Main fake news threat from people in power: NDTV's Jain

From left- Pratik Sinha, Chitra Subramaniam, Sreenivasan Jain, Naresh Fernandes, Francois Gautier and Mukund Padmanabhan. DH Photo/S K Dinesh

The most awaited talk on the final day of the Bangalore Literature Festival was ‘Whose lie is it anyway: #FakeNews’, which was a rapid-fire talk on the burning issue. Controversial, engaging and fun -- the conversation had a bit of everything. 

It began with the panel describing fake news and one could see a few different viewpoints. 

Naresh Fernandes, the editor of Scroll.in, defined fake news as more than simply getting crucial details wrong. He called it a "figment of imagination" and alt-realties that need to be tackled. 

Pratik Sinha, the founder of fact-checking website AltNews, attributed the rise of false news to a lack of accountability added to an excess of information that floods citizens. "In 2018, India is using 10 times the data is used in 2016," he said.

"People do not know how to pursue information," Sinha explained. "There is no education if the information they receive through social media is true or not. That's why we debunk them with the information on how we pursued the news," 

The News Minute co-founder Chitra Subramaniam said the term fake news is, in fact, an oxymoron. "Manufacturing an event is not journalism and people who generate fake news are not journalists," she said.

However, for NDTV 24X7 Managing Editor Sreenivasan Jain, the problem of fake news was beyond just misreporting and manufacturing stories from journalists. "It is not just the internet but the fake news comes out in the form of government propaganda, cherry-picked data and divisive falsehoods. The ruling party and their media cronies have mainstreamed several falsehoods," Jain said to an applauding crowd. Though the blame for fake news could be placed on various agencies, Jain said that those in "power speaking falsehoods" was the biggest threat.

Francois Gautier, a French political writer, felt the problem of fake news reporting rose from a lack of time and perspective.

Mukund Padmanabhan, The Hindu editor, said it is "a journalist's problem as well. We are all affected by this. From clickbait headlines to picking news from tweets, the ecosystem of instantaneous news is affecting us all."

Where is the solution?

Jain called for reprimands and punishments for offenders and stressed the importance of public opinion and taking a stand. "There are no consequences for the political parties and media houses," he said. "One has to speak to power and address the change." 

Sinha asked the media houses to deliver apologies when it was discovered that they had misreported something. "We need to address the damage done by misreporting with an effective apology -- that can drive a message," he said. 

Fernandes said the solutions were anything but pulling the plug on the internet. He said: "Our readers are not idiots. The government is trying technical methods to stop the spread of fake news like pulling the plug on the internet - it was done 106 times this year."

The panel discussion was intense and the differences in viewpoints were evident. One exchange between Gautier and  Jain stood out. When Jain stated that "falsehood was encoded in the DNA of the BJP" and that "false information coming from the government and propaganda speeches was more harmful," Gautier was quick to respond. Gautier said that he was "against demonising politicians". Jain then shot back: "Criticising politicians is not demonising them and people in power have mainstreamed falsehoods." 

Jain stressed that he was not downplaying the role of social media in the spread of false news, but he said that ignoring the role of government was like "mopping the floor with the tap on." 

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Main fake news threat from people in power: NDTV's Jain

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