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The octopus in the newsroom 

How truth becomes a casualty The hard fact these days of impact journalism & paid news is that perception managers run newsrooms, not newspersons. And journalists get to become 'made guys' when they're promoted to write columns & peddle motivated opinions. Beliefs, opinions & viewpoints take hard news farther & farther away from fact.

Postcard News stands branded as fake news ever since its editor tweeted a clearly false news. Sunday morning US President Donald Trump added Washington Post to the list, opining (not a reporter’s word) that if WaPo employees go on a long strike “we would get rid of Fake News for an extended period of time.”

Fact-checkers, who owe their paychecks to fake news, check only ‘statements’ and ‘figures’ to nail fake news. They do not wade into ‘opinion pieces’ to look for fake news raised in columns of words.

The late Shujaat Bukhari, before he was gunned down, returned from a global editors’ meet in Lisbon and wrote that fake news was “a multifarious challenge that had come mostly with fast-changing technology.” Nobody told him to shut up; he was silenced for other more glaring opinions. Viewpoints that did not go down well with those with an opposing viewpoint.

Fake news is a wrong reporting and reading of news. It stands news on its head, reports false as true. Fake news never happens but is reported! Fake news can send innocents to prison. Purveyors of fake news, too. The reality is fake news is not a creation of fast-changing technology. ‘Beliefs’ and ‘opinions’ fashion fake news and keep it going. All that “fast-changing technology” does is to help fake news reach large numbers of people in extra-quick time.

Also, fake news was always there. Even when technology moved at the pace of a bullock cart. In the time of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. From before the Torah and the Bible. The Quran did not put a stop to fake news. Neither did Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Human beings have always been the fonts of fake news. Isn’t the belief that there is ‘God’ fake news? No proof exists God exists. The day God appears and takes a selfie with every human being, God will become hard news, not a cave-dweller’s fantasy. Time ravaged hieroglyphics and cave-paintings contain more authentic hard news.

A fake news that went viral was that Narendra Modi told people not to eat beef. Modi only changed the terms of trade in cattle. But the fake news was spread and a bloated movement of ‘Don’t Tell Us What to Eat?’ was let loose on the world.

Problem is much of news gets coloured and skewed. Beliefs, opinions and viewpoints take hard news farther and farther away from ‘fact’ and truth becomes a casualty the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

The hard fact these days of impact journalism and paid news is that perception managers run newsrooms, not newspersons; and journalists get to become ‘made guys’ when they’re promoted to write columns and peddle motivated opinions. Fake news is the octopus that has invaded the newsroom.

News that ‘Tiger T42′ is the fiercest big cat in Ranthombore’ was a fact. Scores of men have wet their pants at mere sight of T42. But that tigress Machli’s cub has issues with the forest is a jungle-tale a Ramnath Goenka Award winning journalist posted on Facebook with a picture of mum and cub!

Editors of Postcard News say they don’t peddle fake news. They cite unnamed sources for news they publish but have no answers to the number of times they were forced to retract ‘news’. There was no apology offered till long after the fake news spread and wreaked havoc!

The lynching last week of two young men in Jharkhand was because they were attempting to steal buffalo not the holy cow. But the news that spread was that they were set upon by the cow vigilante. Nobody was talking or writing of the buffalo vigilante. The buffalo is not divine like the cow. In Hindu mythology Yama Grim Reaper rides the buffalo. But buffalo milk scores over cow milk and that is enough to lynch. That said ‘Mera Bhains Ko Danda Kyun Mara’ will take time to become reason for recognizing the buffalo vigilante.

In cowboy country, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Donald Trump’s trumpet, makes it a point to remind viewers that he isn’t a journalist reporting news, only a TV show anchor putting forward his opinions “based on facts.” According to Hannity, reporters of mainstream media Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN should stick to news, not news coloured with bias and opinions in the guise of news.

Shujaat Bukhari’s contention that the “Kashmir policy since the beginning was not based on justice and fairness” had nothing to do with technology smartphone, internet or stem cell breakthroughs. It was him!

Bukhari’s opinions/convictions killed him. And as God is our witness, opinions voiced and written will kill Trump’s presidency, too. It doesn’t need fast-changing technology to knock presidents and prime ministers out of circulation. Fake news in the guise of opinions will do.

Sushil Kutty

(Author is a senior journalist)


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