As we live through unprecedented and testing times, one thing is clear - the truth has never been such an important commodity.

In fact, it would be fair to say that during the pandemic trusted information may even have saved lives.

But, as is always the case throughout periods of uncertainty and upheaval, there are those who will cynically disseminate misinformation to fuel a disingenuous agenda.

We also inhabit a world where false information is deliberately used to distort genuine debate and analysis - and that means the truth matters more than ever.

That's why today RTÉ is launching the second phase of its biggest news marketing campaign in over 10 years. Aimed at highlighting the issue of misinformation and the importance of accurately sourced news, the next instalment of Truth Matters comes at a hugely important time.

It will feature trusted RTÉ News correspondents Ailbhe Conneely, Mícheál Lehane and Sinéad Hussey who will be on hand to explain exactly why core journalistic values such as trust, integrity, and truth impact on their reporting of major news stories.

Head of Marketing and Consumer Communications with RTÉ, Nora Torpey, said: "As a leader in news, it’s important to use our voice to keep the problem of misinformation front of mind, especially now.

"Facts and expertise matter more now than ever. And not just from RTÉ. But that’s why, at this key moment, we are launching the next phase of the campaign to reaffirm our vital mission and the values that go to the heart of what we do.

"We are particularly speaking to anyone who uses their social feed as a primary source of news, reminding them that they need to be aware of their source and to make sure it's trustworthy."

The global pandemic creates opportunities for misinformation

As increasing numbers of young people turn away from traditional sources of information, in favour of social media and other aggregators, the truth can often be the first casualty.

It is worth remembering that while we grapple with the challenges of a global crisis, and the inescapable anxiety that comes with it, the potential for manipulation of the facts is huge.

But the same cloud of Covid has brought an inevitable silver lining; audiences the world over have gravitated towards trusted news sources.

This has certainly been the experience at RTÉ where audience numbers have soared as people look to make sensible decisions based on hard facts - not on unfounded speculation or rumour designed to misrepresent reality.

RTÉ is required to be objective and impartial in its news output

The latest helping of our 'Truth Matters' campaign is to once again remind everyone that anything they see, hear or read from RTÉ is underpinned by core journalistic values - truth, impartiality, and accuracy.

RTÉ has a vast reach - both locally and globally - and with that comes huge responsibility to explore the story from all sides; to create unbiased and fact-checked news.

So, how do we do that? The answer is that all our content is set against a transparent set of standards. RTÉ is also subject to regulatory accountability for its editorial output.

You can read the RTÉ Journalism & Content Guidelines 2020 here, which sets out the standards applied to all our content on television, radio and online.

Key points in the guidelines include:

Trust is the cornerstone of RTÉ. Our content should be honest, reliable, authoritative, accurate, impartial, fair and independent of vested interests. Our editorial choices are based solely on our professional judgement and should aim to provide our audience with context and background, reflecting the complexity of the world we live in.

Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right. If an issue is controversial, relevant opinions as well as facts may need to be considered. All relevant facts and available information should be weighed to provide the most accurate, fair and objective report.

There is also the Broadcasting Act 2009, which stipulates the following:

Fairness: RTÉ is required to be objective and impartial in its news output. There is no statutory requirement for news output to be fair, which is acknowledged the BAI. However, there is a requirement for fairness in current affairs. This is defined as the broadcast treatment of matters which are either of public controversy or the subject of current public debate.

Public Service - Integrity and Independence: RTÉ exists to serve the public. The public must have confidence in the integrity and independence of what they hear and see on RTÉ’s services:

  • We must be editorially independent of government, business interests, political parties, trade unions, and pressure groups
  • We ensure that nothing we do should give rise to any perception that presenters, reporters or producers personally benefit from their decisions as to who participates in programmes, what products are featured and what issues are discussed
  • We are equally clear that there must be no grounds for the perception that editorial decisions in some way reflect the personal views of production teams.

RTÉ is also obliged to adhere to the codes of the regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The BAI develops and publishes broadcasting standards, codes and rules, in consultation with the public, which promote responsible broadcasting and ensure audiences can input into what they believe are acceptable standards on television and radio.

Audiences need to be wary about the reliability of the news they consume

Despite all of the above safeguards, audiences themselves also need to be vigilant and establish the veracity of what they are reading. That’s where another arm of the BAI, Media Literacy Ireland, comes in.

Its Stop/Think/Check procedure is designed to keep consumers of news on the straight and narrow. So, on a final note, here’s what it says on its website:

STOP: Read more than the headline. Don’t assume that a picture or photo is giving you the whole story. Just because information goes viral or is trending, doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

THINK: Think carefully about what the information is for. Consider your own biases. See if the information is being reported anywhere else.

CHECK: Look closely at the web address. Find out who the author, producer or publisher is. Look at the detail to check for accuracy. Ask the experts.

You can find out more about RTÉ's 'Truth Matters' campaign by clicking here