EDITORIALS 

Disingenuous and no antidote 

#GS2 #Governance 

No government should be permitted to hide behind the assertion of ‘fake news’ to abdicate responsibility for its actions 

  • The Central government made a claim, on the eve of April 1, April Fool’s Day, that “fake news” alone is responsible for the untold misery and loss of life of migrant workers after the lockdown.  
  • It is important to examine this in the light of what “fake news” actually means, that is, a report, presented as authoritative, of an event which never actually occurred. 
  • “Fake news” is a report of facts that are knowingly false, presented as “news”. 
  • By definition, news is not opinion, which can be wrong, but it cannot be “fake”. Therefore, an opinion that you disagree with, cannot be branded as “fake news”, because it is just that, opinion.  

Response needed 

  • Where governments are criticised for causing suffering among their people, the suffering is instead attributed to the menace of “fake news”.  
  • The government’s response to the mass exodus was, by any yardstick, uncoordinated, where initially there was abject confusion, then the States reportedly provided vehicles to ferry the workers, and, finally, the States were directed to seal their borders. 
  • The newspapers continue to report that food and shelter are still not reaching many of the migrant workers. These criticisms certainly deserve a response. 
  • Instead of responding, the government, on affidavit to the Supreme Court of India in response to petitions that migrant workers need to be provided for during lockdown, says that the only culprit for the loss of life and hardship of migrant workers is, simply, “fake news”. 
  • The prospect of three weeks without food, shelter or basic amenities was, according to the government, not devastating enough to motivate workers to return home. 

Court’s line 

  • The Supreme Court passed an order on March 31 directing the media to carry the official version of events of the pandemic, which the government is to publish on a daily basis. 
  • The Court, fortunately, made clear that it did not intend to stifle discussion of the pandemic, else even this piece could not have been published.  
  • If false information circulated on social media is dangerous because it can trigger action, misleading statements or lack of clarity in government messaging is even more dangerous, given the credibility of the source. 
  • What “fake news” is not, is a dissenting opinion or a viewpoint the establishment does not like. No government should be permitted to hide behind a vague assertion of “fake news” to abdicate responsibility for its actions. Not even on April Fool’s Day. 
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