Serious about Fake News?

28 Aug,2018


By Ranjona Banerji

On August 25, The Times of India announced on its pages a campaign against Fake News. “We plan to start a regular tracker of fake news and set the record straight whenever we can,” said the announcement. Most commendable.

Types of fake news were collated in this box, to make matters clear to readers:


And we were given reasons why such “misinformation” is put out:


It will be fascinating to track this tracker when it is made available to the general public. It’s interesting to see that “clickbait” headlines (where the headline and content do not match) are included in this fake news category since that is a “crime” almost every Indian newspaper and news website can be accused of, especially when it comes to entertainment news. I am waiting to see whether the newspaper drops the bikini pictures of female stars it uses to illustrate stories which could be anything from a new love affair to a new favourite sandwich.

Satire has also been included within the definition of fake news and there is scope for debate here. Satire and parody are legitimate forms of expression and are not a deliberate attempt to mislead. It is worth noting that satire is done for “profit” according to this declaration only because one would think that anything with a profit motive would only get kudos from Bennett Coleman.

Will other major media houses follow suit? When TOI announced Medianet years ago, journalists, publishers and owners were up in arms, brimming with self-righteous outrage. Hindustan Times and India Today were amongst the most vociferous in damning TOI and making strong cases for the importance of pressure-free journalism. Having got it all out of their systems, almost everyone started following TOI’s Medianet example, including those two.

But let’s cut to the chase. All this is all very well but the biggest problem with the Times Group is its “news” channel Times Now. Of the types of Fake News listed, number 3, 4 and 6 are commonly used by its anchors to target communities, to favour politicians that its anchors support and to push ideologies that its anchors obviously follow.

If the Times Group is serious about this campaign against Fake News, then it needs to take a serious look at what Times Now is doing to the democratic fabric of India.

With that, we wish them luck!



I feel I have to reproduce these words from former business journalist Udayan Mukherjee, in an oped piece carried in the Indian Express, about whether or not to speak ill of the dead. He refers here to journalists who wrote obits for the late AB Vajpayee.

“One particular pathetic aspect of this is how journalists remember dead celebrities. More often than not these are first person accounts of how well someone knew a particular politician or famous person – the time he came over for dinner or consulted one on a matter of national importance. No objectivity at all just that naked desire to somehow bolster one’s own relevance through gratuitous suggestions of proximity to the inner coterie, in denial of the truth that they would always be aspiring outsiders in the eyes of the real protagonists.”

These are strong and true words. That is what such journalists are “aspiring outsiders”, full of their own self-importance. They will always exist, sadly but a little bit of self-awareness would not be out of place for them either.



Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are personal.


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