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How Are Pakistani Journalists Tackling Disinformation?

It was mid-2018 when someone decided to circulate a text on WhatsApp in Pakistan claiming that State Bank was phasing out Rs 5,000 currency notes. As a result, people started approaching banks to replace the currency notes in their possession. The panic reached a level that State Bank had to release a statement dismissing the WhatsApp rumor.
Similarly, false messages about child abductors on WhatsApp in India claimed several people’s lives in the same year. WhatsApp later rolled out a global update limiting a user to forward a message to five chats at a time. 

These examples tell us how the internet helps false news in dissemination. Internet, particularly social media platforms, have become the hub of false information. The problem intensifies when mainstream media picks up the false news from the internet and reports it to its audience. It is like putting a stamp of credibility on it. Social media giants have been working for a couple of years to curb false news from their platforms. Several organizations are also working across the globe to help the media identify false news on the internet and improve their fact-checking procedures.

Karachi-based not-for-profit organization Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovations (GNMI) is doing the same in Pakistan. After seeing the infodemic spread its wings in Pakistan, GNMI reached out to senior journalists Amber Rahim Shami, Munizae Jahangir, and Mubashir Zaidi for their views on the news verification process. GNMI produced three separate videos that were published on its official social media accounts.
GNMI produced these videos as part of its project titled Fighting Disinformation and Supporting Independent Media in Pakistan. This project aims to strengthen Pakistani journalists’ skills in fact-checking, investigative journalism, and their ability to identify and counter disinformation in digital media.

While talking about false news, senior journalist and program anchor Amber Rahim Shamsi said the responsibility lay more on those working on the desk than the reporters. She also said that we should not use the term fake news.
‘Fake news is a political term. Journalists should not use it. Instead, they should use the terms told by United Nations, misinformation and disinformation,’ said Shamsi. ‘Journalists should put their time in the verification of the information they receive for the news. Journalists often ignore fact-checking procedures in the influence of breaking news culture. They should not get into the bandwagon of breaking the news first of all.’
She later explained the difference between misinformation and disinformation, which is the intent of the person or outlet sharing it. Misinformation is the false information created and shared without an intention to harm or deceive, while disinformation is created to be deliberately deceptive.
Shamsi said that journalists should critically analyze each piece of information they receive from the internet. They should ask themselves how they can verify it. She stressed the use of digital platforms and tools for verifications.
Senior Journalist Mubashir Zaidi took the same stance in his video, saying that social media has brought an end to investigative journalism in Pakistan. He also criticized universities saying that their journalism programs are not proving helpful to journalism students and the industry.
‘Hundreds of journalism students graduate from universities each year. Universities teach them everything but journalism,’ Said Zaidi. ‘When we started [our career], journalism was rich, and journalists were poor. Now, the journalist is rich, but journalism is poor.’
Zaidi said that social media was a helping tool for journalists to give a tip about an event that journalists could use to dig up the whole story, keeping in mind the journalistic ethics.
Munizae Jahangir, in her video, said that journalism in the current time was more challenging than it had ever been. ‘It is now almost a miracle in Pakistan to make a point and then stay alive. Journalists are walking on extremely tight ropes,’ said Jahangir.
She stressed that we would have to give reporters more value and their work to ensure an independent and free media in Pakistan.
‘Newsrooms have shrunk for financial reasons and saith culture that does not understand news business. The need is to give value to reporters and their work. Only then the journalism industry will flourish in Pakistan.’ 

Jahangir said the struggle for independent media must continue, and everyone should raise their voice together at whatever platform they are present on.  Former news anchor and senior journalist Najia Ashar founded GNMI in 2018 to support Pakistan’s media industry. Her organization works under media awareness, cultural development, providing learning resources, advocacy, and social justice.

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Naya Daur