Fake News and Media ethics

The case of The Daily Mail

A Letter from Prometheus

The British media has been a role model for journalists of former colonies like South Asia. Following media ethics, impartial treatment of the story, and maintaining objectivity are the main ingredients for a journalist and people like me learned a lot from British media in the past. Alas the basic concept of cross-checking and avoiding the usage of adjectives in news items is no more important in the new kind of journalism we find today and British journalism is not an exception. In March 2019, BBC paid damages to former Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko for publishing an untrue report against him; generating a serious discussion that media ethics are being flouted excessively even by media outlets that have been role models in the past.

In July 2022, the BBC released a public apology to Prince Charles and his sons William and Harry over the 1995 BBC Princess Diana “Panorama” interview. The BBC took almost 27 years for this apology. According to the BBC, an independent investigation into the programme, conducted by Lord Dyson, found that the BBC “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.” The damage that was done to victims for 27 years was legally washed away with just an apology from the BBC.

I do not question the credibility of BBC but I can fairly presume that the chances of manipulation of facts and ill motives behind the content we can find everywhere today is a new norm and practitioners as well as media users cannot ignore this reality.

A recent example is the apology of The Daily Mail for publishing an article by David Rose in 2019 against former then Punjab Chief Minister (now Prime Minister) Mian Shehbaz Sharif.  The headline of the article was “Did the family of Pakistani politician who has become the poster boy for British overseas aid STEAL funds meant for earthquake victims? In apology The Daily Mail stated that We are pleased to make this clear and apologise to Mr. Sharif for this error’. I do not know whether the newspaper has called “error” for using “poster boy” and for using capital STEAL in the headline or for the story in general. Such an adjective-loaded headline was enough to raise the brows of readers.

No doubt the story was dropped from the online portal after three and half years but you can find this story at hundreds of different places in online newspapers that carried the story from The Daily Mail when it was published. David Rose’s article was used by opponents of the Sharif family as “base material” for thousands of articles, YouTube discussions, and mainstream media Current Affairs programming for over three and half years. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his party constructed an upside-down pyramid of propaganda in which fabricated base material was used for producing thousands of news items by citing base material as a reference. Now The Daily Mail has dropped this article from its website but hard copies of the story would remain a part of “reference material” in thousands of online and physical libraries the world over.

Like many countries, Pakistan has been a victim of the soft power of the Western media but our colonial mindset accepts anything that is published in the Western media as a “Biblical statement”. If anybody ever contests fabricated material published in the Western media, his or her viewpoint is portrayed as a “conspiracy theory” by Western experts. You can find at least one story a week against China, North Korea, and Iran in leading North American and European media outlets. After establishing Iran as the biggest threat to humanity and North Korea as a devil in the Far East, China is being painted as the New Imperialism that would replace Democracy in countries under Chinese influence.

Imagine the apology of The Daily Mail came after three and half years in the post-November 29 scenarios when many of the characters of the alleged “Project Imran” are no more on the scene and have faded away, at least for the time being. It took just 10 days in the post-November 29 scenarios for The Daily Mail to tender the apology.

Many of us believe the terminology of “Fake News” is a child of 21st-century journalism but we know that Fake News was born the very first day newspapers started printing. We used to call it made-up, concocted, cooked, fabricated, and untrue news/facts. Top western newspapers and media outlets had allegedly been involved in using fake news to destabilize weak democracies in the Third World. However, the Western media, particularly the British media, always denies its alleged role in regime changes; nevertheless circumstantial evidence always proves that the soft power of media is being used wherever and whenever the wWstern world wants regime change. The soft power of media sometimes is followed by the hard power of guns and we see this design in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Libya.

Interestingly the majority of Fake News always comes from governments and state institutions. The prime example can be found in hundreds of government statements published during PTI rule in Pakistan, the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) of Iraq, the dirty bomb of Afghanistan, and the historical statement Bush Junior gave in October 2001 that “We have dismantled Taliban’s infrastructures”.

Nowadays we have Fake News every day coming out from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. There is a saying that the first victim in war is truth. Today we find different kinds of wars around us; their natures are military wars, economic wars, political wars, social wars, and propaganda wars. The world has itself become a War Zone.

Like many countries, Pakistan has been a victim of the soft power of the Western media but our colonial mindset accepts anything that is published in the Western media as a “Biblical statement”. If anybody ever contests fabricated material published in the Western media, his or her viewpoint is portrayed as a “conspiracy theory” by Western experts. You can find at least one story a week against China, North Korea, and Iran in leading North American and European media outlets. After establishing Iran as the biggest threat to humanity and North Korea as a devil in the Far East, China is being painted as the New Imperialism that would replace Democracy in countries under Chinese influence.

The Western media mostly uses philosophical theories to create and fabricate new heroes and to discredit real national heroes by portraying them as villains and rogues. History testifies that crafting heroes and villains was the most popular job of poets, historians, and philosophers of the Greeks and the Roman empire, but in our era that is done by media czars. The reputational approach is used to influence the collective memory of society and rhetoric is used to establish the claim. I believe anchorpersons sitting in revolving chairs in current affairs shows to play the same role Homer, Herodotus, Ptolemy, and Arrian of Nicomedia had been playing in the past for artfully crafting heroes and villains.

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Agha Iqrar Haroon
Agha Iqrar Haroon
The writer is an international award winning journalist who has been in the field since 1988 and appears in national and international media as analyst and political scientist.

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