Recently Indian Chief Justice NV Ramana commented on the âgradual disappearance of genuine investigative journalism in Indiaâ. Such an observation from the head of the judiciary of any country speaks volumes about the state in which we find ourselves. There are no global borders to disinformation, and Nepal is no different except for scale, perhaps. As journalism students at the Nepal Press Institute in the 1980s, we were taught not to publish a story if we didn’t have the other side. During assembly, we were taught to cut it out when in doubt. Journalists today seem to have different priorities for accuracy and fact-checking.
At the time, technology was essential, there was no internet, just landlines; but fact-checking and correctness were basic ethics. Competition between TV stations for breaking news and online portals to report information first, resulting in shorter time frames to verify news sources, has led to thrills, mostly half-truths and cons -truths. Truth or journalistic ethics is no longer a concern. However, the values ââand ethics of journalism do not and should not change.
It’s not just the online media, but even the mainstream media can’t resist the temptation to repeatedly cover fake news for its sensational value, which gives it extra traction. Today, there is an increasingly diverse range of sources of disinformation, including messaging apps like WhatsApp and social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Then there is YouTube and some online news portals, which are no less at fault when it comes to irresponsible journalism.
In the 1980s and 1990s, disinformation was limited due to slow rates of information dissemination and the limited number of information dissemination media such as newspapers or radio. The spread of disinformation affects the credibility of the media and harms all democratic institutions. One of the solutions is to encourage investigative journalism. Another is to promote fact-checking. These two functions are not in the best interests of governments, politicians, business lobbies, or anyone with the means to fund these activities. Governments, in their intolerance, sometimes even penalize investigative journalism. Journalists are killed or threatened for speaking or writing. A recent example of Shital Sah in Nepal is one.
As for fact-checking, it does not seem to have a profit model yet. Therefore, it is not an easy job. Alt News in India has done a commendable job while South Asia Check, the Center for Investigative Journalism and portals like Record Nepal carry the spotlight. However, these efforts are never sufficient to counter the flood of disinformation.
We need an organization in Nepal that is dedicated to verifying the authenticity of information, has a transparent crowdfunding list, and has the necessary technological know-how and an extensive network across borders. We need many organizations that would actively verify the facts, including checking social media rumors on various platforms, verifying claims of political parties or politicians, checking mainstream media information for any bias, politics or otherwise, using reverse image search and official source data, and coordinating with local authorities to verify allegations made by a news article. Then a modified version should be written and posted on the website, just like Alt News. South Asia Check by Panos South Asia is also a great initiative, but not sufficient.
A variety of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to combat fake news and help with fact-checking can be used by individuals or organizations working on transparency in reporting. AI tools can be used from anywhere and are not region specific. The Credibility Coalition’s project, Certified Content Coalition, for example, has a project in India called BOOM which works exclusively in India and covers news in Hindi, English and Bengali. The Credibility Coalition is an initiative founded in 2018 to encourage standards among publishers of online media and to certify publishers who meet those standards. Trusted publishers receive and display a digital certificate. The Disinformation Index is another web-based tool founded in the same year that ranks media according to “Likelihood of Disinformation on a Specific Media”. This scoring system covers all types of media and displays a score in real time.
There is also a web-based blockchain tool ‘Decentralized Trust Protocol’ founded the same year which is designed to track news credibility transparently. It measures trust by analyzing content and what it relates to, establishing how content is distributed among media organizations. All media sources are given trusted ratings and also include fact-checking resources. There is also an initiative called the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) Code of Principles, founded in 2015 to promote fact-checking in journalism. The creation of the IFCN Code of Principles should help set standards for fact-checking methods. IFCN also organizes scholarships, training and conferences.
Interestingly, Open Sources is a web-based database of news sources that have been analyzed on the basis of their reputation for producing credible information. This database classifies websites as fake news, satire, extreme bias, conspiracy theory, rumor mill, state news, junk science, hate news, click bait, proceed with caution, political and credible. While all of these international initiatives face resource constraints, they also face language barriers and cultural backgrounds that can lead to misinterpretation of the facts, posing a challenge for fact-checkers to verify sources. of information.
The way forward would be long-term, sustained and multi-stakeholder initiatives. Strict legislation is needed that brings any act of “deliberate” disinformation into its net. Most important of all is digital, media and information literacy so that an awareness of etiquette, privacy and morality is instilled in the minds of all users. Social media and digital literacy should also be covered in school curricula, so that a fair sense of discrimination between right and wrong develops among all users. No number of technological safeguards or measures can control violations unless they are prevented in the first place.