Public libraries and public service broadcasters are threatened by political developments in the UK and USA. They are targets in a divisive culture war waged by ideological organisations that disseminate misleading and false information about social and political matters on line, on screen and in print. The purpose of this paper is to alert information professionals to this issue and suggests that, although they should not engage in this war, they must be prepared to use their professional expertise to identify and correct unreliable material. Further, they should cooperate with other true information organisations to expose the fallacious sources that endanger democracy.
The authors analysed material from academic texts and papers, professional journals, serious contemporary journalism, political manifestoes, Internet blogs and items from the BBC sound archive to illustrate the history, size and nature of the problem and to suggest how it might be dealt with. This documentary analysis was based on the belief that information professionals are not the only people examining and concerned about this issue. It therefore included material from a wide range of other disciplines, including psychology, medicine and politics.
There is evidence that populist movements from the political right dislike information organisations and have historically, through misinformation and misrepresentation, persuaded working class citizens that they are being exploited by an elite. Public libraries and the BBC are highly trusted organisations, but much of the British public goes to sources it trusts least, such as tabloid newspapers, for information on politics and society. Librarians and BBC broadcasters demonstrated their value during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they need to engage with other professional groups to fully understand what is happening and counteract the threats it presents to our democracy.
The paper deals with a significant current issue that needs to be considered urgently by practitioners, academics and policy makers. It includes practical examples and suggestions demonstrating how information workers have and can help their users identify and use trusted and accurate information sources and perhaps be made aware of editorial bias.
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