BENGALURU: Panelists, including senior journalists, discussed the causes and the people responsible for fake news, and the ways to counter them.
The participants differed in their opinions on what constitutes fake news. Founder of a digital news website and author Naresh Fernandes said misinformation which was spread without any malicious intent should not be termed as fake news. Senior journalist Chitra Subramaniam said such news is put out to create doubt and misconception with a specific agenda, and is not a journalistic issue.
India-based French journalist Francois Gautier said he found fake news to be “a strong term” and said as journalists have strong opinions, they pick stories which suit those opinions. Founder of Altnews.in, an online fact-checking website, Pratik Sinha said the broader issue was that of the excess of information brought about by increasing internet connectivity across the country. He stressed on the role of social media in the spread of fake news.
Senior journalist Sreenivasan Jain did not pull any punches as he termed the ruling BJP government “and its right-wing ecosystem of media cronies” as the biggest culprits in this regard — a view that was opposed by Subramaniam and Gautier. “For example, this oft repeated myth of love jihad, this constant amplifying and scare-mongering about cow protection, this constant effort at creating a sense of majoritarian victimhood about how the minorities are taking over and so on,” he said.
Jain also referred to a recently circulated video of BJP president Amit Shah. Jain said the video shows Shah admonishing party workers for spreading fake news, but in a very “nudge-nudge, wink-wink manner.” Chitra Subramaniam differed with his view and said the Congress was equally bad, citing how the party allegedly spread falsehoods against her own family after she broke the Bofors scam.
Senior journalist Mukund Padmanabhan put the onus on the media, saying the current scenario of instantaneous news had infected journalists.
On the question of how the issue should be tackled, Naresh Fernandes said the government’s approach of resorting to tech solutions, including disconnecting internet connectivity to curb false rumours, will not work. “The battle will have to be waged by every Indian publication. We have to resist the urge to oversell or exaggerate our stories and admit our mistakes when we are wrong. In the end, I have no doubt we will win because our readers are not idiots.”