency to check it or some other news agency to check. I check it. My team checks it. My news desk checks it. I trust those guys and when I know they say it's okay, it's alright for me to go and step up on set and tell the world. I owe that to the world. I owe them that, honestly. We are there to make sure that they can make informed decisions about their world. And they wouldn't trust us if we don't do it right.

Let's talk about public trust. How does CNN or journalists for that matter ensure that the public remains to have a free press despite the head of the free world saying that they're fake news?

I think we all just have to maintain our sense of integrity. We have to be fair. We have to be transparent and accountable. We have to ask all the right questions. And we have to ask everyone the same questions. [It] doesn't matter what side of the house they sit on, you know. We are there to look at all of the opinions. And we're there to sort of sort it, understand it, put it in context, and we focus on relevance.

When there's a big, breaking story, where are you going to go? Are you going to go for a conspiracy theory? You're going to go to the news organizations that you can trust.

Do you think that public trust in the media is easier or harder to earn these days? Why or why not?

I think there are a lot of people out there who enjoy conspiracy theories. But I want to put emphasis on the idea that they just enjoy conspiracy theories. When push comes to shove [...] when there's a big, breaking story, and it could be a hurricane that's making its way to your coastline or a typhoon or a cyclone, where are you going to go? Are you going to go for a conspiracy theory? You're going to go to the news organizations that you can trust.

And you know, as you've experienced here in the Philippines, when the storms have come through, when they have caused utter devastation, our teams came in here and showed the world this is what happens. You know, the world sees these stories and they donate. They send whatever they can … to reach out to their fellow human beings. I think for me it boils down to a very holistic view of the world and playing our part.

How do you think does CNN stop fake news or at least work their way around fake news?

Well, new research is showing that a lot of fake news is actually coming from fake sites. And so then that becomes a technological, technical issue. For us, at CNN, it's just important not to get swayed by what's going on. Our job is to stand up for the core tenets of journalism and that's all the things that I've talked about. We're going to be robust in that, we're going to be factual, we're going to be transparent, we're going to be accountable, we're going to be relevant, we're going to ask the questions that need to be asked. We won't back down from that. And the journalism only gets stronger.

What is one thing that you think journalists should always remember when they report or gather news stories?

I think it's to go back to your heart. Why are you doing it? What is this purpose that you serve? And stay true to that. Again, and I keep saying this, we are there to do a social good for the world and I take that very seriously. I'm very honored that somehow in my lifetime I came to be a journalist. That I came to do this. I'm very honored to work alongside some outstanding anchors and correspondents who have put themselves, in the line of duty, they have put themselves in some really treacherous situations but why? So that they can show us all what's going on in our world. How can we possibly navigate our lives if we don't know what's going on in our world?

CNN Philippines’ Chica Villarta contributed to this feature.