The Perse School

Leading journalist Liam Halligan gives Perse pupils insight into the media world

22 Nov 2017

Pupil Jenny Jiang gives her account of journalist and broadcaster Liam Halligan’s talk to Year 10 pupils on his career in the media

Over the Michaelmas term, Year 10 have been analysing media influence and the rise of fake news. We learned how biased news organisations pick and choose data to try to prove their point and how the negative impact of this information can affect the public.

As a follow-up, we invited Liam Halligan as a guest speaker. Liam painted a picture of an industry that values character, adaptability and the distribution of truth, above all.

He then pulls out his phone and explains that in the four hours leading up to a live broadcast on CNN, he’s been notified that the topic he’s going to be talking about has changed. That, he says, is a standard part of the job, pointing out that four hours is nothing – once it was changed 10 minutes prior to the show!

Liam goes on to detail that another part of the job is to ask hard questions – often towards politicians. Journalists hold the people in power to account and ensure that they are not abusing their positions, which, in my opinion, is an essential part of every democracy.

In an interesting turn, Liam adds that top journalists have more power than all but the most important of politicians. The influence of the media definitely shows in the stories that Liam has published and how they have helped people, such as “Pension Theft” in 2003, where the media helped those that the final salary pension schemes were failing to “bring judicial review”. This caused the Government to introduce new pension schemes and reallocate billions towards pensioners over decades of time.

More recently though, says Liam, the media seems to have been focused on the subject of Brexit. He claims that the media, in this case, is extremely pro-Remain and that this is a topic with great potential for “spin, exaggeration and fake news”. However, Liam feels both sides tried to scare and confuse voters during campaigning.

Liam displays a slide with the title, “The Most Powerful Man in the World?” featuring a large picture of Mark Zuckerberg, founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook. He goes on to explain that Facebook hosts 80 per cent of mobile social traffic across the US and Europe and Google controls 90 per cent of search advertising across the US and Europe, while Amazon accounts for 70 per cent of e-book sales, capturing 51 cents of every dollar spent online in America.

Do tech firms have too much power? Liam certainly thinks so. If these big tech companies control so much of what we see, he says, then how easy is it for them to tweak an algorithm so it’s biased towards one party? How easy is it for them to mass distribute fake news? And, most of all, why isn’t the media doing anything about it? Well, he continues, because the media has become somewhat dependent on these tech firms to spread their own news stories, but he thinks that there will be a time when the two will have to face each other – and it will be soon.

Liam concluded his presentation with advice for the journalists of the future – be curious, do interesting things, focus on writing skills, and don’t be afraid. Journalism is an industry with massive opportunities for young people who want to influence the world.


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