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The Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet

Shared space to fight fake news

At this point in time, mainstream media is completely aligning with the government in power and is part of the propaganda cycle: Pratik Sinha

Debraj Mitra | Published 25.01.23, 07:28 AM
(From left) Oscar Guardiola Rivera, Swati Bhattacharjee and Pratik Sinha at a session at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet on Tuesday.

(From left) Oscar Guardiola Rivera, Swati Bhattacharjee and Pratik Sinha at a session at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet on Tuesday.

Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

The antidote to fake news and propaganda, gnawing at the democratic fabric of countries, is creating shared spaces of togetherness. 

An award-winning Colombian author, known for his books on Latin America, on Tuesday linked the rise of tyranny in different parts of the world and suggested ways to fight it. 

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“The message is very simple. Let us continue the conversations. We, Latin Americans, and you, Southeast Asians.... Let us remind ourselves of our common history. Because it is now, with the introduction of these technologies, that we have become the point of extraction for those who are using their algorithms and their derivatives in financial systems, only thinking of gathering more and more profit. Those are the ones who finance the Bolsonaros and the Trumps and the Modis of this world,” Oscar Guardiola Rivera said at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet, in association with the Victoria Memorial Hall and The Telegraph, on Tuesday.

He was part of a panel that discussed whether “democracy still has all the answers”. The panel included Pratik Sinha, co-founder of the fact-checking website AltNews. The “technologies” Rivera talked of were the tools of spreading fake news and propaganda, something that Sinha has been fighting on a daily basis.  

“So, if we want to make ourselves strong against tyrants, we need to retake control of our history, our memory, our meaning-making means. We are all diverse but we can gather if we have a common orientation. The one we give ourselves when we speak, act together and build newer spaces for living in common. That’s the antidote against fakery and the failsafe against those who would like to use democracy against itself,” said Rivera, known for books like The Story of a Death Foretold — based on the coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende. He is also a teacher of human rights and political philosophy at Birbeck College, University of London. 

Journalist Swati Bhattacharjee, who moderated the session, asked about the surge in fake news and the Indian media’s reaction to it.

Sinha said news media was part of the production cycle. 

“News media is part of the cycle of producing misinformation. Definitely in India, it is part of the cycle every single day, whether it is TV channels or digital media. They are producing misinformation on an astronomical scale. It is not just co-incidental that they are producing misinformation. It is organised in a way,” said Sinha.

He cited the Shradha Walkar murder case. 

“For 15 days, they only show one specific news at 9pm. That is because the accused is Muslim. At this point in time, mainstream media is completely aligning with the government in power and is part of the propaganda cycle. The very purpose of propaganda is to ensure that people don’t think of their actual needs. It was a gruesome murder but showing that for 15 days straight is to ensure that people are focussing on only one issue, how to generate hate against the Muslim community,” he said.

Rivera said keeping democracy alive took a lot of effort, citing the ongoing protests in Peru, raging since December and triggered by the removal of Left-wing, indigenous President Pedro Castillo.

“In Latin America, where I come from, the animation of the people, particularly women — for instance, right now, the women who are at the entrance to Lima, in Peru, struggling to recover the constitution that has been taken from them… when they are doing that, they are reminding us that democracy stays alive at a cost. That we need to fight for it. The way we fight for it is by making common spaces, by creating these spaces of togetherness,” he said.

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Last updated on 25.01.23, 07:28 AM
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