Fake News, Disinformation and Propaganda
Posted on March 16th, 2023

Courtesy The Daily News

South Asian media experts stress need to educate people to check with reliable media sources before sharing fake news:

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at the ceremony held by India-Sri Lanka Society to felicitate Kumar Nadesan, President of Sri Lanka Press Institute, who was awarded Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honour). Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Gopal Baglay is also in the picture.

The people of Sri Lanka, with more mobile telephones than the number of citizens, are increasingly dependent on social media to get news and information. Since information and communication technology is so central to their lives nowadays, young people are particularly vulnerable to propaganda, misinformation and fake news.

Propaganda, misinformation and fake news have the potential to polarise public opinion, to promote violent extremism and hate speech and, ultimately, to undermine democracies and reduce trust in the democratic processes.

The danger of fake news is that sometimes those stories may be propaganda that is intentionally designed to mislead the reader, listener or viewer. It is important to acknowledge that fake news is a more complex problem and the term itself has become politicized, and is widely used to discredit any opposing viewpoint. Some people use it to cast doubt on their opponents, controversial issues or the credibility of some media organisations.

The advent of social media has enabled fake news stories to proliferate quickly and easily as people share more and more information online. Increasingly, we rely on online information to understand what is happening in our world.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, commenting on the media, said today there is much talk about social media and its lack of ethics and professionalism. I do not believe the Governments should control media. However, media should ensure ethical standards,” he said.

Speaking at the ceremony held by India-Sri Lanka Society to felicitate Kumar Nadesan, President of Sri Lanka Press Institute who was awarded Pravasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honour), Prime Minister Gunawardena praised Mr. Nadesan for the efforts made to enhance professionalism in media in Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday (March 14), I met a group of South Asian media personalities who attended a Regional Conference on Fake News, Dis-Information and Propaganda in International Relations in Colombo. These media experts of the region were unanimous in their opinion that that fake news and disinformation cause havoc in the society. They said it is the responsibility of media to educate people how to recognize false news stories,” he said.

As the recent controversy involving Fox News of the United States showed, fake news can emanate not only in social media but also from prestigious media platforms known for reliability. The White House said last week that Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson is not credible,” after the right-wing commentator showed footage from the Jan. 6, 2021, attacks on the U.S. Capitol that portrayed rioters as peaceful.

We agree with the chief of the Capitol Police and the wide range of bipartisan lawmakers who have condemned this false depiction of the unprecedented, violent attack on our Constitution and the rule of law – which cost police officers their lives,” White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.

People should be curious and actively investigate what you read and hear. To verify the authenticity of news, they can use news sources that are accountable for their content and follow journalistic ethics and standards. They must also take care to verify the news before sharing news content with others on social media.

The Media, while providing information to the people, has a responsibility to educate them to identify and reject fake news. It is a part of their social responsibilities of media,” the Prime Minister said.

South Asian media experts who attended a Regional Conference on Fake News, Dis-Information and Propaganda in International Relations discussed in detail about the need to make school children aware of ways and means of identifying fake news. Their opinion was that children should learn to recognize false news stories. Young people spend a significant amount of their time watching television, playing online games, chatting, blogging, listening to music, posting photos of themselves and searching for other people with whom to communicate online.

They rely heavily on information circulated online for their knowledge of the world and how they perceive reality. Many parents do not have sufficient technical competence to keep up with their children’s online activity, or educate them about the risks they might be facing. Schools, therefore, have a duty to provide young people with the critical and information skills which they cannot access at home. It is vital for schools to provide students with a solid education on media and information literacy as part of the curriculum.

Teachers must be well-trained in the subject to empower students with the necessary competences to critically understand and assess information reported by all forms of media.

Global Initiative for Excellence in Journalism Education”, of UNESCO which has taken the initiative, seeks to engage with teaching, practising and researching of journalism from a global perspective, including sharing international good practices. Accordingly, the current UNESCO handbook seeks to serve as an internationally-relevant model curriculum, open to adoption or adaptation, which responds to the emerging global problem of disinformation that confronts societies in general, and journalism in particular. It avoids assuming that the term ‘fake news’ has a straightforward or commonly understood meaning.

UNESCO points out that news means verifiable information in the public interest, and information that does not meet these standards does not deserve the label of news. In this sense then, ‘fake news’ is an oxymoron which lends itself to undermining the credibility of information which does indeed meet the threshold of verifiability and public interest – i.e. real news,” it says.

The media experts identified that disinformation is generally used to refer to deliberate attempts to confuse or manipulate people through delivering dishonest information to them. Misinformation is generally used to refer to misleading information created or disseminated without manipulative or malicious intent.

As Prime Minister Gunawardena told the South Asian media experts, both misinformation and disinformation are problems for society. Fake news and disinformation are particularly dangerous because it is frequently organised, well resourced and reinforced by automated technology.

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