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Warning: Why You Need To Be Careful Of The News You Consume

What do you want when you open the newspaper? What is the intended purpose of tuning into a news channel? Why do you want news?

These are some fundamental questions that you should ask yourself before you consume any information that is presented as news. Here, it is important to realise what constitutes news.

In a classical sense, factual reportage delivered through print or electronic media (radio, television, and broadcasting) would be considered news. However, today, we often confuse it with what is mostly promoted through social media – where algorithms and behavioural patterns determine what we are mostly subjected to see. Anyone using a virtual identity, acquired by mechanically agreeing to oblivious terms and conditions, can peddle the most ludicrous of information to the virtual audience.

Here, there is no accountability or editorial responsibility. No one filters the disinformation or fake news from the real one. Of course, mainstream media is not averse to committing mistakes or misreporting, but editorial control ensures that its distinction from propagandist media is visible and structural. Although, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that these distinctive attributes are fast receding, even in mainstream media.

The spread of illicit, untrue, factually incorrect and intentionally misleading news is not a new phenomenon. People have peddled it, and masses have created revolutions in history, based on well-designed, effectively disseminated, false or prejudiced information. The only difference is that, back then, it was plainly and rightfully called propaganda.

Our social interfaces concerning news and information have become extremely personal. At the same time, ironically, we have more avenues than ever before to share these choices publicly, on social media. We have to understand that these days, it’s easier to create information and disseminate it to masses than ever before.

If a teenager from Macedonia can peddle fake news articles about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – what makes you think you are not prone to such misleading information, and will not make decisions, perceptions and propositions based on such news? In this age of (dis)information, a sordid, motivated mind can produce propagandist content in many formats.

New media, high-speed internet and a smartphone will make sure that the target audience is ‘dumbed’ down. The target audience varies based on the interests being served. It might be a frantic electorate for a resourceful political party, or the millennial population for a corporation seeking to capitalise on the increased awareness of rights and issues. All you need to figure out is cui bono (for whose benefit?).

If you switch on the TV and find the anchor in an almost-orgasmic elation while declaring that his/her hashtag is trending, it is indeed an achievement, which he/she seeks to reclaim every day. There exists a chaotic and symbiotic relationship between social media, electronic and even print media. The priorities of newsrooms, informed through hashtags, are furthered in the virtual dimension. This is done ‘structurally’ by paid social media co-coordinators of the organisation, ‘randomly’ by online users sharing disapproval or otherwise, and by the paid/unpaid online army of trolls who have a fixed and malicious agenda.

This is not merely reportage or debate – it has transcended into a marketing exercise, which is flirtatiously close to propaganda. Social media plays its part by enhancing the reach and helping finding new audiences through stories promoted on networking sites. The studios and newsrooms dutifully show off the impact they have had through social media. In turn, social media reinforces the construct, thereby creating a loop of intelligently-marketed news. This is a smooth-functioning ecosystem that thrives on impulse and outrage which ‘New India’ possesses in abundance, albeit selectively.

Arnab Goswami Republic TV
True journalistic coverage or political propaganda?

Today, journalism is fighting a battle on two fronts – within itself and with fake news. As journalism evolves alongside technology, it’s also showing its desperation due to the fear of becoming obsolete. Add to this the increasing corporate control of media houses and diminishing editorial autonomy or independence – and you have valid concerns regarding ethical and professional turpitude!

It’s easy to overlook faults of news organisations if the content fits our prejudicial package. However, it comes at the cost of credibility which is the single most precious tenet of journalism. It obfuscates the cause of accountability and accentuates distrust among different audiences, resulting in a sharp difference of opinions which may well lead to social and political discord.

Fake news collectively hurts mainstream media and diminishes hard-earned credibility. Syndicated efforts are required for fact-checking stories, data, analyses and especially, the claims of the administration. The fact-checking divisions need to be made more resourceful and rigorous. Media houses should have dedicated units to track fake news chains and sources, challenge and then expose them.

On the other hand, online activism is required to enquire about and subsequently seek the prosecution of individuals and organisations which create and disseminate malicious, inaccurate and fake content, whose motive is to create a disinformation barrier and exploit it for political or other ends. However, in a post-truth world, where authenticity and facts are just a matter of convenience, this task looks increasingly insurmountable.

Nevertheless, journalism that is bound to an agenda which is self-serving and sensational is the bigger challenge, if not the immediate one. In the fight of who decides what’s pro-India, pro-Army and what the national interest is, it’s the consumers whose minds are overwhelmed by the opinionated and channelised anger. Whether this anger is justified or false, no one really knows. Today, more than ever before, people are divided on the role of media, its integrity and its future in the Indian democracy.

The bottom line is that media today has been reduced into a disruptive commodity which very cunningly informs a range of our functions and decisions – political, social, religious, commercial, cultural and prejudicial. And that is precisely why we should be more prepared and diligent in identifying, consuming, and dispersing what we believe to be the news.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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