‘It’s not simple to verify fake news on social media’

Published February 19, 2023
‘Banana Boys’ entertain audience at the KLF on Saturday.—White Star
‘Banana Boys’ entertain audience at the KLF on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: Saturday, day two, at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) had one serious discussion worth pondering over about ‘Invasive Media: Right to Privacy’ and one non-serious discussion, which you hope to put behind you soon, about humour, satire and mimicry ‘Hum Sangeen Mazaq ke Lapait Mein Hain [We Are in the Grips of Extreme Fun]’ happening back-to-back in Beach Luxury Hotel’s main garden.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, the first session moderated by Wajahat Saeed Khan had a cream of journalists of the likes of Mazhar Abbas, Asma Shirazi and Zarrar Khuhro on the panel while the other had Shehzad Ghias Shaikh in conversation with ‘Banana Boys’, namely, brothers Mustafa, Murtaza and Faysal Chaudhry.

Speaking about what is or is not being shown on our news channels, Zarrar Khuhro said that politics should not be the only thing covered by them. “There was a study about very high toxins in paints, another about toxic metals such as lead in drinking water. How much coverage did these stories get? There is so much happening out there, which we don’t know about, but we prefer to report on politics instead,” he said.

Deliberating on whether we are better journalists now, Asma Shirazi said that journalists have evolved from the time when they used to criticise messing up with the Constitution in Gen Ziaul Haq’s time, pointing out the wrongs during Benazir Bhutto’s PPP government, receiving threats from the Taliban, challenging the laws imposing limitations on the media during Nawaz Sharif’s time, etc. “It’s our job to criticise what is wrong and by doing it we are evolving and getting better and better at it,” she said.

Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas reminded about the time when there was censorship in the papers during Gen Zia’s time. “The information department would take out news and we would leave blank space in those columns. Then we are told not to leave space blank so we would print in that empty space some news against dictatorship in Argentina. We knew then that people had a right to know about what was going on. But now people seem to know even more than us journalists,” he said.

“We have become part of fake news and agenda-driven journalism. Now when people see a news item, they wonder whether we are informing them or disinforming them,” he added.

With the moderator bringing up social media then, Mr Khuhro surprised many by saying that he doesn’t love social media. “I see a screenshot and like any journalist I will try to verify it. We all came across that picture of little Zainab Ansari of Kasur with her pink school bag on Twitter. The investigation of Zainab’s murder actually started from social media. But that said, anything you receive on WhatsApp is 99 per cent of the time plain rubbish. No, Bill Gates did not message your uncle. So use your common sense. But then when fake news was a new phenomena you could also tell what was untrue though now when you get 200 fake news messages in a day, it is not so simple,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, Ms Shirazi when asked if it was more difficult being a woman or being a woman journalist, she spoke of the many challenges coming her way as a woman journalist. “Men can defend themselves during character assassinations and scandals, women can’t that easily. Women are trolled, there is fake news generated about them, they face threats too. It is so difficult to survive in this society where even your children are targeted. Women are soft targets,” she said.

The role of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) in regulating the media was also discussed. Mr Abbas said that he had a collection of 700 to 800 notices issued by Pemra to various channels over offences such as a presenter wearing dark lipstick, not covering her head properly with a dupatta. “This kind of regulation is only used to restrict the media, not moderate it,” he concluded.

The next session in the same place about humour, satire and mimicry by the three brothers and their stand-up comedian moderator started late because all the brothers were not present in the beginning.

Then they shared several jokes that were not only in bad taste but verging on vulgarity. They really needed to understand that one does not have to be dirty to sound funny.

Published in Dawn, February 19th, 2023

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