TODAY -

Busting fake news a big challenge for democracy and Nation

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *



Just the other day Prime Minister Narendra Modi was cautioning the Nation on the danger fake news posed to the country. A small piece of fake news can trigger huge chaos across the country and the Prime Minister said India needed to develop technologies that can check the spread of fake news. It is heartening that fake news busters came together to crystalise an action plan to do just that.

Now there is available a comprehensive tool kit for identifying and stopping spread of fake news.

We all must be careful not to spread false information–by accident or by design--that is factually wrong as it will lead to unimaginable consequences. If enough care is taken as information is processed into news–by fact checking, authenticating sources and sourcing and evaluating the motive of the information and then contextualising it–chances of killing the fake news are very high.

These days with social media turning anyone and everyone into a journalist, the tools of checking misinformation and detecting fake news must be shared with all people, and educating them how to use them. A small fact-check checklist–of just five steps—Identifying original source, verify the content, check for context, obtain permission, and set out evidence for the reader (citations) can do the trick.

One can start with checking who wrote the article, and then proceed with other questions what the publication is, where do the sources inside come from, when was it published, why did the writer create it (motive) and most important, how did the write up make you feel. Answers to these will determine whether the news is factually correct and can be disseminated.

Critical Appraisal Skill (CAS) is the capability of carefully and systematically examining research/data/claims to judge its trustworthiness, and its value and relevance in a particular context. CAS helps in making sense of scientific evidence. It has produced appraisal check lists covering validity, result and relevance.

Also a ten-point Media Rating Tool containing a check list of 12 questions can help detect and prevent spread of fake news. It is very important, because fake news in health-related aspects can be dangerous and lead to avoidable deaths, like it happened in some instances during Covid-19 pandemic.

Other than basic cannons of good journalism and the conventional 5 Ws and 1 H, the Media Rating Tool also has questions to check if there was any conflict of interest involved and if it was resolved, is the scientific evidence mentioned prominently, economic aspects relating to story mentioned, does the story describe alternative options available, are independent sources of information consulted and mentioned and finally, is the story relevant to local settings.

The only trick for doing good, and even great journalism for the journalists is to be asking the right questions, and to the right persons. Just like it is for Anthropologists too, who like journalists are observers of human conditions, and both use time tested data collection methods–notebooks, tape recorders, and cameras and more interestingly they can learn from each other the skills that will make their work in respective fields better.

Both professionals perceive themselves as observers of human conditions and also realise that one’s neutral observations cannot be accepted at face value and that it is always necessary to cross check and verify information.

Which makes it very clear that people engaged in both the professions need critical appraisal skills, and what better way than to put journalists and anthropologists, even the budding ones, in a single room and enable them make conversations as to how they do their own work and if there was something that they can learn from each other.

With this objective, and more in mind, UNICEF got media proffesionals, students of Anthropology and journalism for workshop on Critical Appraisal Skills – Evidence Based Health Journalism.

In fact, the one-of-a-kind course – Critical Appraisal Skills was already devised and being taught in Oxford University. The UNICEF took an initiative to help develop skills of media persons of India in factual, balanced and evidence based health reporting.

The most important thing to be checked if the information under processing could lead to scare mongering. Sure, we all have a responsibility not to misinform the public and counter misinformation that usualy spreads.


* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on November 06 2022.



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