Methodist College Belfast pupils win top political prize

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

image captionThe pupils from Methodist College in Belfast recreated an episode of University Challenge

Fake news has become one of the most debated and controversial topics of our age.

Now, three pupils from a Belfast school have won a prestigious UK political prize for examining whether fake news means the end of facts.

Hala Heenan, Shannon McKeown-Gilmore and Jake Lowry from Methodist College in Belfast have been awarded the Political Studies Association (PSA) Schools Prize 2017.

They will receive their prize from Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow at a ceremony in Westminster on Tuesday.

Hala, Shannon and Jake had to write, produce and present a short video examining fake news and its consequences.

In it they recreated an episode of University Challenge and a news broadcast.

Shannon, 17, said they had begun work on it before the start of term in September.

"We brainstormed and then wrote a script," she said.

"We then filmed it using the broadcast studio at Ulster University's Coleraine campus.

"In researching it we found that fake news is not a new thing but it stretches right back, although the term has been revived.

"I've certainly become more aware of it in my own use of social media, and that's really important in my life.

"I now ask more questions about the reliability, author and source of news."

image captionThey examined fake news and its consequences

Jake, 16, thought that, having researched fake news, schools should be doing more to teach their pupils about it.

"Fake news can be such an influence, especially on young people as their main source of news is social media," he said.

"The biggest thing we found out though is how historical it is.

"It's run through every major event, as there's always been political and media spin.

"It's hard to judge whether it's more pervasive now, but it is easier to spread.

"Online you can write and publish anything and it quickly spreads on social media.

"News literacy classes would be great so pupils could discern what's real and what's fake."

The House of Commons speaker John Bercow was among the judges who placed the Methodist College pupils first in the competition.

The annual PSA awards are among the most high-profile in the UK.

image captionThe pupils will receive their prize from Channel 4 journalist Jon Snow

The 2016 winners included the London mayor Sadiq Khan, who was named politician of the year, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

The BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg was named the 2016 broadcaster of the year.

In 2017, a new prize in memory of the late Labour MP Jo Cox is being awarded for the first time.

The Methodist College pupils were looking forward to meeting some high profile politicians at the ceremony.

Boris Johnson and Amber Rudd were among those they thought it would be interesting to talk to.

But when asked if she would like a career in politics Shannon was undecided.

"All three of us are very interested in it," she said.

"But personally I'd like to do law first as that would help me try to understand more about how the country works."

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