Pakistan is suffering greatly from a torrent of fake news, misinformation and propaganda, and journalists themselves are not immune to this. Media professionals whose main job is to fact-check information are also trapped by the flow of disinformation and go on to spread them without verifying the information from qualified sources: so say senior journalists and media scientists.
Fake news refers to fake information that is presented in the form of news under which certain political, social and religious groups – or any individuals – are targeted. Often, political and social leaders, sports celebrities and showbiz stars are soft targets for those who peddle fake news.
Senior journalist and head of Journalists Freedom Network Iqbal Khattak says:
“World Press Freedom Day is celebrated on May 3 every year. The theme of last year’s Freedom of the Press Day is the relationship between journalism and democracy. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and its partners have highlighted the damage to journalism and the reputation of journalists in the face of misinformation, under the heading ‘Media for Democracy, Journalism and Elections in the Age of Misinformation’.”
“Senior journalists and anchors also often comment on a news item in a hurry, share a photo or video and later find out that the photo, video or news was fake. Such irresponsible behavior deprives them of public trust,” Senior Reporter of Geo News and President Balochistan Union of Journalists Salman Ashraf says.
Regarding sharing information on social media, Ashraf says that every journalist should take care of certain things while sharing any news on social media so that there is no problem of credibility for what they post.
“In those days of the Coronavirus epidemic, when everyone was confined to their homes, people had no choice but to share. These so-called journalists did much to spread conspiracy theories that have arisen at this time. Claims about how the pandemic was caused by China, America, the Antichrist etc. – many such stories came to the fore,” Sana Saleem, a digital journalist based in Quetta says.
She adds that coronavirus cases were reported in every area. “Whoever heard something put it on social media and that thing went viral. But nothing like that had actually happened. One such hearsay in our area found its way to the newspaper via a clumsy social media journalist, leading to an atmosphere of fear in the whole village.”
Mujeeb Ullah Achakzai, an investigative journalist for SAMAA TV, suggests that journalists should try to be thorough, fair and accurate in everything that they publish. “Carefully attribute your sources and quotes, record conversations – with consent – whenever possible, etc. Do not state what you do not intend to support, or do not have evidence to support. In addition, do not deliberately select, summarise or interpret the words of an interview and then include them in the excerpts. Find out more by calling the person in question.”
He adds: “Be aware of what you are saying and say only what you can prove. Control the accuracy of the statements and avoid ambiguity.”
Achakzai further recommends some practices: “Keep a record of your research and other documents. If you are going to make a statement based on a possible scandal about a business or an individual, you should be able to prove that your statement is true and based on facts. So gather evidence where possible. If record-keeping involves recording a subject by audio or video, it is important that you obtain their explicit consent in writing.”
And while it may seem understood, situations that have arisen in recent years make it necessary for Achakzai to remind working journalists:
“Always check your facts and use reliable sources. Don’t automatically assume that what is written elsewhere is true,” he recommends.