File image: Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab. (IOL).
CAPE TOWN - Elon Musk has announced he is thinking of creating a solution to resolve the trust challenge in the media industry. He indicated that his solution will include a website called Pravda (which means Truth) that will rank media professionals.

It seems what inspired this move was consistent attacks on his company, Tesla. He claims the oil industry is behind the negative media coverage of his electric car company, Tesla.

The South African-born billionaire is raising something that should be of interest to everyone who cares about the quality of information in the world. The media industry is broken and there’s a need for a watertight solution to fix it. Its biggest challenge is money in all its forms.

The big business impact in the media industry is not helping the situation.

The traditional institutions that were created to guarantee the integrity of the media industry and hold it to account are failing in the age of online media.

There’s no doubt that there’s a need for better interventions to instil trust in the industry.

Recently we’ve seen many attempts to rescue the trust decline in the media industry such as the WikiTribune online publication by Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia founder) and many attempts by Facebook and Google to curb fake news.

Pravda by Elon Musk should be taken seriously as it presents an opportunity to finally deal with key issues in the media industry. One of the key focus areas for Pravda will be credibility.

According to Musk there’s a need for better accountability and disclosure by the media industry.

His suggested solution seeks to enable the public to rate the truth of any article and track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor and publication.

Journalists

Journalists are extremely important in the process, creating quality information online that informs society. It is, therefore, important that their credibility is beyond reproach. They are supposed to be impartial and unbiased in their reporting.

Many journalists try to be torch bearers of truth. However, they are not immune from business and political influence.

Nothing has so far shielded journalists from falling prey to influences, and that reflects in what they publish.

In South Africa there are a number of examples that indicate that journalists are imperfect.

To see this you have to look at journalists who have become politicians, and some who have become instruments of business and political battles.

If correctly implemented a tool such as Pravda may assist readers in distinguishing journalists who are proxies for business and political powers.

Editors

Editors in newsrooms have a crucial responsibility to guarantee the quality of their titles, and ensure that they adhere to journalistic standards. Currently, there are few institutions that hold editors to account for how they perform their responsibility.

In the absence of effective accountability measures for editors, an instrument such as Pravda should be welcomed by them.

In the age of fake news, there has never been a better time for quality publications.

Currently anyone can create a publication, as the internet has created the tools that make it easier to publish.

This in itself has fuelled the resurgence of fake news publications.

Publications

To curb this challenge, a neutral platform is required to inform the public about news publications that should be considered credible.

Pravda may be the solution the world has been looking for to solve this challenge. Instead of rejecting the concept there should be further suggestions to build on what Elon Musk has suggested. So far details are sketchy, and Musk has indicated that the focus will be on journalists, editors and publications. In view of the influence of owners and funders in the media industry it may be necessary to also include them as role players that need to be factored into the system. As part of this process media organisations (for profit and non-profit entities) may need to disclose their funders.

Transparency

The more transparency there is in the media industry the more trust will be regained by the media organisations.

Musk has shown that he’s got the ability to solve major challenges in society.

He has delivered on online payments with PayPal and with electric cars via Tesla. He is at the forefront of creating products that are solving the global environmental challenge.

There’s enough evidence to suggest that Musk is someone who delivers and, therefore, there’s little reason to dismiss his attempts at solving the media challenge.

Wesley Diphoko is the founder of Kaya Labs. He is chairperson of the IEEE Open Data Initiative (Industry Connections programme) in South Africa. Follow him on Twitter for more insights on the Information Economy: @WesleyDiphoko.

- BUSINESS REPORT