Fake news haunts news business in Pakistan

Feedback, fact-checking can curb the spread of fake news, say speakers at LLF

Fatima Rehman September 23, 2019

KARACHI: In Pakistan, fake news is as effective as original news, said one of the panellists during a session, titled 'How fake news affects society?', on the second day of the Lyari Literature Festival (LLF), at Shaheed Benazir Bhutto University, Lyari.

The panel discussion was moderated by Naseer Goopang, founder of LLF and a journalist associated with a regional TV channel. The panel comprised journalists Dr Tauseef Ahmed, Dr Irfan Aziz and Iqbal Khursheed as well as the former president of Youth Parliament, Talha Anwer.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Ahmed elaborated on how fake news was not a consequence of the growing use of social media, but dated back to the time of the cold war. Referring to the recent Ghotki incident, he shed light on how fake news can cause havoc. "In the age of fifth-generation warfare, social media is a battleground for most of us," he said, adding that people don't realise that their posts on social media can evoke instant reactions.

He also spoke about political and business rivalries in Pakistan, which, he said, not only lead to the rapid spread of fake news but also create an impression that news is a result of agenda-setting.

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Khursheed said that intense competition among news outlets is the primary cause of the spread of misinformation. "Most of the times, competing to be the first one to deliver news results in compromising on the credibility of the news," he said. He also pointed out that it often happens that satire is misinterpreted as actual news. "We don't understand satire easily," he said.

He also shared a quote, which he said is falsely attributed to Mark Twain. Citing it, Khursheed said, "Let others lie wantonly, gratuitously, if they will, but let you and me make it the rule of our life to lie for revenue only. A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Following it, he asked, "Who says detecting fake news is easy in this world?"

Adding to the discussion, Dr Aziz said that fake news spreads rapidly in Pakistan because people don't raise questions on news, especially if it is published in a newspaper. He said that besides journalists, news consumers should also act wisely when sharing news.

"People undermine their power of sharing news. Every drop matters in this pool of misinformation," he said. "It's high time we stop putting the entire blame for the outburst of fake news on the media. In the current era, consumers are equally responsible for filtering news", Aziz said.

Responding to a question about fact-checking to curtail the spread of fake news, Anwer stressed on the importance of delivering accurate news and the need for journalists to realise that they carry a heavy responsibility on their shoulders. "Journalists build narratives," he said.

While concluding the session, panellists spoke about the measures that can help in filtering news. They suggested that journalists should be trained for dealing with misinformation and said that feedback and retaliation against misinformation can curb the spread of fake news.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 23rd, 2019.


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