In our time, ‘fake news’ is on the agenda daily, not only because it is a favourite topic of President Donald Trump and others who do not want to see and talk about realities the way they are. They make up their own reality. Maybe we all do, to some extent. That can be discussed, as it has always been done by lay and learned, theologians, philosophers, historians, social scientists and so on, and certainly politicians, those who rule the world and many times oppress the masses. They give their own take on reality, or realties, since I don’t like to be categorical either. During times of major disagreements within and between countries and people, indeed during wars, we all talk about fake propaganda and disinformation as opposed to truth and true news.

We ordinary people have always discretely taken with a pinch of salt what authorities and bosses tell us. We carry out our work, whether we think it is right and morally good or not. Most of the time, we simply obey orders and do what we are told, yes, what we were paid for. This isn’t only the case in advertising and marketing, but in all kinds of jobs; not only in military organisations either, but even in faith associations, and everything in-between. In war, we say that truth is the first victim. We could many times, in peace time, too, add organizations and companies owned by the rich and powerful; even we ourselves portray ourselves more favourably than what is quite true.

In my home country Norway, the filthy rich ship owners had the privilege of often being above the law; they were ‘owners’ of whole towns, and they had the power to hire and fire on shore and off shore. The men who were hired could often not find other work. Better then to let the ship owner get away with it all – and let him build a new town hall and have a sculpture of himself on the central city square. But often, he was a right-winger whose ‘feudal freedom’ would have been curtailed today. Remember, though, that Norway was, and still is, one of the world’s top-ranking shipping nations. Today, the owners of the multinationals, those at the very top in America, in Norway, and even in developing countries, are the ‘feudal ship owners’ of our time. We must control them better and we must demand fair politics in a world which has democracy as its ideal. We have a good stretch to go before this type of fake news is gone.

So, is there no truth in the world? Is it all lies, illusions, fake news, dishonesty, evasiveness? Is it all painted to lure and cheat? Do we all do that if we have the opportunity? No, that is not the case either. Looking at recent history, we can learn more. Let me only consider the last hundred or hundred and fifty years, the time that the world, led by the West, has been democratic. Only part of that time, the countries in the South have had independence, and thus a say over their lands’ politics and people, admitting though, that they are poor countries, underdeveloped by the West and still much in their pocket. In addition, the leaders in the South have little experience and few strong institutions and organizations to support good rule. Initially, most developing countries were ruled by the freedom fighters and those who prepared and sacrificed for independence. Often, the young states had one-party rule, or one entirely dominant party with little opposition; now, multiparty-rule is the norm, sanctioned as a political truth for every country that wants to be called democratic.

I believe in multi parties; indeed, I believe in the key roles of parties, interest organisations, labour unions, employers’ organizations, and more, to rule a country democratically. In our time, the populist parties are challenging some of this foundation, and in developing countries, solid parties have not quite developed since the parties are too often built around personalities rather than ideologies. There are often few plans and strategies to reach development for all those who need it. Class dominance within countries, and in the world, can only be ended, or reduced, by people from the bottom. That is the truth, but we use ‘fake news’ to hide it.

But then, maybe I am not right either? Maybe there are other ways of organizing government ‘of the people, by the people, for the people’ than what we have till now? Maybe it is possible to share resources equally, not using parties, but using a set of moral standards and basic human principles – in everybody’s heart? Maybe it is possible to use religion (better) on the road to such a ‘promised land’ on earth? Yes, creating communities and lands where people contribute according to ability and receive according to need – as were the communist and socialist ideals. Alas, selfishness, intellectual corruption, other corruption and greed, and other shortcomings of us human beings, made the dream not only fade, but fail.

But we should remember, too, that communism failed in the Soviet Union because capitalism in the West, led by USA, didn’t allow it to succeed. Had the West supported the socialist and communists’ ideals, maybe it could have succeeded – and maybe then we would have had a better and more humane world for all today? Maybe much of what we wanted to believe about socialism and communism was told to us through propaganda and disinformation by the masters of fake news at the time? We were always told that it was the East Block that had the greatest propagandists, but maybe it was the West, under a veil of neutrality and openness?

And then, the main the questions: How can we study and reason about the world around us? How can we learn to see realities? What scientific and journalistic methods can we use, and to what extent do we really search for the truth?

We talk about the ‘Zeitgeist’, the spirit of the time, and academics would talk about paradigms and paradigm-shifts when traditions and views of a field change. Yes, even science is certainly not neutral and universal, not the social sciences, the philosophical sciences, theology, and humanities; not even mathematics, physics and the other natural sciences. But there is a wish in the sciences – and in journalism – to find and tell the truth, to see realities the way they are.

In future articles, I will try to reflect and discuss more about ‘fake news’ and truth. Today, I mainly said ‘fake news’ is not new; it is old news in new shape; I am not even sure it is worse today than before. I will try to learn more about the topic and share what I find with you, indeed what will be discussed during planning and implementation of a conference later this spring, organized by the Institute of Regional Studies (IRS) in Islamabad, under Dr. Rukhsana Qambar’s leadership.