It is time to stop pretending that all opinions are equal, says the writer, film-maker and campaigner Owl Fisher
Waking up to the news is becoming ever more painful. Not just because a lot of whats happening in the world is depressing and anxiety inducing Brexit, climate change, the far right, measles outbreaks, homelessness but also because of the way debates are often framed: two competing sides, fighting for the win, any evidence merely an afterthought.
Contributors are presented as experts when, more often than not, theyre just another person with an opinion. We absorb their hot take on the days events often without questioning what lies behind them. Anyone with an opinion is invited on to TV or radio, without a hint of critical analysis. The more outrageous and controversial, the better. Executives and presenters alike know that its much more exciting for the audience to see two people engage in a shouting match where one person has to spend the entire interview debunking complete nonsense from the other party. Constructive discussion with people who have relevant experience, expertise or qualifications is a rarity.
While information has never been more accessible, it is also easy to get lost in the vast enormity of the internet and fall down a rabbit-hole of misinformation disguised as facts or concern. Its easy to be swayed by an article you read, or a video you saw, which an algorithm will use to push you towards more similar content. This is particularly true when it comes to emotive issues like climate change, immigration, or human rights. Online radicalisation is a real problem and is reflected all too often in what is presented to us in mainstream broadcasting. When right-wing host Glenn Beck was removed from Fox less than 10 years ago, the idea that he would ever seem relatively moderate was far-fetched. But look at the talking heads the US network welcomes now. And the UK is not immune: Spiked contributors regularly appear on the BBC. Views that were beyond the pale are now commonplace.
Thats why its important that we as consumers are critical of what we are hearing and watching, and are aware of where its coming from. We need to stop mindlessly accepting that everything we are fed is objective, be critical of the sources and whos speaking. I constantly get contacted by media platforms to debate a range of topics related to trans issues despite having no expertise in the specific topic being discussed simply because Im a trans person. Lived experience is important, but that doesnt mean I can comment on the specific effects of testosterone on peoples bodies. For that you need a scientist. And if Im being approached by media outlets like that without any critical analysis of my qualifications, I can assure you that this happens on other topics as well.
An example of this which touches on a wider problem with the way this country is governed is politicians talking about issues or policies theyve worked on, when they obviously have no expertise in the area, and seem not to have consulted, or listened to, people who do. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing those responsible for some of the biggest problems in the country feigning ignorance about something we depend on them to solve.
This is why we need to more evidence-based discussion. We need to demand that people with either relevant expertise or those directly affected are at the centre, and not just anyone, and certainly not people with nothing to back up their claims except meaningless crowd-pleasing generalisations. Otherwise we will be stuck in a climate where it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Theres a reason for the outbreak in preventable diseases across Europe. The anti-vaccine movement was given a boost by the media, and people believed it without question. Now, even after countless rigorous studies disproving the idea that MMR is linked to autism, people still wont trust the medical advice.
If we dont demand facts from reliable experts in our media, were never going to get the full story. Were not going to make any progress on vitally important issues. Were simply going to see yet more shouting, more Piers Morgan and no constructive ideas on how to solve the worlds ills.
Owl Fisher is a writer, filmmaker and campaigner
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