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Prominent journalists on proliferation of ‘fake news’

  • Published at 08:16 pm November 10th, 2018
From left: Editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal Asia Hugo Restall, writer Annie Zaidi, Dhaka Tribune Planning Editor Asif Islam, Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan and journalist Afsan Chowdhury at a panel on fake news at Dhaka Lit Fest on Saturday Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

'Basherkella is the biggest Facebook page and it is not looking to make money'

A panel of prominent local and foreign journalists said that the traditional news media is fighting for its place against alternative digital media, while dealing with the continually shrinking revenue problem. The journalists were speaking in a panel discussion held on the final day of the Dhaka Lit Fest at Bangla Academy on Saturday. 

While the news media worldwide suffer from dwindling advertisement revenues, it does not worry big media owners in Bangladesh, as they are not in this business to make money, said journalist and researcher Afsan Chowdhury. “People do not come into this business to make money. In Bangladesh people start news media to protect the money they already have,” he said.

But for people that work in the news media, Afsan Chowdhury said, it is a question of livelihood, whereas those who spread false news are not in it for the money. “Basherkella is the biggest Facebook page and it is not looking to make money,” he said. 

Hugo Restall, an editor for The Wall Street Journal, said that Facebook is able to monetize the time newspapers should be getting. “This is sapping revenue that would be used to hire journalists. It is also sapping the confidence of the media,” said Restall, who was previously the editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review from 2004 to 09. 

The Wall Street Journal editor thinks that currently the biggest challenge for the US media is the rise of populism. The UK experienced a similar situation with Brexit, because the media stifled people’s concern about immigration, he said. The Wall Street Journal is the largest newspaper by circulation in the United States.

Indian author and journalist Annie Zaidi said there are a lot of discourses in the mainstream media. But there also are silences, she said. “When the silence is big enough it essentially amounts to lying,” said Zaidi. The general public’s ability to broadcast their opinion on the social media, she said, is not the problem; but the problem is that the general public are not trained to distinguish facts from fiction, a skill necessary for journalistic work. “If someone publishes real investigative reporting on Facebook I don’t see a problem with that. But who is doing that?” Annie Zaidi said. 

Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan said that the current state of news consumption has a lot to do with how people’s lives have changed compared to the past. “To a large extent, this is the way of the world,” he said. 

The trends have always been mediated by the elite and that is true across the globe, Sobhan said. In the not-so-distant past news in the UK was whatever the BBC told the public, said the editor, commenting on how the UK experienced a backlash from the public against the mainstream liberal media at the time of the Brexit referendum. It is not so dissimilar in Bangladesh, he said, but emergence of the social media is reshaping this structure. “Once the elite consensus breaks down, perhaps we will get to see what Bangladesh actually looks like,” Sobhan said. 

The panel was moderated by Asif Islam, Planning and Strategy Editor with Dhaka Tribune.

The Dhaka Lit Fest ended on Saturday with a large number of national and international literary and cultural figures appearing in different sessions throughout the three-day festival. 

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