Friday, April 03, 2020

How to fight fake news, media misinformation, hate speech and communal propaganda: Islamophobia in India and Indian Media

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

The level of hate, misinformation and fake news has reached such an alarming stage that it has left a large section of society, stunned.

Many people have the standard reply that it is better not to watch TV news or avoid reading papers, but dissociating or boycott doesn't lead to any solution, as the propaganda is reaching masses and will continue to affect you (us).

Besides, the sad aspect is that people who suffer because of it, have almost given up without a fight. I will give some hints in this post. The level hasn't gone up suddenly, it has reached here, in almost two decades, and unfortunately, there is no seriousness to tackle it.

Long long ago, media houses would be wary of publishing anything sensationalist, particularly, about a community, as they felt there would be reaction. But the situation changed over a period and they realised there was never any reaction, even if they came out with a 'fake fatwa' story or blamed any Muslim institution without any reason.

Neither these institutions sent defamation notices despite clear evidence and being on strong wicket, nor there were court cases or complaints to commissions. From 2006-2008 onwards, situation worsened but still people didn't wake up.

By 2012-14, Zee and Times Now were turning vicious. Yet, no steps were taken. Steadily in another five-six years, the situation has reached this level. While people like Pratik Sinha came up with Alt News, and other fact-checkers came up to debunk propaganda, [at least, with limited resources, they are giving a fight] what has been the community response?

The institutions---Deoband to Nadwa, the Khanqahs from Ajmer to Bareilly, they were all targeted. But none even takes it seriously. Imagine, an institution is termed 'terror factory' and in this case, it has to take it up not others because it has been defamed, still, there is no action.

So if either a BJP leader terms Deoband 'Aatankwad ki Gangotri' or a paper writes about a seminary and equates madarsas as breeding grounds of extremists or publishes false baseless stories like unfurling a flag of another country on campus, that hurt communal harmony and lead to hate, there is still no response.

Can't you do the most basic and simple task--some people joining hands to form a 'Media Monitor' at state or city level and ensure that any false news or one-sided story, gets the rebuttal and a proper statement is released, demanding apology, and the statement should be sent to all other media houses, apart from putting it up on social media.

It will take some time but this needs to be done diligently. And, it doesn't need funds to do it. This is just one of the most basic and proper ways (among the many ways). In Europe-USA, organisations record media disinformation, hate speeches, Islamophobia though Muslims form a minuscule population. Unfortunately, in India, there is not even a will to do it.

You may not believe but just a sustained effort over a period--six months, one year, will change it at least in your state. Those who monitor gain upper hand but it needs a bit of seriousness, discipline and at least 15-30 minutes effort daily or a weekly standard procedure--writing letters, issuing statements, phone calls, things you learn as you work.

Besides, if a paper is publishing reports that incite passions or headlines are inflammatory, you need to act as a citizen and must write letter to officials urging them to take action against paper or channel for disrupting harmony. But again, more important is releasing this letter in public, press and social media.

Besides, there is no understand of how media functions--people feel that less viewership or boycott of works though they don't even know that news print cost is so high that papers now prefer lesser circulation & if you don't watch it doesn't mean hate is not being spread--the videos of the TV channel debates and news go to FB, Twitter and WhatsApp, and from there they are shared.

Those who have an interest and take up the task, get recognition as well as satisfaction. These are the most basic things, any community or group is expected to do. But even this work--documentation, recording instances of discrimination and media monitoring is just missing among us.

Remember, there are ways, and a sustained fight can change situation but there is no willingness, interest or vision. And a mindset that refuses to believe that things can be changed if you do it in a planned way.

Also, read these articles published on this site earlier:

READ: India's media's right-wing, Islamophobic shift, is it irreversible?

READ: World must wake up how TV channels spreading Nazi-level propaganda in India

READ: How Twitter gives free run to online hate peddlers in India