Biased coverage gives birth to fake news

Published: February 27, 2017
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LAHORE: Prominent local and foreign journalists vented their frustrations over certain aspects of their chosen profession in a session titled ‘Today in Fake News’ at the Lahore Literary Festival on Saturday,

Broadcast news producer Nermeen Sheikh pointed out the ‘biased’ coverage of US presidential elections and shared analysis of 1,000 minutes of pre-polls coverage.

She claimed while Bernie Sanders was given 20 minutes by the media, Donald Trump was given over 350 minutes of coverage. The media, she alleged, remained biased throughout the elections and this gave birth to ‘fake’ news.

Nermeen said news immediacy erased certainty and this seemed to be a recurring theme.

Fasih Ahmad, another prominent media figure, said the media was instrumental in agenda setting and this gave a tilt towards the phenomenon of fake news.

US journalist Max Rodenbeck said the media was more focused on repetition than representation. He added the prevalence of information technology had caused the inundation of actual news.

This development, he said, reduced certainty and the time to discern information. Max said the old doctrine focused on the control, censorship of the news and journalists assumed the responsibility of positive reformation.

Another speaker Qasim Ahmad said there was little accountability, especially in Pakistan, as the media organisations were too powerful.

Acclaimed author Ahmad Rashid said the authorities were using social media instead of press conferences or briefings to announce their policies thus depriving journalists of the chance to question them. He said these circumstances were not allowing the building of a common narrative.

“You cannot build a common narrative through tweets,” asserted Rashid. “Overdependence on technology is withering away the crafting tradition of journalists.

Nermeen pointed out that Trump was the first US president to use tweets as the principal medium of communication. The consequences, she added, were the birth of fake news and moulding of public opinion in a negative way.

Deconstructing Trump’s tweet about Syrian refugees streaming into the US without vetting, the journalist said they were the people who had to suffer through the process the most.

She asserted that it was untrue that these refugees were not being vetted. “They were checked dozens of times before entering the US,” she claimed.

Max also spoke about the phenomenon of technology and cited the example of the Modi App in India. “A person who downloads the app knows about the likes and dislikes of the prime minister,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2017.

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