A day after erroneously tweeting a picture showing Tariq Fatemi with government officials during a meeting with Chinese nationals in Beijing, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Naeemul Haq offered a rare apology for falsely claiming that Mr Fatemi, who was sacked for his role in the Dawn leaks controversy, had gone to the Chinese capital with the official delegation. The photo, in question, was of a memorandum of understanding signing ceremony held on December 30, 2016, in Beijing. Another PTI leader, Shireen Mazari, also shared the picture. One must give credit to the PTI and to its leaders for publicly acknowledging their mistake and apologising.
The larger issue, however, is the proliferation of fake news in our media and how certain quarters do not verify information before passing it on.
In the wake of the popularity of social media, we have seen an explosion of news originating from questionable sources but being passed off as genuine. In fact, fake news has been a source of heated controversy during the election campaign of US President Donald Trump. His media team is accused by political opponents of promoting stories that were fake only because it suited their agenda. In Pakistan too we have seen a number of fake stories that are either plugged in by one side or another. In this, when mainstream media or opinion leaders endorse or forward such news items, they are seen to be genuine and this causes much damage. One of the lessons for both the media and opinion leaders, especially those who have a sizeable following on social media, is to verify the authenticity of news stories before commenting on them or forwarding them. Some sort of protocol needs to be put in place for social media users and online journalists to check each story that comes before them. If this is not done, the credibility of news organisations as well as those seen as news leaders will be affected.