Fake News and Pakistani Media – A Recent Row

Media is being discussed widely in Pakistan on a fake news by a well-known senior TV anchor Dr. Shahid Masood following the arrest of Imran Ali, the accused murderer of seven years old girl Zainab. According to this anchor, the accused murderer has links with international pornographer industry, and high level Pakistani politician are behind him. Moreover, the accused has 37 local and foreign currency bank accounts in Pakistan. Later to his claim, Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) quickly took suo-motu action and called Dr. Shahid Masood to the court and invited many other senior journalists to help the court in this case. Dr. Shahid could not provide any evidence in support of his claims, but at the same time refused to apologize for this fake news. He continued to insist that his news was right, and he needed more time to prove it.

The phenomenon of fake news is not new in the world. Many renowned media houses break news without any solid evidences, but after they are proved wrong, mostly, either they do not bother to apologize, or if they do, they do not publicize their apology. Previously, the same anchor, Dr. Shahid Masood, released a news about rigging in the general elections 2013 in Pakistan, the famous 35 punctures allegation, that later proved wrong after probed by SC. Similarly, at the end of 2017, many newspapers in Pakistan and UK released a news about ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s secret deal with establishment for his self-exile in Saudi Arabia. These newspapers claimed that Nawaz Sharif will not return to Pakistan. Later on, this news proved wrong and Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan after the completion of his Saudi visit, but nobody could witness any apology from these newspapers on their fake news.

Similarly, many media houses in the US expressed that during the last presidential elections in the US, several websites and social media accounts published fake news that helped Donald Trump to become the president of the US. Another example of fake news is the Canadian French media TVA’s fake news about two Montreal mosques that kept away women from work on a construction site near these mosques during the Friday prayers. It created panic and anger among majority population against Muslims. This news was proved wrong and an apology was aired after few days by the media group, but the damage was already done. The far rightists took benefit of this fake news and the mosque administration and local Muslims received several threats during this period from extremists.

Media is a broader term that includes electronic, print, and social media. While we are talking about the fakes news in electronic and print media, it is also important to bring social media in these discussions as well. In contemporary societies, the social media has emerged as a vibrant tool in creating awareness among masses; Arab spring is an example where social media played a pivotal role in spreading the voice. At the same time, social media has also been involved in fabricating and spreading fake news by different political and non-political groups and individuals that helped them in pursuing their specific agendas. In case of Pakistan, recently several social media activists have been convicted for their anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam activities; as a result, many social media platforms remained blocked for weeks, months or even years; for example, Pakistani govt. blocked YouTube for approximately two years.

As Supreme Court (SC) has already taken suo-motu action against Dr. Shahid’s fake news that created not only moral panic in Pakistani society, but also damaged the credibility of journalism. Senior journalists expressed their concern about this issue and told Supreme court during the hearing that Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), which is primarily responsible to tackle such issues, is very weak and unable to handle these cases. This is a best time to confront this matter on a serious note and come up with some concrete solution to avoid repetition of such incidents in future. In this situation, media, being an influential tool in society, has more burden on its shoulders to act responsibly. Here are some suggestions to move forward:

  • SC may constitute a broader team of senior and credible journalists and ask them to create a code of conduct for media houses and bring forward some workable solution to avoid the same situation in future.
  • SC should also define comprehensive code of conduct for social media.
  • of Pakistan, with the help of SC, can give more powers to PEMRA, and make PEMRA as an autonomous body so that it can make decisions without any fear.
  • SC should give directions to the lower courts to speed up proceedings of existing defamation cases which usually remain un-resolved or pending for several years.
  • Media houses should keep their houses in order and should strictly ensure the credibility and reliability before releasing any news.

Pakistan is going through a very difficult time when all the enemies of Pakistan are getting together to create more problems in future. Consequently, every organ of the state must realize and show its responsibility to achieve the goal of making Pakistan a more prosperous and progressive country in the world.

By: Asad Shah