Is fake news rising in our media?
Md. Habibul Alam : The media landscape in Bangladeshi started changing when the then-Awami League (AL) government in the late 90’s adopted a liberal media policy as well as encouraged the private ownership of media. The terrestrial transmission of ETV in April 2000 had been the unique example of the liberal media policy of government. ETV set examples of objective news and quality programs and thus soon became a very popular channel. Another noteworthy event during this time was, the beginning of satellite TV channels like Channel I and ATN Bangla. Likewise, these channels also became alternative sources of objective news. Publication of Daily Prothom Alo, Daily Star, Ajker Kagoj and other newspapers also set examples of objective news during the 90’s. However, during the tenure of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), few other channels and newspapers like NTV, Banglavision, Channel One, Daily Amar Desh got the permission and within short time, NTV and Banglavision, especially the former became very popular TV channels.
Couple of years later, the country saw a sharp shift in news consumption after bdnews24.com, the 1st online news portal, started its journey in 2005 followed by CSB in 2007, the first news and current affairs channel (later was shut down by government). The country continued to see the importance of online news portals as Banglanews24.com (2010), a concern of East West Media Group, emerged in 2010. The next couple of years were dominated by news and current affairs channels like Somoy TV and Independent TV (2010), Channel 24 (2012), Jamuna TV (2014), etc.
Since 1996, the number of media, including commercial FM and Community Radio, were rising rapidly. Although during the 90’s, the number of tv and print media was very few but now, mass people is getting news from a total of 27 TV, 658 dailies, weeklies, quarterlies and similar print media, 22 commercial FM and 17 Community Radios, according to a report of Department of Information under Ministry of Information. However, a report of BBC Bangla on 11 January 2018 claimed that 45 approved private TV channels and 3025 registered newspapers exist in the country. According to a 26th June 2018 report of BBC Bangla, so far around 2000 online news portal are registered with Ministry of Information, Bangladesh.
Actually, what are the consequences of so many media? Definitely one positive outcome is the change in the attitudes and practices of gatekeepers of media. Entertainment channels like ATN, Channel I, NTV and other similar outlets had to reshuffle their news selection and presentation strategy to vie with other news channels and online news portals. Another positive change is that employment opportunities for media graduates have increased significantly. At the same time, competition for advertisement and income by media has significantly increased. But most importantly, competition amongst online, print, TV and other media for publishing and broadcasting news has increased a lot. All that the media, especially the online news portals, wants now is to the deliver news to its audience very fast.
Objectivity of news is one of the major principles of journalism. But in many cases, this objectivity has been questioned for the lack of accuracy, competition amongst media, financial interests and political economy of media. Popular media like Daily Star, Channel 71, Daily Kalerkantho, Jugantor, Bangladesh Pratidin could not maintain their professionalism in several cases and published a good number of fake news in recent years.
Often we hear from different spheres of people that all published news had often not been objective and sometimes there was lack of professionalism in journalists. We found this claim to be partially true, especially when we saw some media being biased on behalf of rebels during the BDR mutiny; some TV channels broadcasted images of dead people during Rana plaza collapse. In other cases, few media even tried to live broadcast the security forces’ drive against militants during the Holy Artisan attack. Similarly, Diganta TV tried to live broadcast the security forces drive during the Hefezate Islam protest. It can be assumed that those media did such act with in a bid to boost up their TRP. However, we can still remember the news of pro-BNP newspaper Daily Amar Desh’s ‘Gilaf of holy Kaba and report on Reshma which was fake news. It was reported that the recent statement of current Finance Minister Abul Mal Abul Muhit on market price was not quoted correctly by few online portal and was later withdrawn from few online portals. An article was also withdrawn by popular online Bangla Tribune as it was found insensitive to religion. In recent report of BBC Bangla on the football World Cup, Christian Ronaldo was mentioned as player of Belgium rather than Portugal.
Channel 71 is one of the popular news channels in Bangladesh. Despite its popularity, there were few major mistakes made by this channel. Perhaps the news of the death of eminent actor, director, and screen-playwright ATM Shamsuzzaman is one the worst mistakes made by the channel as it did not verify the source of news before sharing it on their TV scroll. Later, becoming the subject of a death hoax, the actor shared a video on social media, addressing the issue. Shamsuzzaman and other senior actors brutally criticized such role of channel 71 and asked for the apology for spreading fake news.
In another recent case, during the Gazipur City Corporation election, the same channel showed the name of Ivy Rahman (a city of Mayor of Narayanganj City Corporation), in TV scroll instead of Jahangir Alam, the actual candidate from ruling party AL. During the 2018 Football World Cup, leading Daily Kalerkanto published a news ‘despite losing to Morroco, Spain heads to round of 16’ which was a fake news as Spain actually won and moved to round of 16.
Another news titled ‘Police and RAB foil an attempt at what could have been a dangerous terrorist attack’ was used by a reputed Bangla-language online news portal for a report on March 2, 2017. This report went viral moments after the actual incident that saw a student being beaten by security guards at Bashundhara Residential Area. The assaulted Shariar Hasnat Tapu was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital. But none of these details were mentioned anywhere in the report. It changed the entire scenario by calling it a terrorist attack. Many who had witnessed the incident claimed that it was false information.
Couple of months ago, several number of news outlets in Bangladesh reported that a government official was compelled to abandon his elderly mother in an unknown railway station. The image of the “abandoned elderly women” was first circulated all over the social networking sites, especially on Facebook. Later, several numbers of well-reputed newspapers and online news portals picked the information without any proper verification and made news of it. However, the viral photograph was later found to be of an Indian woman taken from a dormitory of Ashram in 2015.
Another news was ‘police arresting the artist of the well-known graffiti series ‘Subodh’’ was published by Daily Jugantor, Bangladesh Pratidin, Dhaka Times, Purboposchim and Daily Star in 2017 which was ‘satire’ but those media could not trace the satire and published the news. Within a short time the news went viral in social media. The article was shared 263 times until 2pm, but after it was dragged to the homepage, the number crossed 3,500 within hours. Jugantor took down the article after a while without explanation. Bangladesh Pratidin and others also removed their “Subodh artist arrested” stories later on.
The above mentioned examples are evidence of the fact that the tendency of putting news quickly by different media may lead to the risk of publishing or broadcasting fake news, which is against the spirit of true journalism. On top of losing credibility over such fake news, there are other risks too. In the days of internet, such fake news like The Daily Star can become viral on social media like Facebook, Twiter etc. According to a recent report of BTRC, 86.72 people using internet, mostly from mobile, can instantly share fake news in social and other media that may lead to communal riots, conflicts like neighbor country India. Recently, the government of India asked Whatsaap authority to take effective measures to stop fake news sharing, which resulted communal riots in some areas. However, another major risk of fake news is the proposed Digital Security Act which can trouble journalists and media if the information shared reported false or inaccurate.
Undoubtedly, we can claim that despite some major mistakes, most of the news published and broadcasted by our media has been genuine. But we never expect that readers or viewers will be duped by fake news. Therefore, the media should avoid publishing fake news and in cases like Holy Artisan attack, Rana Plaza collapse or BDR mutiny, where state security, law and order are closely connected. Our media needs to be more professional and objective.
The writer is a former student of Department of MCJ of DU and works at Khan Bahadur Group