WEF: Dissemination of fake news can lead to major issues, says Bilawal

  • PPP co-chairman says big business models pose threat to real journalism, democracy in country

DAVOS: Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the big business models pose a threat to real journalism in Pakistan, adding that fake news recently gained popularity primarily through US Elections; however, it has existed for decades.

Bilawal said this in a panel address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos discussing Fake news vs Real politics.

Answering a question, he said, “When fake news is disseminated in Pakistan it can have major issues—the point is to have the media come through as transparent as it can. Coming from a fragile democracy, attacking and demonising the media can have adverse effects.”

The PPP leader said that there’s no concrete way to look into who runs fake news in Pakistan, as they are far more commercialised. “A lot of actors are involved in this, especially commercial owners,” he maintained. “It is big business model [for] industrial giants who own and run media houses, posing a high possibility of the news being biased.”

Discussing Western media, he said: “Let’s not forget weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was fake news—we have to be able to sort of see that we don’t recognise our own fault. They pitched US intelligence narratives which turned out to be fiction.”

Calling big business models a ‘fundamental threat to democracy’, he said, “We have some of the most amazing, dedicated journalists in Pakistan, but with the big houses doling out cash potentially plaster real news with sensationalism.”

Accepting the fact that fake news would be around for some time, he said empowering people can always lead to fruitful results in the future.

He added that self-censorship and freedom of speech have to have a balance.

“It is crucial to have authenticity and credibility even if the news comes ‘from the people by the people’ like WikiTribune,” he maintained. “The journalists could get together, create authentic content, get driven and perhaps counter fake news better this way.

“I’m more comfortable with something like that—we have a long history of dealing with distortion of facts. I personally don’t trust my state dealing with the fake news. If the grassroots components are addressed, there could be a positive change,” he said.

He stated that that imparting education is not only advised but imperative to help counter this issue. “I don’t remember being taught about sourcing, bias, research when I was studying. The generation today must also be taught how to identify fake news when they come across it,” he maintained.