Fake news, according to me, is a type of propaganda that consists of a deliberate spread of misinformation or hoaxes via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media. The intent of fake news is to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity or person, and/or gain financially or politically. It uses sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership, online sharing, and internet click revenue.
Fake news undermines serious media coverage and makes it more difficult for journalists to cover significant news stories. It poses a serious threat, not just to journalism but to democracy and political pluralism.
We need to navigate this media environment but it is very difficult to teach the public how to spot fake news in a resource-deficit country like India. While there are some fact-checking websites in India like AltNews and HoaxSlayer, they play a small role in identifying and labelling fake news, especially since very few people are aware of them.
There is a need to create an autonomous body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which people can trust and report fake news to. It will play the role of an arbiter and take a call on what is fake news by effectively identifying and labelling stories while reducing their ability to go viral.
Hence, an autonomous body named “Commission on Fake News” should be established under Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Govt. of India, with its headquarter at Delhi and state offices at the state capitals. The commission will consist of experts of journalistic media (print, television, radio and internet) and social media. A website and a mobile web application of Commission on Fake News will be created. A toll free number of the commission will be launched.
People will be able to report fake news circulated through traditional print media (newspaper, magazine, etc.), broadcast news media (TV and radio news channels) and the internet to the Commission on Fake News. Widely circulated fake news pages on social media can also be reported. Grievances should be filed through a website or mobile application by submitting the details like news agency’s name, news programme’s name and time and date of the news (along with the hyperlink/newspaper article/video footage of the news, if possible). A toll-free number should also be set up.
The Commission will verify the reported news and decide if it is fake. The commission will have the power to demand supporting sources from the news agencies to back their claims. The commission should then put fake news in public domain with the actual facts, by means of:
While verifying the reported news, the commission should give priority to stories that pose a serious threat to the democracy, harmony and diversity of India.
TV and print news agencies will be instructed to use tickers like– ‘Uncertain/Disputed News’ while broadcasting a news which is not confirmed and not coming from a reliable source. Instructions will also be given to print the disputed news in red colour.
Commission on Fake News should have the power to take action against the news agencies which deliberately circulated fake news or violated the instructions given by it.
The commission may publish a monthly/bimonthly magazine and an annual report on fake news.