Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Fake News destroys the credibility of professional reportage!

One of the trending topics in most media houses both internationally and in the country is that of Fake News has been on everyone's minds since late, and I have even curated an article on fake news on, www.scoop.it under my page, Writing about Life in the digital age. Although that article struck a chord in my mind  I  forgot about it until  I came across the topic while reading the Hindustan Times newspaper on the 26th of December, 2016. The article appearing in the Hinduastan Times newspaper on page 14, was titled : "Fake news impact: Pak minister issues threat against Israel". Syndicated by the Press Trust of India, the article described how a fake news report about the Israeli defence minister warning of  "nuclear retaliation" for Islamabad's role in Syria  had caused the Pakistani defence minister to retaliate in the same manner! 

The article that I curated was titled, "Fake news is a convenient scapegoat, but the big 2016 problem was the real news"- http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/12/15/13955108/fake-news-2016. the article that appeared on the 15th of December, 2016 reads, "Speaking in early December at a ceremony to honor Harry Reid’s retirement from the US Senate, Hillary Clinton took aim at a target that would have been totally unfamiliar to audiences as recently as the summer of 2016: fake news.

She spoke of “an epidemic” of the stuff that has “flooded social media” over the past year and “can have real-world consequences.”

This was reported largely as a commentary on the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which had recently led to an alarming armed standoff at DC’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant. But it was also pretty clearly an allusion to her own recently failed presidential campaign, especially because she spoke favorably of the idea of bipartisan legislation to curb foreign propaganda news, arguing that “it is imperative that leaders in both the private and public sector step up to protect our democracy and innocent lives.”

The wide scale proliferation of news items by Citizen Journalists and the use of social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many others has furthered the rise of the Fake News phenomena. What is a cause of concern is lest such news should not cause knee-jerk reactions and retaliations by governments, organisations and even syndicates. In some cases, Fake News items are meant as a joke or a prank (that might seriously go bad) meant more to titillate the reader than for any other purpose. In other cases, Fake News items are meant to promote a TV serial, or for that effect to increase TRP ratings of a TV Channel, or in others cases to increase the readership of print media, newspapers, and magazines. Many vernacular language newspapers in India, the names of which would be on the tongues of many people are known to carry news items that are so farfetched that they stand out like a sore thumb! Yet, newspapers persist in announcing the discovery of a human like skeleton of a humanoid that was fifteen feet long, stoking the myths of superhuman beings living in the Himalayan mountains in ancient times!

One of the main reasons for the proliferation of Fake News is that ordinary people are using social networking sites like never before!The rise of the citizen journalist and the craze for a maximum number of hits and likes on social networking sites is partly responsible for the spread of rumours. The recent Demonetisation of currency in India has seen an increase in the number of fake news doing rounds in the country. One example of fake news was a popular story was about how the Government was coming up with a currency note of the Rs.1000 denomination.The pictures of the Rs.1000 denomination note seemed to be authentic enough, what with every detail on the bill being printed with great accuracy!  The news was later termed to be wrong.  Another Fake News item doing the in the initial days of the demonetisation of currency was based on the story that the new two thousand Rupee note had a GPS chip embedded in it. Like its predecessor, this story also turned out to be Fake news. Yet another Fake News story in a string of many, that did the rounds of popular news channels was about how a light bulb could be lit up using a two thousand Rupees denomination bill after it had been let to lie in the sun for half an hour.

While the immediate impact of fake news might ebb out in a matter of hours, in many cases, it might last longer often stoking communal tensions and they might also affect the religious sentiments of different communities. One can only hope that leaders of nations all around the world do not fall prey to the pranks and mischief of fake news. Major newspapers like The New York Times have acknowledged that Fake News has become an increasingly serious problem today. It is unfortunate that apart from citizen journalists, trained journalists and editors of printed newspapers and TV channels tolerate Fake News items. While news reports by ordinary citizens might be taken with a pinch of salt, the same should not be the case with trained and accredited journalists! Strangely enough, there are people even today who swear on the veracity of stories being printed in their favourite vernacular language newspapers.

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