Is Artificial Intelligence a threat to journalism?

As World Press Freedom Day is marked on Wednesday May 3, the analysts said the emerging new technology industry is “complex” and remains an uncharted territory for the news media industry.

Artificial Intelligence or AI is becoming the next technology revolution even as the world is yet to fully navigate an already polarized social media space with rising online hate amid calls for thorough regulations.

Some form of AI has been part of many people’s daily lives, for example editing or grammar suggestions in a word processor or email, or facial recognition on a mobile phone.

AI, at least from what is currently on the market with open source platforms like ChatGPT or CNET, a technology driven news site which recently came under scrutiny for using AI generated articles, allows machines to do what humans do.

For example, in journalism, AI-powered tools can deliver articles or reports as has been the traditional role of journalists. But industry experts say there are limitations — data and analysis produced by such tools could be inaccurate and misleading.

Angela Quintal, Committee to Protect Journalists’ Africa program coordinator told VOA that there’s “no doubt” that elements of AI is “indeed a threat to journalists and journalism.”

“What we have seen is the use of artificial intelligence, to what is been called the supercharging of disinformation, where journalists can be targeted by sophisticated means, that really looks as though it is perfectly plausible and believable,” she said. “That really puts journalists at risk and that is something of a huge concern.”

Quintal also cited a disinformation campaign by Russia through its paramilitary Wagner group as using AI to foment information warfare in Africa’s Sahel region by promoting anti-Western and pro-Kremlin ideologies as an example.

“I recall, there was an Israeli company that managed to fabricate someone with a Twitter profile as this crusading Pan-Africanist journalist writing these amazing articles. And really conning people into believing that this was genuine. Some publications actually republished the work of a journalist who was really a bot. So that’s what we’re facing.”

Sadibou Marong, director of Reporter’s Without Borders’ West African bureau said despite the threats posed by AI, it offers some opportunities for media professionals.

“In recent months, we have seen something that’s more or less threatening to the quality of journalism. Some people are using artificial intelligence so as to jeopardize or undermine the findings and revelations by professional journalists and journalists themselves,” he said.

But Marong was quick to add that “this is not on a large scale.”

“We are in the era of artificial intelligence…the media needs to adapt to AI and what it might mean for the industry,” he said adding that “AI might be an added value at some point.”

But he like other stakeholders in news media have raised concerns around ethics and the regulatory framework to guide this emerging space. In Africa, there’s not much data about the extent of the use of AI-powered tools in the production and dissemination of news content.

Yinka Adegoke, Africa editor at Semafor, however holds the view that the emergence of artificial intelligence should not be viewed as a threat but an important tool to aid journalistic work. He also acknowledged AI’s ability to make it easier to spread disinformation and deep fakes.

“It’s not like technology wakes up and does stuff itself, it does the stuff that we set it up to do, for the most part,” he said.

“It’s kind of raising the standards and the bar for a lot of us as journalists, to justify why we are journalists and for our audiences to really understand the value that we bring,” Adegoke added.

“Because ultimately people are always going to still want to have authentic news, information and important analysis and to explain the world that only a human being can to another human being.”

CPJ’s Africa program coordinator concluded that “[AI] is becoming far more sophisticated and difficult for ordinary users of social media, to actually realize that they are being played by propagandists,” urging users “to instead go to authentic and credible media organizations,” Quintal said.

In the United States, there are growing concerns around artificial intelligence and “deep fakes” prompting a meeting with technology billionaire Elon Musk and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at the U.S. Capitol last week.

Schumer said he had distributed a “framework” for rules governing AI and its potential harmful tools according to U.S. media reports.

Source: VOA Africa

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