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Insights into Editorial: What mechanism do you have against fake news, Supreme Court asks Centre




The Supreme Court has recently asked the Centre to explain its “mechanism” against fake news and bigotry on air, and to create one if it did not already exist.

The Court said it was “disappointed” with the contents of the latest government affidavit, filed by Information and Broadcasting Secretary, in the Tablighi Jamaat case.

The case is based on petitions against the communal colour given by certain sections of the electronic media to the holding of a Tablighi Jamaat event in the National Capital during the lockdown.

The Jamiat petitions has sought a direction from the court to the Ministry to identify and take strict action against sections of the media that communalised the Tablighi incident.

About Fake News:

Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. Fake news, defined by the New York Times as “a made-up story with an intention to deceive”.

Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.

Fake news is not a new phenomenon which is linked to the rise of social media, on the contrary from the times of ancient Greece, the governments and political actors have always invested in disinformation campaigns to build narratives of their choice.

Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations.

There are three elements to fake news; Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation.

Causes for Rise in Fake News:

  1. Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of these types of stories.
  2. Everyone is busy in sharing/liking/commenting on news items without checking the authenticity of news.
  3. Traditionally we got our news from trusted sources, journalists and media outlets that are required to follow strict codes of practice. However, the internet has enabled a whole new way to publish, share and consume information and news with very little regulation or editorial standards.
  4. Fake news is no longer being considered a rare or isolated phenomenon, but appears to be organized and shrewdly disseminated to a target population.
  5. It is believed that the high possibility of these organized bodies coming into existence with the help of political influence.
  6. The immense popularity of vernacular social media platforms in India is exploited for the spread of fake news.

Supreme Court’s poser:

For the past two months, the court has been asking the government to give a clear answer to whether the regulatory provisions of the Cable TV Network (Regulation) Act of 1995, meant for cable networks, would apply to TV broadcasts.

“We want to know if the government has any power to question or ban TV broadcasting signals,” Chief Justice had asked the government in the previous hearing.

Government referred to the power to prohibit transmission of certain programmes under Section 19 of the 1995 Act.

However, he agreed to file an “elaborate” affidavit, which would be the third in a row from the government side. The CJI had termed the first one, filed by an under-secretary, “evasive” and even “nonsensical.”

The Jamiat petitions has sought a direction from the court to the Ministry to identify and take strict action against sections of the media that communalised the Tablighi incident.

Threats posed by spreading of Fake News:

  1. Fake news can reduce the impact of real news by competing with it.
  2. In India, the spread of fake news has occurred mostly with relation to political and religious matters.
  3. However, misinformation related to COVID-19 pandemic was also widely circulated.
  4. Fake news spread through social media in the country has become a serious problem, with the potential of it resulting in mob violence.

Measures by government:

  1. Internet shutdowns are often used by the government as a way to control social media rumours from spreading.
  2. Ideas such as linking Aadhaar to social media accounts have been suggested to the Supreme Court of India by the Attorney General.
  3. In some parts of India like Kannur in Kerala, the government conducted fake news classes in government schools.
  4. The government is planning to conduct more public-education initiatives to make the population more aware of fake news.
  5. Fact-checking has sparked the creation of fact-checking websites in India to counter fake news.

Way Forward:

The government must take the initiative to make all sections of the population aware of the realities of this information war and evolve a consensus to fight this war. Strict action against the fake news providers.

Government should have independent agency to verify the data being circulated in social and other media. The agency should be tasked with presenting real facts and figures.

Social media websites should be made accountable of such activities so that it becomes their responsibility to have better control over the spread of fake news.

The artificial intelligence technologies, particularly machine learning and natural language processing, might be leveraged to combat the fake news problem.