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Fighting fake news: India joins series of nations issuing directives against sowing of disinformation in media

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting came out with stringent measures on Monday to deal with fake news in print and electronic media, saying the accreditation of a journalist could be permanently cancelled if the scribe is found generating or propagating fake news.

If a publication or telecast of fake news is confirmed, the accreditation of that journalist would be suspended for a period of six months in the first violation and for one year in case of a second violation, the guidelines stated amid opposition. In case of a third violation, the journalist's accreditation would be cancelled permanently.

"Determination is expected to be completed within 15 days by these regulating agencies. Once the complaint is registered for determination of fake news, the correspondent/journalist whoever created and/or propagated the fake news will, if accredited, have the accreditation suspended till such time the determination regarding the fake news is made by the regulating agencies," a ministry statement said.

The Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday issued a directive that the ministry's press release regarding fake news be withdrawn.

Coopted by US president Donald Trump, the term "fake news" has quickly become part of the standard repertoire of leaders in several countries to describe media reports and organisations critical of them.

However, India is not alone in issuing directives to counter the menace of fake news in the media. Here are a few global efforts in that direction:

Malaysia

On Monday, Malaysia approved a law against fake news that would allow for prison of up to six years for offenders, shrugging off critics who say it was aimed at curbing dissent and free speech ahead of a general election.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government secured a simple majority in Parliament to pass the Anti-Fake News 2018 Bill, which sets out fines of up to 5,00,000 ringgit ($1,23,000) and a maximum six years in jail. The first draft of the bill had also proposed jail term of up to 10 years.

Commuters walk past an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news, which reads "Sharing a lie makes you a liar" at a train station in Kuala Lumpur. AP

Commuters walk past an advertisement discouraging the dissemination of fake news, which reads "Sharing a lie makes you a liar" at a train station in Kuala Lumpur. AP

The government said the law would not impinge on freedom of speech and cases under it would be handled through an independent court process. "This law aims to protect the public from the spread of fake news, while allowing freedom of speech as provided for under the constitution,” Law Minister Azalina Othman Said said.

The law defines fake news as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false” and includes features, visuals and audio recordings. It covers digital publications and social media and will apply to offenders who maliciously spread “fake news” inside and outside Malaysia, including foreigners, if Malaysia or a Malaysian citizen were affected.

Germany

In June 2017, the German parliament approved a plan to fine social media networks up to 50 million euros ($57 million) if they fail to remove hateful postings and fake news promptly, again amid concerns the law could limit free expression.

The law gives social media networks 24 hours to delete or block obviously criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases, with an obligation to report back to the person who filed the complaint about how they handled the case. Failure to comply could see a company fined up to 50 million euros, and the company's chief representative in Germany fined up to 5 million euros.

The issue had taken on urgency amid concerns in Germany that proliferating fake news and racist content, particularly targeting migrants, could sway public opinion in the run-up to a national election that was held in September 2017.

The law, which is called Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz (NetzDG), came into effect in January 2018, following which social media giants such as Facebook recruited additional staff to ensure that content on its platform does not violate the NetzDG.

Italy

Matteo Renzi, leader of Italy’s governing center-left Democratic Party, told The New York Times that the very quality of Italian democracy depended on the help of social-networking sites, especially Facebook. To that end, Facebook rolled out for its Italian users in November 2017 a new fact-checking programme aimed at identifying and debunking false information that appears on the site.

"We scan Facebook pages we suspect spread false and misleading information," said Giovanni Zagni, the director of Pagella Politica, an independent fact-checking organisation Facebook is paying to spearhead its efforts in Italy. "Once we find a news article that is obviously false, we write a fact-checking piece that is published in a specific section of our website and we provide its link to Facebook."

Italy also has also undertaken parallel efforts to help readers become their own arbiters. Italian lawmakers launched an experimental project in October to make media literacy—including how to recognise falsehoods and conspiracy theories online—part of the country’s high-school education curriculum, according to a report in The Atlantic.

France

In January, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that he would overhaul French media legislation this year to fight the spread of fake news on social media, which he said was a threat to liberal democracies.

Macron has said he and his team were victims of fake news and a major data hack during his election campaign in 2017. Since coming to office in May 2017, he has particularly pointed the finger at Russian media, accusing TV channel RT of sowing disinformation about him via its website and social media during the campaign.

"If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must have strong legislation," Macron said in a New Year’s address to journalists, adding that the reform he envisaged would also change the role of France’s media watchdog CSA. "There will be increased transparency requirements for internet platforms regarding sponsored content, with the aim of making public the identity of those who place the ads and also limiting the amount of them."

European Union

On Monday, The Guardian reported that a senior EU official called for action against internet companies that harvest personal data, as Brussels prepares to move against those spreading "fake news" following the Cambridge Analytica revelations.

Sir Julian King, the European commissioner for security, wants "a clear game plan" on how social media companies are allowed to operate during political campaigns to be ready for the 2019 European elections.

In a letter, King wrote that the "psychometric targeting activities" such as those of the data analysis company are just a "preview of the profoundly disturbing effects such disinformation could have on the functioning of liberal democracies".

Philippines

In June 2017, a Bill seeking to penalise those who spread fake news was filed in the Senate, seeking stiffer penalties for erring government officials, according to a CNN report.

Senator Joel Villanueva, a member of the Senate Committee on Public Information and Mass Media, filed Senate Bill No 1492, entitled an "An Act Penalising the Malicious Distribution of False News and Other Related Violations."

The Bill defines false news as information which "intend to cause panic, division, chaos, violence, and hate, or those which exhibit a propaganda to blacken or discredit one's reputation." Violators will face a fine of up to ₱5 million ($96,050), and imprisonment of up to 5 years, the guidelines state.

Indonesia

Indonesia launched a new cyber security agency in January 2018 as the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation moved to tackle online religious extremism and a flood of fake news on social media. Millions of Indonesians are going online for the first time just as concern about Internet hoaxes reaches a fevered pitch.  More than 150 million out of 255 million Indonesians are now estimated to be Internet users.

President Joko Widodo named Major General Djoko Setiadi, former chairman of the country’s encryption agency, to lead the new body. "We will control cyberspace," Setiadi said.

Chief Security Minister Wiranto, who like many Indonesians goes only by one name, added: "We need this body to help maintain security nationally, regionally and globally".

Singapore

New laws to tackle the scourge of fake news are expected to be introduced in 2018, Singapore's law minister K Shanmugam was quoted as saying by Today OnlineA government survey reportedly showed that 91 percent of Singaporeans are supportive of stronger laws to "ensure the removal and correction of fake news".

Given the high Internet penetration in the country, as well as its racial and religious profile, Singapore would be "of particular interest to a number of countries" that may want to influence specific racial, social or religious groups here, Shanmugam said. "It will be stupid or naive for us not to recognise that and to see what we can do to defend ourselves, because that is (for) national survival."


Updated Date: Apr 03, 2018 13:18 PM

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