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Fake news

Updated May 21, 2018


PAKISTAN will soon be going into election campaign mode, and already the engines of fake news are working overtime.

It was in the aftermath of the US election in 2016 that this phenomenon became big news itself, and social networking sites — the principal means of spreading disinformation — received much negative attention.

The fact that the underhand activity was ostensibly aimed at influencing the outcome of the election made the issue one of utmost gravity.

Undoubtedly, electioneering everywhere is always punctuated with claims and counter claims by political rivals that are not always based on fact, and at times are demonstrably false.

But the echo chamber that is the social media has made disinformation a far more potent weapon in recent years.

At a time when the political climate is at fever pitch, Pakistan too is awash with reports of dubious credibility, further amplified by a section of the mainstream media, which sometimes takes its cue from disinformation being peddled on social media, and presents it as fact rather than taking the trouble to verify it first.

A polarised public makes the situation murkier still, but that puts even more onus on the media to sift truth from the morass of lies and innuendo.

To cite one example of such disinformation, further embellished in the retelling on both social and mainstream media, is that pertaining to the circumstances surrounding Nawaz Sharif’s interview published recently in this newspaper.

Among the falsehoods were claims that Mr Sharif or his aides themselves reached out to the reporter, Cyril Almeida; that a special plane was sent by the PML-N to take him to Multan; that he was in the city expressly to interview the former prime minister, etc.

The fact is that the journalist had arrived in Multan (by road) the day before to report on the political situation in south Punjab; he contacted Mr Sharif’s team upon learning that he would be coming to Multan for a rally; and the interview was conducted not at the airport but at a PML-N leader’s residence.

Perhaps a phone call to one of the senior editors at the newspaper office would have helped quash these rumours.

In an environment where fake news threatens the very foundations of journalism, it is imperative that editors of various media outlets connect with each other ‘across the aisle’ and collaborate on a code of ethics that will sustain and strengthen their profession.

Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2018