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Weekly Current Affairs: April week-2 - Fake news is the biggest challenge: SC

  • Category
    Governance
  • Published
    9th Apr, 2020

The Supreme Court asked the Centre to set up a portal for dissemination of real time information on the coronavirus pandemic to counter the panic being spread through fake news.

Context

The Supreme Court asked the Centre to set up a portal for dissemination of real time information on the coronavirus pandemic to counter the panic being spread through fake news.

Background:

  • In a post-truth era, the contagion of fake news has gripped the world in equal parts. Right from the United States of America, to emerging economies like India, Brazil and others, no one seems to be spared.
  • Deeply interlinked with technological developments, “disinformation” and “misinformation” have become pervasive in our news bubbles.
  • As the world’s largest democracy with the second largest population, the issue of fake news poses a unique threat in India.

What is Fake News?

  • False information is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers.
  • Usually, these stories are created to either influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers.
  • False information can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organisations.

The scale of fake news in India:

  • Spread of fake news has hit a new high in 2019 with every major event, from the general elections and Pulwama attacks to scrapping of Article 370 and the ongoing protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, triggering extensive distribution of misinformation across social media platforms.
  • India has the largest number of social media users in the world across platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, ShareChat and TikTok.
  • Fake stories, rumours and hate speech spread through social media have been connected to various incidents of mob attacks and lynching in the country.
  • Under pressure from the government and regulators such as the Election Commission, social media platforms have introduced various restrictions on sharing of posts and blocked accounts of many users.

Supreme Court’s stand on fake news:

  • The top court, which observed that panic will destroy more lives than the virus, asked the Centre to get trained counsellors and community leaders of all faiths to calm down the migrants, who are kept in shelter homes across the country.
  • The court asked the Centre to ensure that migration is stopped and to take care of food, shelter, nourishment and medical needs of the people and also to follow up of cases of the virus, also called COVID-19.
  • The Centre told the apex court that the suggestion to sprinkle water and chemicals on migrants to sanitise them does not work scientifically and is not the right way.
  • The top court, which refused to restrain the High Courts from taking up the issue of migrants, said they may monitor the issue more closely.
  • It however asked the Centre to tell the government lawyers to inform the high courts about the orders passed by the apex court.
  • A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao, which took up two PILs on the issue of migration through video conference, asked the Centre to look into the letter petitions filed by Kerala MP from Kasaragod constituency Rajmohan Unnithan and one filed by a MP from West Bengal on the issues related to Coronavirus.
  • The bench asked the Centre to ensure that duties of managing the shelter homes, where migrants are being kept, are entrusted to volunteers and not to the police and there should not be any use of force or intimidation.
  • It asked the government that there must be adequate provisions of drinking water, food, beds and medicines in these shelters.

Constitutional provisions in India:

  • There is no specific law in India to deal with fake news but there are statutory and self-regulatory bodies to act against dissemination of misinformation.
  • Free publication or broadcast of news in India flows from the fundamental right to freedom of expression as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • However, there are certain legal recourses available for people affected by fake news.
  • News Broadcasters Association (NBA): Complaints can be lodged with the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) which represents the private television news and current affairs broadcasters. It is funded by its over 60 members.
    • The NBA is the credible voice of news broadcasters to the government.
    • It is self-regulatory in nature and probes complaints against news broadcasters in a fair manner.
  • Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF): There is another body called the Indian Broadcast Foundation (IBF) which was created in 1999 to look into the complaints against contents aired by 24x7 channels.
    • Over 650 news channels are in operation today in the country.
    • Complaint against any broadcaster can be filed in English or Hindi to IBF online or offline for promoting smoking, abuse or any violent action.
  • Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC): A complaint relating to objectionable TV content or fake news can be filed to the Broadcasting Content Complain Council if a broadcaster incites communal hatred, encourages violence against women or child abuse, airs contents having gory scenes of violence, promotes superstition or consumption of drugs and other contraband substances.
  • Defamation: Defamation suit is also a legal tool available in the case of fake news. If a person finds a fake news defamatory s/he can file a civil or criminal case for defamation.
    • IPC Section 499 makes defamation a criminal offence. Section 500 provides for punishment for criminal defamation that can extend upto a jail term of two years with or without fine.

The road ahead:

Fake news has become an online epidemic. During this time, the government needs to adopt a pronged strategy to deal with fake information. The way forward is the strict measures:

  • To rethink the intermediary liability rules to ensure a greater degree of social responsibility and transparency from tech companies
  • To pass a law that strictly defines fake news
  • To ensure tech literacy through awareness drives, to inculcate the habit of verifying all content received.

Apart from the above, the journalism needs to become effective again. What is actually needed is ‘media literacy’. Moreover, the citizens should become aware of how to consumer media, see news and how to play an active role in changing things for the better.

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