This World of Misinformation

If we seek, we shall find. Credible sources, credible information

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

There is a well-known saying: ‘Take it with a pinch of salt.’ The meaning is that whatever you obtain by way of information may be exaggerated or false, and you should not believe it entirely or blindly. The greatest source of popular information for the public is the media, traditionally the written press, which has been followed if not superseded in recent times by social media and online inputs that number in trillions of bits of information, the classic ‘explosion or overload of information.’


It follows therefore that there is a great responsibility on the part of the media to be as accurate as possible in its reporting and presentation of news by verifying facts and figures. That this is not always the case has been highlighted by the recent appearance on the social media scene of ‘fake news,’ which complicates matters because among other things people can hide behind fictitious identities to peddle such false or wrong information. This is done with a given purpose or agenda in mind. I recall a remark made by a local senior journalist well before the days of internet let alone social media to the effect that ‘objective does not necessarily mean neutral.’ Fair enough if this leads to a debate of competing ideas on whatever is newsworthy at a given time, but that is not always the case when the objective is to hound or denigrate a person or a country.

And thus we hear of talk of the ethics of journalism or of professional conscience. But what happens when one doesn’t have a conscience, or one that can be bought? Such subhumans, alas, do exist.

When something sounds exaggeratedly good or exaggeratedly bad, one must apply the pinch of salt rule. Nowadays this may have to be a big spoon or in certain cases even a kalchul (ladle) of salt! And thus, we come to another adage, that the truth lies somewhere in between.

Two days ago was Buddha Purnima, and Buddha advocated the ‘middle path.’ This is all the more needed in this day and age, when maintaining a balance between extremes is what is most likely to allow mankind to survive and progress. It is the same idea that is to be found in the Tirukkural, the book of aphorisms penned by the great Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar, namely, ‘Weigh a man’s good points and his bad points, and then make a judgement.’

This problem of the credibility of the media is a major and important one nowadays. The issue has suddenly erupted into more prominence with a controversy surrounding the BBC about an interview of Princess Diana that was conducted in1995 by its journalist Martin Bashir, and the release of Lord Dyson’s report on the same.In an article in the Australian publication The Conversation titled ‘BBC Diana “cover up” – why Lord Dyson’s report is a body blow for broadcaster,’ on May 21, 2021 former BBC journalist Tim Luckhurstwrites that ‘the report found that the BBC’s reporter, Martin Bashir, “used deceitful behaviour” to obtain the interview, and that the BBC knowingly “covered up” what it subsequently learned about this behaviour.’ Further, ‘it is a scandal now that Lord Dyson, a senior retired judge, has found that the corporation “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”.’

The BBC has been looked up to for ‘its role as a benchmark that has enhanced the reputation of British broadcasting. Long a trusted source of news for the discerning, it has a global reputation for accuracy and honesty.’

That, it seems, may no longer be the case, as is echoed in the conclusion of the article, ‘The BBC cannot afford to alienate its friends with any further evidence that its journalism, the jewel in its crown, is less than entirely reliable.’ Although it now has ‘significantly better processes and procedures than existed in 1995.’

Does it? I doubt very much.

The reason why this is of interest to me is that, as a student in the pre-Independence period at the Royal College Curepipe which with the Queen Elizabeth College can be considered as the berth of Britishness in education then, I and my fellow students in the senior forms were constantly exhorted by the Rector, Herbert Bullen (who I believe had an Oxonian background), to daily listen to the BBC news at 8 in the morning so as to learn to speak proper English and also get reliable news. As far as I am concerned, I tried to follow his instruction as often as I could, and this habit of relying on the BBC for news and entertainment continued when I went to the UK for my postgraduate studies in the 1970s.

Of late though I have come to realise that the BBC is no longer as trustworthy in its news reporting as I had always believed it was, especially when it comes to reporting on India. Its rabid anti-Modi and anti-India bias is incredible. You can be anti a person, no problem if you have ideological blinkers. But why extend this hate to a whole country? Vulture journalism at its worst. Unfortunately, by Indians themselves who are in its employ or thrall. Several other news channels are no better.

No one can have information about everything, and that is why when we wish to understand a situation or an issue that is shaking up the world, one has to get a balanced perspective especially when one is not familiar with the problem. For example, to get a grip on the recent Palestinian-Israeli conflagration, finding BBC lacking, I listened to the best expose on the historical aspects that I could find. It was that of the renowned journalist of Pakistani origin settled in Canada, Tarek Fatah. His views are always consistent and well-argued, and what is the best part is that he is clearly a man who seeks to promote peace and harmony amongst people.

If we seek, we shall find. Credible sources, credible information.

* Published in print edition on 28 May 2021

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