Are we ready for the post-news order?

The problem of fake news and disinformation is not a new phenomenon; the demerits of grapevine communication are pervasive to every layer of society. Recently it has garnered a lot of attention and some commentators have described it as a “public health crisis”[1]. Recently Microsoft has released Third Digital Civility Index, where it showed that India encounters fake news and internet hoaxes at a 7 point higher than the global average.[2] The country has also backslid two places to 142 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Media has always been considered as the “fourth pillar” to democracy but the advent of fake news indicates something deeper than mere statistics. It is indicative of the chaos of contemporary public communication; the contested and competitive agency of news channels and it also represents the dynamics of the social belief system[3]----these refer to the rise of post-news order. This problem requires more than “just a watchdog” because the fake news or manipulation in the journalism of India is an internal problem rather than caused by abroad foreign agencies.[4]


The contestation within the brand of journalism and competition against the entertainment industry cannot be solely blamed for their increasing distortion of information. The considerable rise in the creation of fake news, overt dramatization of journalism, and production of anchor-actor leads to the creation of information. Here information gets morphed into commodities that could be sold and thus loses the objective and impartial nature. This kind of normative attitude impinges on the facts that we are living in a post-truth era, where emotions are driven by senses and objective facts have lesser influences. Therefore, having a watchdog over journalism and mass media only to curtail the manipulation will not lessen the manipulative practices because the motivation resides inside the system and is part of electronic mass media. A relevant example to understand this normative practice is the rise in “voluntary censorship”.[5] The establishment of a governing system will cripple the processes as the power will be in hands of a few, and can lead to the danger of monopoly. The authorities can be tempted to do dubious censorship of information as it happened in Nepal. [6] Thus, the very foundation on which it was built will cease to exist because the press and media require freedom of expression to function.


Proposals concerning the establishment of regulatory bodies over the press are not a new phenomenon. The first major attack on Indian media was during the emergency in the late 1970s, “The Prevention of Publication of Objectionable Matters Ordinance” was issued. According to this ordinance, news articles could be censored before getting published. Again in 1988 “Anti-defamation Bill '' was passed that targeted journalists who wrote critical articles against politicians. Both the bills were withdrawn after their respective political reign[7]. Currently the introduction of the “Print and Electronic Media Standards and Regulation Bill, 2012” aims for the establishment of media regulatory authority. This is an important juncture because it shows how any initiatives to regulate mass-media embryos are the danger of political opportunism. The self-regulation of the media is failing to cater to the needs of modern democratic arrangement. There seems to be a cultural lag, where the non-material culture is unable to catch up with technological advancement. The important area concerning the development of technology is not taken into the purview of the Press Council. Therefore, would the rise in technology make governance easier? If yes, then where do you draw the line between freedom of expression and regulation of a body? Thus, the presence of the governing body cannot alone solve the problem. For example, The hoot is one of the pioneering media watchdogs and recently it stated that they had to scale down their day-to-day publishing operation[8].


Journalism and Media are two different things; the very act of journalism is to collect information and media refers to the medium through which they are transmitted. Digital media and opening platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter and unwarranted circulation of misinformation require a closer examination. Journalism, alone cannot control the chaos of information fluidity, especially when there is the rise of user-interface interactive communication. To contemplate the necessity of having a media-watchdog, it is important to understand the pattern of manipulation. The problem of misinformation is not new; however, it has changed in scale and content but can journalism control this kind of situation entirely? Journalism itself is fragmented and open-ended. A watchdog or supervisory body cannot control the public mode of expression. News and information are processed in multilayer and the distinction between these two has completely been blurred. Modern communication is in the chaos of “disordered information”[9]. The system does not only need a watchdog but an entire realignment to cater to the fluidity of information.


The presence of a watchdog is insufficient because constructive criticism will only work when the system is reformed internally. The entire gamut of the journalistic world is still following the objective laid down on the press council, under the Act of 1965. These are a list of few objectives that have been visualized by the commission; " to ensure on the part of the Press the maintenance of high standards of public taste and to foster a due sense of both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship" and " to encourage the growth of sense of responsibility and public service among all those engaged in the profession of journalism."[10] There is also the presence of ethical code of conduct like the Centre for International Media Ethics — Ethical Journalism Network and International Federation of Journalists but there is lack of motivation for them to abide by them[11]. Moreover, there is absence of any restriction to cross-ownership of media conglomerates. A report of TRAI dealt with these issues and have landed into many disputes, as its advice on putting restrictions on vertical integration caused arguments among the various service providers[12]. Keeping this situation in mind, commoditization of information becomes the only way of survival. The role of the media is just not limited to being the autonomous fourth pillar but it becomes a dictum of democracy.


Rise of electronic and digital media and the present chaos in public communication is not completely caused by manipulative practices within journalism. Media literacy and individual attitude also shares the burden of the entire gamut of manipulative journalism and their strategic amplification. The motivation to intake in such activities cannot be explained by the classical capitalist notion of profit making, because the new order of news and information is transmitted with the justified sense of moral compulsion and “bounded rationality”[13]. This kind of rationality is limited in nature and it is also a by-product of cultural modernization, where we are only stressing the need to move forward. The growing tendency of devaluing the past and desire of perpetual change ends up giving us experience without any qualities. There can be no watchdog on earth that can regulate this cycle backward. As Hegel, (Vol. III, Berlin in 1833; p:468) commented, “what is familiar is not on that account necessarily known”, the solution lies in the way we conduct our everyday life. Watchdog can function as the periodic critic but the system of fake news or manipulation or strategic amplification is not residing outside the system. Hence, reformation and realignment to the post-news order is very urgent to arrest the media-health of community rather than implementation of any watchdog to safeguard media-health.

[1] Patil, S. (2019). Opinion | India Has a Public Health Crisis. It’s Called Fake News. - The New York Times. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://perma.cc/S5HU-UK4QIndia Has a Public Health Crisis. It’s Called Fake News. [2] Microsoft releases digital civility index on Safer Internet Day - Microsoft News Center India. (2020). Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://perma.cc/545B-7YVNIndians were most likely to encounter fake news and internet hoaxes, with 7 points higher than the global average. [3] Waisbord, S. (2018). Truth is what happens to news: On journalism, fake news, and post-truth. Journalism studies, 19(13), 1866-1878. [4] Poonam, S., & Bhansal, S. (2020). Indian Misinformation Will Decide World's Largest Election - The Atlantic. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://perma.cc/Y39M-KGWUIndia is facing information wars of an unprecedented nature and scale. Indians are bombarded with fake news and divisive propaganda on a near-constant basis from a wide range of sources, from television news to global platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. But unlike in the United States, where the focus has been on foreign-backed misinformation campaigns shaping elections and public discourse, the fake news circulating here isn’t manufactured abroad. [5] Prakash, P. (2011). Invisible Censorship: How the Government Censors Without Being Seen — The Centre for Internet and Society. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://cis-india.org/internet-governance/invisible-censorship [6] Sharma, N. (2020). Journalism is Not a Crime…and Fake News on Social Media is Not Journalism | Inter Press Service. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from http://www.ipsnews.net/2020/05/journalism-not-crimeand-fake-news-social-media-not-journalism/On 27 April, Radio Nepal aired a live interview of former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai that was sharply critical of Prime Minister K P Oli. The government asked the head of the state-owned radio station and its news editor for an explanation, and got the interview deleted from Radio Nepal’s site. [7] Can the watchdog watch itself? Indian media and self-regulation - Politics News , Firstpost. (2012). Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://www.firstpost.com/politics/can-the-watchdog-watch-itself-indian-media-and-self-regulation-431499.html [8] Agarwal, C. (2018). Criminality in media universe going unaddressed, says The Hoot’s founding editor. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://www.newslaundry.com/2018/03/29/the-hoot-cobrapost-media-watch-ownership-models-ethicsThe Hoot, a pioneering media watchdog, would be scaling down its day-to-day publishing operations, the website’s founding editor Sevanti Ninan wrote on Monday. [9] Wardle, Claire, and Hossein Derakhshan. 2017. Information Disorder: Toward an Interdisciplinary Framework for Research and Policy Making. Strasbourg: Council of Europe. [10] Press Council of India History. (2020). Retrieved 28 October 2020, from http://presscouncil.nic.in/OldWebsite/history.htm#:~:text=The%20First%20Press%20Commission%20(1954,indecency%20and%20vulgarity%20and%20personal [11] Pathak, G. (2019). Propaganda overshadows journalism. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from https://telanganatoday.com/propaganda-overshadows-journalism [12] G.Thakurtha, P. (2012). Media Ownership in India-An Overview. Retrieved 28 October 2020, from http://asu.thehoot.org/resources/media-ownership/media-ownership-in-india-an-overview-6048 [13] Figlioli, B., Lemes, S., & Lima, F. G. (2020). In search for good news: The relationship between accounting information, bounded rationality and hard-to-value stocks. Emerging Markets Review, 44, 100719.


The author of this post is Esha Dey (a student at University at Calcutta)

The views expressed in this article belong to the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of the JEC Blog. We welcome comments and contributions to this blog – please comment below.


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