Fake news seems to be the flavour of the month and everyone is agreed that the pernicious practice of disseminating false information by the print, electronic and social media must be discouraged and condemned. However, any campaign to counter the proliferation of misinformation and its consumption can begin only if one can define what is fake news. This is where the confusion begins. If one reads between the lines of the various definitions offered by political spokespersons, any news which is unduly critical of the government would fall into the suspect category. The irony is that the journalist in question may very well be accurate vis-a-vis facts but if he/she presents what authorities see as a “distorted” or “twisted” perspective then the report becomes “inaccurate”. Seen through such a bi-focal, any news that is unpalatable for the government qualifies as being fake. There is an inherent danger in this kind of subjective definition since it goes against the basic tenets of journalism which advocates that the truth must not be compromised, however uncomfortable it may be for any party or organisation. In a democracy, the media has to subject public policies to scrutiny and point out rights violations, failure of governance and corruption in high places. Unless that is done, the fourth estate cannot be the watchdog it is meant to be.
It is true that no government wants to hear bad news. But negative news is not always fake. It is important to bear this point in my mind before searching for solutions. The government seems to be keen to ensure the media serves whitewashed news. That alone explains 13 members of the Union cabinet endorsing the website www.thetruepicture.in which calls out so-called fake news in the mainstream media. One story that it rubbished was backed by a police FIR and on-the-record interviews. It was declared fake simply because it was negative. Therein lies the catch.