Editorial: Informing society no joking matter


We’ve all heard the story of the little boy who cried wolf one too many times. He joked around and everyone believed him, so when a wolf really came into the field to eat the little boy and all of his sheep, it was too late.

Newspapers, and other forms of media, might be in the same fatal situation if they continue to present fake stories to their readers and viewers as facts on April Fools’ Day.

There have been many fine days at the beginning of April where nations have erupted with excitement, confusion and even fear after the media informed it of an outlandish story – from the Internet being shut down for cleaning to Stonehenge being moved at the base of Mount Fuji to fake disaster warnings.

The most famous story, and one of the first reports of broadcast media fooling the world, is of Panorama, the BBC news program.

The morning of April 1, 1957, families woke up to Swiss farmers on their television sets harvesting their bumper crop of spaghetti. The spoof documentary tugged on watchers’ hearts, claiming the farmers were in fear of disastrous effects of a late frost. It showed the farmers pulling spaghetti from trees and laying it in the sun to dry.

Viewers called in by the dozens when the announcer mentioned a home-grown variety; they all wanted to know how to grow their own pasta.

Then there were the Swedes, who in 1962 only had one TV channel that broadcasted in black and white. On the first day of April, the station’s technical expert announced that if you put a nylon stocking over the screen, you could see your favorite program in color. Swedish stocking sales skyrocketed that morning.

Though these flavorful slices of history brought no harm to viewers – other than to their IQs –­ there are many examples of April Fools’ jokes that did, each eroding at the validity of the media outlet.

In 2003, CNN reported that Bill Gates had been assassinated, which was the April Fools’ joke on many South Korean and Chinese Web sites. It wasn’t too funny on Wall Street, as 1.5 percent was wiped off shares.

More than 60 people lost their hope in 2000, not just money.

A paper printed that prisoners of war in Romania were being released, and more than 60 people traveled to stand outside the prison gates, anxiously waiting to greet their loved ones who had been taken away for years. When the guards came out, the visitors were told it was just a joke – no one was being released.

The paper ran an apology the next day, but the families didn’t move on so quickly. This is an example of how media has abused its power as the source of accurate information to the public.

It’s because newspapers and TV broadcasting stations participate in the childish holiday of April Fools’, that cities such as Castlebar, Ireland have banned practical jokes on the marked day.

The city’s town council passed a law in 2008 against celebrating April Fools’ in any manner, which included any newspaper delivered or sold within the city.

Media must take its job seriously and keep the public informed – even on the first day of April.

Which reminds me, did you hear this is the last issue of the Spinnaker?