In an increasingly globalised world where information is accessible at our fingertips, what role does ethical and responsible journalism play in ensuring the dissemination of facts?
The advent of fake news is one that is unfortunate yet undeniable. It has its own distinct definition, one that differs from satire and practical humour. This relatively new phenomenon can be described as the spread of deliberate misinformation with the intention of misleading consumers. The act may be driven by a desire to garner political or financial gains, or may simply be a result of government propaganda and/or censorship. A defining characteristic of fake news are sensational headlines, also known as “clickbait” headlines to garner more click-based revenue in the online world.
The concept of false reporting came into the global limelight during the 2016 presidential election held in the United States of America (USA), through Donald Trump branding everything he disagreed with as “fake news”. There were numerous instances of reputable personalities and sources quoting morphed information during the election. Closer to home, in November 2017, the University of Delhi’s Kawalpreet Kaur posed in front of the Jama Masjid with a poster, stating her stance against mob lynching. The photo went viral, but the one that the Pakistan Defence Forum chose to tweet to more than 300,000 followers was an edited version, which read that Kaur hated India because of its colonial tendencies.
The problem with fake news in the contemporary world is that its distribution is not restricted to its producers; ordinary citizens with social media accounts can just as easily contribute to the mass propagation of false information. As a Wired article titled ‘It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech’ states, “In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralised broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention.”
In this context, it is more imperative that media houses and journalists in positions of responsibility make an active effort to recheck the veracity of their information and stay true to the ethics of reporting. 2nd April 2018 was celebrated as the second annual International Fact-Checking Day, an occasion that seems almost ridiculous on the surface, but is essential in the era of fake news.
Ordinary citizens may not always recognise the dire need for fact-checking before they indulge in sharing fake news on social media. However, this is a luxury that journalists cannot afford. Our national ruling party recently ordered that journalists would lose access to government events if they are accused of fake news. The order has since been revoked, but the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has set up a committee to provide a regulatory framework for online media in the country. Despite the government’s own agenda and threats to the media, journalists owe it to their audience to be principled. Whether it is national print newspapers or student-run campus publications, the ethics remain the same. Before succumbing to over sensationalised headlines and political bullies, we must evaluate our foremost responsibility: to deliver facts.