Factual sovereignty: the end of reporting, history and discourse?

INSTEAD of the world being “post-truth” or politicians claiming “alternative facts”, what’s happening is declarations of “factual sovereignty”.

I proposed this notion to explain how individuals know what is “true” about others, about the news of the day, and how reporters should confront it.

At the London Conference in Critical Thought 2017, I acknowledged journalism is at the heart of the “post-fact moment”, blamed by the public and political leaders.

Many outlets have blurred the lines between fact and comment and their relative value.

Instead of considering the current situation as a devaluing of facts, it is a rampant assertion of individuality, of interpreting feelings or “gut sense” as “truth”.

Your own factual sovereignty allows an individual to make treaties or war with others or even oppose previous personal positions because they are a sovereign entity determining facts.

Factual sovereignty also turns the definitions of subjectivity and objectivity inside out, with your own person “truth” beyond question by anyone else.

A vision of the factual sovereignty multiverse. Graphic by Liam Pollock. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence

And rather than a post-fact moment, it creates a post-singular-fact moment and a virtual string theory of multiple and co-existing facts – a multiverse. At its most extreme, lies, hypocrisy, law and order, hate and love all become impossible.

As everyone declares factual sovereignty, the result is fear, the root of bigotry, racism, sexism and any other-ism where individuals decide the existential facts by which others live.

The solution which must come from journalism and more widely is diplomacy: mediation and peacebuilding. Only through being able to understand the position of others, the factual shoes in which they claim to stand, can a virtual United Nations of agreed facts re-emerge.

For too long, journalism has been, yes, subjective – driven by ourselves as the subject or by the building up or tearing down of another person as the subject. The new objectivity should, instead, mean our goal: to be mediators, and communicators, ethically and factually.

If it takes years of one-to-one treaty making to repair the damage wrought by millions of clicks of opinion pretending to be reporting, then that is the task lying before journalism. The need will only get greater.

Read the full factual sovereignty paper.

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