Ranjona Banerji: Will the TOI-Bhaskar fake alert system work?

21 Jan,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Times Internet Limited, part of Bennett Coleman India, started a Fact Check Service a couple of years ago. With great fanfare. In the early days, you saw evidence of this in its newspapers. Gradually, these “fact check” stories vanished from the pages of the papers. But the service apparently continues, according to the website. It is interesting that Times Now, the group’s flagship TV channel is not covered although Ei Samay is.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/times-fact-check/about-us

Now, presumably apart from the Times Internet initiative (although it may well be part of), The Times of India together with Dainik Bhaskar has launched yet another fake news alert series, called “Kaun Banega Kaun Banayega”.

From TOI: “Commenting on the initiative, Sivakumar Sundaram, president -revenue, BCCI, said, “Fake news is a modern-day malaise…

“As gatekeepers of the truth and as a leading newspaper company, The Times of India takes on the responsibility of educating people on the need to follow real news and not forwards.

“This is being done in an engaging and humorous manner through a series of films titled, “Kaun Banega, Kaun Banayega…

“Girish Agarwal, promoter-director Dainik Bhaskar Group, said, Sharing a common responsibility, two of the largest media houses in the country have decided to come together to spread awareness about the menace of fake news’.”

I could not find an online link to this initiative, but there are screenshots of what appeared in print.

What can one say? In essence, it’s a great idea. It also seems to be an attempt by print barons to reclaim some mainstream media space, taken from them by both television and the web. Girish Agarwal was always a man for big ideas. It is definitely interesting that no editor is named in this initiative. The Times Internet service does mention that a senior editor is involved. Given the grammar and construction of the announcement, I would reckon no sub ran eyes over it.

The first of these ‘Fake Alerts’ is that the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has not written a new Constitution. The only proof of this is a denial by the RSS. Of course, anyone who has read Bunches of Thoughts and VD Savarkar knows the RSS vision for India, well, never mind.

The Kaun Banega, Kaun Banayega will also run a series of films starring comic and TV personality Cyrus Broacha. The ad alongside the announcement cutely says, “AIDS is spread by sharing a mango drink. Real or Fake?”. I swear I looked closely for some sponsorship by a mango drink manufacturer… Cynicism never dies, sorry.

The planned weekly printed news check sadly may not be enough. The rate at which fake news is spread across the world, it needs eternal vigilance. And the competition is huge. AltNews has made itself the biggest and most reliable fact checkers in India. Then there’s Boom and Quint and individual efforts online. Times Internet Service’s fact checking has not been fast enough to keep up or make an impression.

There is opacity in who runs this new Fake Alert system. Is it a marketing effort or a sort of new revenue stream for the two groups given that no editor has been named or was part of the announcement? The biggest spreader of fake news, sadly, is India’s ruling party, the BJP. Are both Bennett Coleman and Dainik Bhaskar ready to take on the BJPs IT cell big time? The first attempt sounds like dictation from Nagpur. Let’s wait for Week 2 to find out more…

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

 

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