Fake news hurting media credibility
ISLAMABAD: The drop scene of TV anchor Dr Shahid Masood’s sensational claims about alleged Kasur rapist Imran Ali has once again ignited debate about the mainstreaming of fake news in Pakistan’s electronic media in the absence of any institutional mechanism to counter the practice or any ethical tradition of apologising for the wrong facts.
On Wednesday, the anchor claimed in his TV show that Imran Ali had more than 37 bank accounts in Pakistan including foreign currency accounts as he was connected with influential international racket running a child pornography ring. Next day Supreme Court summoned him to share the evidence for his claims.
But a day after presenting “evidence” in the Supreme Court and writing names of two politicians purportedly “involved” in the crime, the anchor made an about turn saying that he just wanted the government to probe the incident. The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and a Punjab government’s constituted Joint Investigation Team announced on Friday that the Kasur suspect did not have any bank account in the country.
After the emergence of evidence that the news is fake, the anchor came under heavy criticism on Friday on social media and even on electronic media where his anchor colleagues even asked him to quit the profession. When contacted, Suhail Asif, DG Operations at Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, said so far the authority had not received any complaint against the latest fake news by Dr Masood but the action against him could be taken after a probe once a complaint had been lodged. He said under the Pemra’s code of conduct, the anchor could face a fine of Rs1 million and his show could also be banned by the authority if the allegations were proved against him.
However talking to The News Dr Masood refused to apologise for his story claiming that it was a developing story and even if it is proved wrong he would stick to his claims. “It was a developing story. Yes, had I been writing for a newspaper I might not have filed it but for television you have to come up with such stories,” he said.
When he was reminded about his story on 35 punctures (a term referring to his claims that PML-N rigged elections in 35 National Assembly constituencies) proved wrong, he said that it was another story on which he would not like to talk right now.
Talking to The News, Fomer chairman of Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) Absar Alam acknowledged that fake news was hurting the credibility of electronic media in Pakistan. He said the authority was actively working against the menace of “fake news” during his tenure. He said several channels were fined and a number of anchors were banned by Pemra for spreading lies during his two-year tenure which ended abruptly when the Lahore High Court ruled his appointment illegal.
“Today Pemra has been vindicated as it has been taking action against Dr Shahid Masood for his fake news during last two years,” Alam said while adding that the anchor was the second top violator of Pemra’s code of conduct who was repeatedly fined and banned by the authority for spreading lies.
He said Pemra tried to implement its law against such anchors but unknown people started threatening Pemra officials to protect such so called “anchors”. He said the higher courts also started giving restraining orders against Pemra which emboldened such anchors who are continuously spreading fake news. “There were many forces in the wood weakening Pemra,” he lamented.
This is not the first time fake news has been aired on a Pakistani television. Another anchor had claimed last year that Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was about to dissolve parliament. In 2014 during Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf sit-in outside Parliament fake news had been churned out almost daily on different channels. One television channel had claimed that Parliament was going to demand resignation of the then Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Another claimed that General Raheel had asked the then prime minister to tender resignation. The stories tuned out fake but no apology was offered by any of the TV channels.
Recently the TV channels also claimed that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had agreed to live in exile in Saudi Arabia. The booming business of fake news is not only misguiding millions of people but also eroding credibility of media in the eyes of public. Recently, Chinese diplomats and officials have also expressed concern over spread of fake stories related to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).