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Columnist Santosh Nair

Is fake news an opportunity for Smriti Irani ?

An order was issued on Monday (02/04/18) night which said that a journalist’s accreditation would be suspended once a complaint of fake news was registered against him/her which would be later determined by the Press Council of India (PCI) and News Broadcaster Association (NBA). If found that the news was indeed fake that he or she would lose their accreditation for a limited period or permanently depending on the gravity of the news and thus be denied access to government institutions as well.

The I&B ministry’s decision for stringent punishment for spreading fake news was not taken kindly by the media. Journalist and the opposition parties took a serious note of the order issued by the I&B ministry and described the guidelines as an attack on the freedom of press.

While Mr Rajdeep Sardesai insinuated that the government was itself into the business of false propaganda spreading which can be also termed as fake news, Mr Ravish Kumar opined that the journalists were not taken into confidence before the circular was issued and that the attack will not stop.

In a joint statement the Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corps, Press Association and Federation of Press Club of India expressed their ‘’deep concern”. They felt that despite ample scope for introspection and reform of journalistic practices a government fiat restraining the fourth pillar of their democratic rights is not a solution.

The Press Council of India in its press release on the above stated that although there is nothing wrong or obnoxious if the government intends to take remedial measures to check fake news, an independent statutory authority should be constituted to decide on the veracity/authenticity of the news. No prudent person should or can justify the dissemination of fake news.

The Editors Guild echoed a similar sentiment which said that it is more often than not that the government at the centre and the parties in power in the states are charged with propagating fake news themselves. By notifying that the I & B ministry will initiate such proceedings the government was arrogating for itself the role of policing the media. It would only open the doors for frivolous complaints to harass journalists and organizations to fall in line.

The crack-down of fake news by the government around the world is underway. The governments in UK, France, Germany, Philippines, Malaysia are seeking ways and means to make a headway in resolving this issue. The fake news menace surfaces more towards election time and is at its bullying best at such times. The administration has their own agenda to protect and the onus would be to safeguard allegations that harm their interest. Fake news is a Trojan Horse that is deceptive and could mislead readers of its true intent.

With the potential ability to imprison, bankrupt or put journalist out of business for publishing poorly defined misinformation, there is enormous scope for abuse, of which the worst-case scenario would be outright government censorship impinging on human rights and make people’s lives worse.

Yet even without outright control of stories, there is also the risk of the chilling effect, where the press self-censorship to comply with the rules means that legitimate stories in public interest are left unpublished for the fear of potential consequences.

As Yin Yin Lu, a researcher at the Oxford internet institute describes “not reporting something is as dangerous as reporting something false”. She further says that this kind of legislation would restrain journalist from publishing the truth. Lu believes that the best choice is allowing normal people to deal with fake news themselves rather than letting the government take care of it for them.

The top-down approach disempowers users and empowers the high and mighty. The solution needs to be bottom up which is tied to the design of the social media platforms where a majority of the news today is consumed. It should be the responsibility of the platforms to implement a design solution that would indicate visually the quality of the news sources that were shared. This will allow the users themselves to determine whether-or-not they are trustworthy.

In the Indian context, all curbs on the freedom of expression is most uncalled for.

India being one of the world’s largest democracies needs to exercise considerable restraint when it comes to encroaching on fundamental rights viz the freedom of speech and expression!!

In India, fake news is shaped and modelled to meet the political interest of various political outfits. The news makes an impact not only on the public at large but also finds inroads into the history books of schools. The Trojan horse manifests itself in its most malicious form in the mindsets of several hundreds of readers and holds sway to incline/convert opinions.

Revered leaders of the past are portrayed in a poor light!! Pandit Nehru as a womanizer and Mahatma Gandhi a sexual pervert!! History books are distorted while its custodians change hands!! Political vendetta has taken an ugly form and will decay further in due course!!

Indians excel both in dispensing and receiving fictitious news as long as the same is aligned with their thought process. The inference is fore destined and hence news gains acceptance only if it meets the criteria.

News needs to be considered as a separate entity and opinions are to be derived from them. News in India undergoes various interpretations and is construed to suit different ideologies. When Modi did a U-turn immediately on sensing the undercurrents, it was reported that he was not informed of the I & B ministry’s notification.

However, it hardly calls for great manipulative skills to discover the truth behind the con game!!

Disclaimer:

Santosh Nair is a columnist writing for HW News Network.  The views, opinions, positions or strategies expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, positions or strategies of HW News Network or any employee thereof. HW News Network makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

 

 

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