Ranjona Banerji: Fake News grows as mainstream media fails in credibility

24 Jul,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Almost no efforts to combat fake news have led to the reduction of fake news. As Harish Iyer pointed out on Twitter, it’s because we now live inside it. And it spreads too fast to catch, false or true. But usually false.

The mainstream media, traditional media, the media where actual journalists work cannot compete with the spread of fake news. And sadly, sometimes these outlets themselves are responsible for the spread of false information. Sometimes apparently wilfully, sometimes because apparently the process of fact-checking is just so annoyingly tedious.

The success of fact-checking website AltNews is because of the immense work that the team puts into researching false information and where it originated from. Some media organisations also set up their own fact-checking units, Boom Live, Quint but they have been unable to match AltNews. The worst factchecker within the media is possibly from the Times of India group because it is ad hoc, haphazard and cannot check its own TV channel Times Now from spreading any number of fake stories or inferences.

The failure of credibility in the mainstream media has allowed sites like OpIndia to grow and take on the mantle of the traditional media. This site was started by a bunch of BJP supporters who felt that the media was giving their beloved party a hard time. So it tried to debunk media articles. Then OpIndia was bought by Swarajya, which is also a BJP publicity website but it is run by some very senior journalists. This gave OpIndia the credibility it needed. Although Swarajya and OpIndia are no longer officially connected, OpIndia has made the transition, at least in the minds of the people. Its toxic Islamophobic filth is now accepted as mainstream news and opinion. It is a failure of the traditional media that OpIndia is taken with even a smidgeon of seriousness.

But it is not just party propagandists who get away with this. News agencies like ANI, which appears to be closest to the ruling regime, also manages to push the RSS’s Hindutva agenda is a number of ways. And in spite of this, ANI and its owner gets protected by media associations like the Editors’ Guild and so on. For example, it is common practice with ANI that if six people are arrested for a crime and if there is a Muslim name, only that is highlighted. This pushes the BJP’s Islamophobic agenda and hardens the narrative that Muslims commit crimes.

When the Tablighi Jamaat held its meeting in Delhi earlier this year and several of its delegates tested Covid-19 positive, the organisation and Islam were lambasted in these sections of the media. You can add India Today TV, Times Now, obviously Republic TV to ANI. But when several priests and workers of the Tirupati Temple recently tested Covid 19 positive, the whole of Hinduism was not blamed, nor did large numbers of enthusiastic reporters set out to investigate contact-tracing. No one was vilified or attacked. The news was mentioned and then we moved on as if nothing has happened. Not mentioning the news is also a nod to pushing a fake agenda.

China’s incursions into India have similarly been clouded in a fog of no news. Every news agency, newspaper, TV channel and website should have told us by now that the Government of India has lied to the people of India about China. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an all-party meeting that China has not entered India. The Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the BJP President JP Nadda told the people of India that we were safe in Modi’s hands. The Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the people of India not an inch of Indian territory blah blah.

It is evident from satellite images and armed forces reports that all these members of the Union Government and ruling party have lied to the people of India. And the fact that this is not every screaming headline proves clearly that the biggest purveyor of fake news is not Whatsapp but India’s mainstream media.

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

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