Tackling Hate Speech and Fake News
Fake news is not new. It is as old as journalism itself or one could even say it is as old as the first lie spoken on the face of this earth. As to who spoke the first lie to mislead the first innocent fool is a matter for philosophers and scholars to contend.
In journalism, however, fake news has its market audience. A section of the mainstream media embraced it wholesale since the early days of print journalism. A classic example was the New York Sun’s “The Great Moon Hoax” of 1835. The hoax enabled the newspaper to establish itself as a profitable publication.
The need for media reforms, codes of ethics and professionalism grew, as print journalism became more tainted by unchecked sensationalism aimed at increasing newspaper sales and profits.
Yet, fake news still creeps into the public domain through media outlets and social media. That it occurs despite the high levels of literacy and education indicates, on the one hand, the people’s credulity. On the other, it points to the inadequacy of the mechanisms in force to protect the readers from unscrupulous journalists and media companies. What is required is activism not only to deal with the lacuna in media laws and ethics but also expose the rogues, who masquerade as journalists and abuse free speech to achieve political or racist agendas.
At national and international level, there should be a civil-society-led alert mechanism to name and shame media groups that, by deliberately publishing or broadcasting fake news to achieve their ulterior motives, mislead the people and cause damage to national harmony.
Who will keep a watch on the watchdog? The ideal situation will be that journalists themselves come together to work out the mechanism to expose the black sheep among them. Sri Lanka’s civic-minded journalists came together for the removal of the archaic and draconian criminal defamation laws, the introduction of the Right of Information Act and the setting up of an industry-led non-statutory mechanism to regulate the print media and entertain complaints.
Civic-minded journalists should also set up a ranking mechanism for a panel of eminent persons with integrity to, on an annual basis, name the champion of fact-based journalism and shame those who resort to fake-news journalism.