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Bangladesh’s own fake news epidemic

  • Published at 07:50 pm February 4th, 2018
  • Last updated at 02:17 am February 5th, 2018
Bangladesh’s own fake news epidemic
“Police and RAB foil an attempt at what could have been a dangerous terrorist attack” was a clickbait headline used by a reputed Bangla-language online news portal for a report on March 2, 2017. This report went viral moments after the actual incident that saw a student get beaten by security guards at Bashundhara Residential Area. The assaulted, Shariar Hasnat Tapu, was immediately rushed to the nearest hospital. But none of these details were mentioned anywhere in the report. It changed the entire scenario by calling it a terrorist attack. Many who had witnessed the incident claimed that it was false information. Manipulative bastardization of news, such as this, exhibit the ugly side of online news reporting in Bangladesh. Such disingenuous excuses for “journalism” are the main reason behind why we often hear people say “don’t believe everything you see on the internet.” With the advent of social media, the internet became something of a monolith that was impossible to ignore. As a byproduct, print media fell behind. The recent boom in cheap hosting providers resulted in hundreds of local online news portals, a growth that not only contributed to the government’s Vision 2021 manifesto, but also created a field of employment for many job seekers. Nothing more than yellow journalism Inexperience and a lack of diligent correspondents have had a great impact on the way news is presented. Most of what we read these days, the bits of news that appear in our feeds anyway, can be best described as yellow journalism -- a practice that buries the truth in a pile of tangential “evidence” and sensationalism. The report naturally incited panic among Dhaka dwellers. We are still reeling from the deep wounds left by the Holey Artisan tragedy almost two years ago, and reports such as these are coasting on the fears and trepidation regarding terror attacks to gain more traction among viewers.
If defaming a student by labelling him as a terrorist constitutes freedom of the press, they must have been holding the Constitution upside down
What does the country’s law have to say to this? According to section 177 (furnishing false information) of penal code 1860: Whoever, being legally bound to furnish information on any subject to any public servant, as such, furnishes as true information on the subject which he knows or has reason to believe to be false, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to Tk1,000, or with both. The news portal clearly attempted to disseminate fake news using a sensationalist headline on social media. Such information clearly misled a large section of active internet users. There are laws against such malpractices Section 57 of the ICT (amendment) Act, 2013, said if any person deliberately publishes or transmits in a website or in any other electronic form any material which is false, and if anyone sees, hears, or reads it having regard to all relevant circumstances, and its effect is such as to influence the reader to become dishonest or corrupt, then this activity will be regarded as an offense. It imposed a minimum of seven to 14 years of imprisonment, also suggesting that the crime be non-bailable. However, this law has been criticized by many and replaced by the draft of the Digital Securities Act 2018. We can also say that, since the digital securities act has not been enacted yet, which has been called draconian, there is still much work to be done. Although Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and of speech, there is a catch: Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency, or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense -- (a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression; (b) freedom of the press, are guaranteed. If defaming a student by labelling him as a terrorist constitutes freedom of the press, they must have been holding the Constitution upside down. The internet plays an influential role in our lives. It impacts our mind, dominates our actions, and alters our line of thinking. Similarly, freedom of the press is undoubtedly an important aspect of any democratic nation. The Constitution of Bangladesh itself attests to that fact. What it does not give is the freedom to alter information.     The media should represent the common interest of a country’s citizens, not the complexities of carpetbaggers. Controlled news not only influences but alters people’s thoughts. If drastic actions are not taken against such heinous manipulation of information, then complete and utter chaos is only a click away. Aiman R Khan is an apprentice advocate.