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Truth and Truthophobia - The Poverty of Journalistic Theory in the Age of Fake News

Majin, Graham (2019) Truth and Truthophobia - The Poverty of Journalistic Theory in the Age of Fake News. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:75808)


This paper attempts to identify the dominant theoretical paradigm (TDP) of Journalism Studies. The paradigm is then critically examined, and it is argued that it is inadequate for the challenges of the 21st century. The present age is one of fake news, hate speech, and increasing social, political and media polarization. It is a time when governments outsource censorship to social media corporations. It is a turbulent age in which citizens face complex challenges - so called "wicked problems" which require accurate, reliable information. However TDP asserts, either (weakly), that is doubtful whether there is any such thing as journalistic truth; or, (strongly) that there are no objective facts, reality or truth; merely a series of competing narratives.

The absence of a theoretical framework within which to discuss the concept of journalistic truth, and the consequent reluctance of the academy to do so, is referred to as truthophobia. It is argued that truthophobia hinders the scholarly assessment of current social and political issues. TDP is also incompatible with the Folk Theory of journalism, and with traditional Fourth Estate/watchdog approaches.

This paper identifies the foundational, canonical texts of TDP and scrutinises them. It is argued that they rest on a series of rarely examined, and intellectually invalid assumptions. It is noted that TDP is a sociological perspective which is insensitive to psychological and philosophical considerations, and in particular to epistemology. As a result, TDP is fundamentally a discourse of irrationality whose intellectual origins lie in the Counter Enlightenment and irrealism of 19th century European, and especially German, thought. It is a discourse which proposes a quasi-religious way of knowing, which offers the promise of epistemic certitude without the need for factual evidence. This way of knowing enjoyed great popularity during the second half of the 20th century for socio-economic, political and demographic reasons. The early 21st century has witnessed a partial retreat from these ideas, thus the current landscape may be described as one of doubt, theoretical poverty and paradigm crisis.

A new framework is proposed which locates journalism studies within a landscape of contemporary cognitive psychology and philosophy. This framework, Journalistic Truth Theory (TT) restores the concept of journalistic truth as a legitimate object of scholarly research. TT prepares the ground for an epistemology of journalism. It is envisaged that such an epistemology would see the problems of journalism as, first and foremost, problems of the communication of information. Thus key scholarly issues become those relating to trust, how to distinguish between reliable and unreliable testimony, and how to recognise deception, manipulation and error. TT thus unites academic journalism with journalistic praxis, and brings into sharp focus concepts such as journalistic truth, objectivity, accuracy and impartiality.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Luckhurst, Tim
Thesis advisor: Cocking, Ben
Uncontrolled keywords: truth truthophobia fake news TDP Hallism journalism Saussure Foucault Fichte paradigm
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > Centre for Journalism
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 14 Aug 2019 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 19:08 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Majin, Graham.

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