Democracy has always been considered to have 4 pillars, the legislative, the executive, the judiciary and the press. In recent years, the fourth pillar, the press, seems to have become more and more unreliable. Everyone seems to have become a journalist and with the widespread use of social media, people use any photo from any time in history to spread fake news to suit their agenda or whatever propaganda it is they want to spread. The problem isn’t that people have been given a platform to spread outright lies and misinformation to suit their own thinking, the problem is that even the big media houses, the mainstream media has started spreading fake news to the masses and the people can’t be blamed for trusting in news channels that are supposed to be responsible and truthful in their reports.
Focusing on my country India, in the past few months the amount of fake news spread among people by established news channels, especially the Hindi ones. There are many examples of this, every week there is a new story that the people of the country are discussing and debating about, even though after some time it is proven that the whole debate was based on a false fact and this message doesn’t reach the people who continue to live their life believing in the lie that they saw being discussed on every news channel and newspaper. I still remember when so many of the Hindi news channels were showing how the new Rs. 2000 notes would have a nano-GPS chip embedded within them and somehow help keep a track of the cash and prevent corruption and dirty money. Then recently there was the widespread news that Indian Army had destroyed 2 Pakistani outposts in retaliation of the mutilation of bodies of Indian soldiers by Pakistani forces. It was very well covered on all news channels, the government was praised for its quick response and the worst thing is even the spokesperson of the ruling party told the wife of one of the slain soldiers the same lie that had been spread among st the people by our ever reliable news. It was the Army itself that later on clarified that no such action had been taken and the media had gone ballistic without confirming with them. Now all the people talk about is a video that shows a missile destroying a bunker. Some journalists claim the video is from last month before the mutilations happened and some claim that it is very recent and shows the power of the army. Both of these people cite army sources as the source for this story. So who do we believe? The person who shouts it the loudest is right? That is what we seem to have become. If a person is loud enough about it, he must be right, otherwise why would he be shouting so loud?
This is not something that is limited only to India, all around the globe we see news of established media channels misreporting and giving a story some twist to generate clicks and revenue on their site. Recently when there was an attack on the Borussia Dortmund team bus before their UCL match, there was widespread backlash after some media claimed that the attacker was linked to ISIS and had an Islamic background. Later on it was revealed that the attacked was actually a far-right extremist who wanted to create hatred against muslims. This fact of course didn’t get much attention as no one was interested now. The truth didn’t matter, what we saw, we believed.
We live in the age of post-truth. The truth doesn’t matter, what we read, we believe. It doesn’t matter what end of the political spectrum we are on, what our ideology is or what we believe in. We always believe something as soon as we see it agree with our worldview. That is something we are all guilty of. We cannot wait for the media to change and start becoming more truthful and ‘un-sensational’ in their approach. It is up to us to question what we read, whether it is on Facebook or Whatsapp. Whoever shares it, we must always question it until we get a satisfactory reply. That is the only way we can ever hope to reach the truth. Until then, the media continues to remain a crumbling pillar which may lead to chaos among the population and ultimately lead to anarchy or total authoritarianism.
Stay skeptic, stay aware.