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Understanding issues around Fake News

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News, the word ”NEWS” is generally used for the statement of facts or information about happening of events, the news can be global or local or universal but news have to be fact based, not just a piece of mortal’s imagination, but does “NEWS” in today’s times especially by the Indian media houses represent the facts as is?, in fact nowadays there is a trend to end the news item with question mark (?). Does a question mark at the end of news item make it fact based or does it make the news item a piece of reporter’s figment of imagination which the reporter tries to instill in the minds of the readers.

In the Indian context the news reporting in good ‘older days’ used to be of the gold standards where there were only few media outlets like Doordarshan, in those days news reporting was restricted to presenting the facts before the people, at this juncture we might evaluate what does fact means, as per the technical definition the facts means the things perceived by the senses however when we consider fact as the item to be reported by media then we more often then not consider the fact as ‘truth’, this consideration isn’t invalid or far-fetched as the people of this country rather the denizens of this planet deserve to know the truth.

The common man of this country consumes news as a daily routine because he/she wants to know what is happening around him/her and he/she totally deserve to know and the society too has obligation to inform him/her the truth about happenings in society, its media which does this job and keeps the common man updated with society and probably for this reason it is often said that the media is the 4th pillar of democratic state. This supposed 4th pillar did well uptil the advent of 24 hours news channel and these channels didn’t came in single numbers there are plethora of such channels, in fact on scrutiny of available channels on DTH platforms, one can easily see that there are probably more number news channel than the movie or sports channels. The problem is not with the news channels running round the clock 24×7 but the problem arise when these (or some of these) channels whether out of gaining edge over the competing channels or out of the ulterior motive (driven by funding or favours from the rich and powerful organizations) tries or rather manufacture the news to serve their motives.

There have been plenty of instances where the reportage by a media house turns out to be false or if the reportage is not false in its entirety but therein elements deliberately introduced to cater a narrative of the which media house try to propagate, the reporter reporting such news piece cannot be said to be a reporter rather can be said to as an opinion influencer. In very recent times Indians have came across various fake news items whether it relates to attack on shops or inter community disturbances, these are not just isolated or very rare incidents, there have been a plenty of such false reports being generated and floated to the public at large.

We often wonder why these incidents of fake news keep on happening again and again, people often like to believe that these are borne out of genuine mistake or at most the over zealousness of the reporters who try to gain edge over the other reporters, but there might be something more severe than what meets the eye or what we presume. On most of the occasions the media outlet withdraws the false news piece and issue a meticulously drafted apology very minutely worded and that too put up at the non prominent place where the viewer might not be able to read it on a casual glance.

To the contrary there have been also instances where despite publishing a fake news piece the channel or media houses don’t even publish an apology rather they make vague explanation trying to validate their fake news item. More research into the matter of fake news generation might reveal shocking numbers giving a fair bit of idea of the extent of this plague. In 2018, the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India had the highest number of fake news propagation incidents compared to the rest of the country, with approximately 30 cases registered with the authorities. The whole country recorded a total of around 100 such incidents that year[1]

The matter does not end with the publication of false or fake news, on close scrutiny over the period of time one can observe that the fake news do subscribe to a particular narrative and it would be utilized by the narrative ‘experts’ to further their agenda, these experts are mindful of potential of social media to expose their agenda so they wait so that the controversy around fake news is put to rest and after the cooling off period (which may run into months) that piece of fake news is utilized to build and peddle the narrative, unfortunately the peoples memory do fade away rather quickly so such fake narrative also pass through un-confronted.

The purveyors of fake news prey on the vulnerability or partisan potential of recipients whom they hope to enlist as amplifiers and multipliers. In this way, they seek to animate people into becoming conduits of their messages by exploiting our propensities to share information for a variety of reasons. A particular danger is that ‘fake news’ in this sense is usually free – meaning that people who cannot afford to pay for quality journalism, or who lack access to independent public service news media, are especially vulnerable to both disinformation and misinformation[2]

Responsible viewers have time and again raised the issue to review and amend the existing laws to meet the challenges of generation and spreading of the fake news, but efforts by both policymakers and civil societies have not been very encouraging to address this concern in the era of highly opinionated people having access to information on mobiles. Media (or part of it) can now be said to a web of propaganda which try to push through their narrative, same piece of news is represented to the viewers in totally different colours by news channels of different ideologies and of course the context changes (or rather made to change) accordingly to further the narrative, just by style of reporting viewers can easily make out which ideology does a particular news channel belongs to.

How to curb this plague of fake news have many answers but the most frequently mooted idea is to bring the legislation, however, freedom of expression advocates fear that legislation will hurt the very democratization of information and opinion that new technologies have enabled to great extent, in some sense it is true that regulating legislation could be used to silence critical media so this is a double edged sword which has to be tread through very cautiously.

At this juncture following words of wisdom are worth pondering on –

A functioning press and democracy require criticism, transparency, and consequences for journalistic mistakes. They also require that we’re able to collectively distinguish them from lies and deception. Otherwise…real information will be painted as fake, and manufactured (rubbish) gets presented as fact[3] – Craig Silverman                                                                                     
News today still has to be accurate and fair, but it is as important for the readers, listeners and viewers to see how the news is produced, where the information comes from, and how it works. The emergence of news is as important, as the delivering of the news itself[4]

The term ‘fake news’ has a straightforward or commonly understood meaning that any news which is not genuine news is a ‘fake news’. This is because ‘news’ means verifiable information in the public interest, and information that does not meet these standards does not deserve the label of news. In this context, ‘fake news’ is an oxymoron which lends itself to undermining the credibility of information which does indeed meet the threshold of verifiability and public interest – i.e. real news. In ideal situation there should not be any curb on the independent media which is supposedly as important a pillar of the democracy as the other three pillars are i.e legislature, executive and judiciary, however, in the real situation the society and its institutions cannot stick their head in the sand like an ostrich, they have to be mindful of the growing plague and its potential fatalistic impact on the public at large and bring in the necessary regulatory framework to tackle the same.


[1] Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/1098571/india-incidents-of-fake-news-propagation-by-leading-state

[2] Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation, published in 2018 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 7, place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France

[3] Silverman, C. (2018). I Helped Popularize The Term “Fake News” And Now I Cringe Every Time I Hear It. Available at https://www. buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/i-helped-popularize-the-term-fake-news-and-now-i-cringe

[4] Bunz, M. (2009). How Social Networking is Changing Journalism. https://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2009/sep/18/oxford-social-mediaconvention-2009-journalism-blogs

News, the word ”NEWS” is generally used for the statement of facts or information about  happening of events,  the news can be global or local or universal but news have to be fact based, not just a piece of mortal’s imagination, but does “NEWS” in today’s times especially by the Indian media houses represent the facts as is ?, in fact nowadays there is a trend to end the news item with question mark (?). Does a question mark at the end of news item make it fact based or does it make the news item a piece of reporter’s figment of imagination which the reporter tries to instill in the minds of the readers.

In the Indian context the news reporting in good ‘older days’ used to be of the gold standards where there were only few media outlets like Doordarshan, in those days news reporting was restricted to presenting the facts before the people, at this juncture we might evaluate what does fact means, as per the technical definition the facts means the things perceived by the senses however when we consider fact as the item to be reported by media then we more often then not consider the fact as ‘truth’, this consideration isn’t invalid or far-fetched as the people of this country rather the denizens of this planet deserve to know the truth. The common man of this country consumes news as a daily routine because he/she wants to know what is happening around him/her and he/she totally deserve to know and the society too has obligation to inform him/her the truth about happenings in society, its media which does this job and keeps the common man updated with society and probably for this reason it is often said that the media is the 4th pillar of democratic state. This supposed 4th pillar did well uptil the advent of 24 hours news channel and these channels didn’t came in single numbers there are plethora of such channels, in fact on scrutiny of available channels on DTH platforms, one can easily see that there are probably more number news channel than the movie or sports channels. The problem is not with the news channels running round the clock 24×7, but the problem arise when these (or some of these) channels whether out of gaining edge over the competing channels or out of the ulterior motive (driven by funding or favours from the rich and powerful organizations) tries or rather manufacture the news to serve their motives. There have been plenty of instances where the reportage by a media house turns out to be false or if the reportage is not false in its entirety but therein elements deliberately introduced to cater a narrative of the which media house try to propagate, the reporter reporting such news piece cannot be said to be a reporter rather can be said to as an opinion influencer. In very recent times Indians have came across various fake news items whether it relates to attack on shops or inter community disturbances, these are not just isolated or very rare incidents, there have been a plenty of such false reports being generated and floated to the public at large.

We often wonder why these incidents of fake news keep on happening again and again, people often like to believe that these are borne out of genuine mistake or at most the over zealousness of the reporters who try to gain edge over the other reporters, but there might be something more severe than what meets the eye or what we presume. On most of the occasions the media outlet withdraws the false news piece and issue a meticulously drafted apology very minutely worded and that too put up at the non prominent place where the viewer might not be able to read it on a casual glance. To the contrary there have been also instances where despite publishing a fake news piece the channel or media houses don’t even publish an apology rather they make vague explanation trying to validate their fake news item. More research into the matter of fake news generation might reveal shocking numbers giving a fair bit of idea of the extent of this plague. In 2018, the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India had the highest number of fake news propagation incidents compared to the rest of the country, with approximately 30 cases registered with the authorities. The whole country recorded a total of around 100 such incidents that year[1]

The matter does not end with the publication of false or fake news, on close scrutiny over the period of time one can observe that the fake news do subscribe to a particular narrative and it would be utilized by the narrative ‘experts’ to further their agenda, these experts are mindful of potential of social media to expose their agenda so they wait so that the controversy around fake news is put to rest and after the cooling off period (which may run into months) that piece of fake news is utilized to build and peddle the narrative, unfortunately the peoples memory do fade away rather quickly so such fake narrative also pass through un-confronted.

The purveyors of fake news prey on the vulnerability or partisan potential of recipients whom they hope to enlist as amplifiers and multipliers. In this way, they seek to animate people into becoming conduits of their messages by exploiting our propensities to share information for a variety of reasons. A particular danger is that ‘fake news’ in this sense is usually free – meaning that people who cannot afford to pay for quality journalism, or who lack access to independent public service news media, are especially vulnerable to both disinformation and misinformation[2]

Responsible viewers have time and again raised the issue to review and amend the existing laws to meet the challenges of generation and spreading of the fake news, but efforts by both policymakers and civil societies have not been very encouraging to address this concern in the era of highly opinionated people having access to information on mobiles. Media (or part of it) can now be said to a web of propaganda which try to push through their narrative, same piece of news is represented to the viewers in totally different colours by news channels of different ideologies and of course the context changes (or rather made to change) accordingly to further the narrative, just by style of reporting viewers can easily make out which ideology does a particular news channel belongs to. How to curb this plague of fake news have many answers but the most frequently mooted idea is to bring the legislation, however, freedom of expression advocates fear that legislation will hurt the very democratization of information and opinion that new technologies have enabled to great extent, in some sense it is true that regulating legislation could be used to silence critical media so this is a double edged sword which has to be tread through very cautiously.

At this juncture following words of wisdom are worth pondering on –

A functioning press and democracy require criticism, transparency, and consequences for journalistic mistakes. They also require that we’re able to collectively distinguish them from lies and deception. Otherwise…real information will be painted as fake, and manufactured (rubbish) gets presented as fact[3] – Craig Silverman                                                                                     “News today still has to be accurate and fair, but it is as important for the readers, listeners and viewers to see how the news is produced, where the information comes from, and how it works. The emergence of news is as important, as the delivering of the news itself[4]

The term ‘fake news’ has a straightforward or commonly understood meaning that any news which is not genuine news is a ‘fake news’. This is because ‘news’ means verifiable information in the public interest, and information that does not meet these standards does not deserve the label of news. In this context, ‘fake news’ is an oxymoron which lends itself to undermining the credibility of information which does indeed meet the threshold of verifiability and public interest – i.e. real news. In ideal situation there should not be any curb on the independent media which is supposedly as important a pillar of the democracy as the other three pillars are i.e legislature, executive and judiciary, however, in the real situation the society and its institutions cannot stick their head in the sand like an ostrich, they have to be mindful of the growing plague and its potential fatalistic impact on the public at large and bring in the necessary regulatory framework to tackle the same.  


[1] Available at https://www.statista.com/statistics/1098571/india-incidents-of-fake-news-propagation-by-leading-state

[2] Journalism, ‘Fake News’ & Disinformation, published in 2018 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 7, place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP, France

[3] Silverman, C. (2018). I Helped Popularize The Term “Fake News” And Now I Cringe Every Time I Hear It. Available at https://www. buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/i-helped-popularize-the-term-fake-news-and-now-i-cringe

[4] Bunz, M. (2009). How Social Networking is Changing Journalism. https://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2009/sep/18/oxford-social-mediaconvention-2009-journalism-blogs

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