BRICS media wrestle with disinformation challenge in COVID-19 fight

News media around the world, especially newspapers and also other forms of media, have taken a big hit during pandemic: N. Ram

November 30, 2020 09:12 pm | Updated 09:32 pm IST - CHENNAI

File photo of N. Ram, Director of The Hindu Publishing Group and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu Group of Publications.

File photo of N. Ram, Director of The Hindu Publishing Group and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu Group of Publications.

Representatives of media organisations from BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) on Monday called for the five nations to work together to jointly combat the “virus of disinformation” in the pandemic era.

At the fifth BRICS Media Forum, held virtually to coincide with the recently concluded BRICS summit, media organisations discussed ways in which journalists from the grouping could collaborate more closely to tell stories, with the countries facing many similar challenges, from economic issues to public health, as they grapple with COVID-19 .

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N. Ram, Director of The Hindu Publishing Group and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu Group of Publications, noted that India, Brazil and Russia were among the five in the world with the highest number of confirmed cases. “The news media around the world, especially daily newspapers, and also other forms of the media, have taken a big hit during the pandemic,” he said.

“It is heartening that media organisations that come under the aegis of the BRICS Media Forum have done a commendable job in informing and educating readers, viewers, and listeners on the pandemic and its consequences for people’s lives, health, livelihood, and well-being; on the tools and individual and social behaviours that can enable a country or a community to mount defences against this coronavirus; on the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines for COVID-19; and on the science behind all this,” he stated. “I believe the mainstream media in our five countries have also helped by fielding well-informed discussions on how to strike a reasonable balance, tricky as it is, at the policy level between saving lives and health on the one hand and protecting work, livelihood, and the economy on the other.”

Jose Juan Sanchez, President of Brazil's CMA Group that specialises in financial and agri-business news, said a common thread was a growing problem of disinformation or ‘fake news’. “We need to come together to fight disinformation. It is important for news to be instantaneous, and it is equally important to remember that false news is dangerous. Transparent and reliable information is important more than ever,” he asserted.

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The forum was also attended by Sergey Kochetkov, Deputy Editor-in-chief of Rossiya Segodnya (Russia’s state-owned news agency), whose subsidiaries include Sputnik and RIA Novosti ; Iqbal Surve, Executive Chairman of Independent Media in South Africa; and He Ping, President and Editor-in-chief of China’s Xinhua news agency, which came up with the idea of a BRICS Media Forum in 2015.

More cooperation

Mr. He said the pandemic had only reinforced the needs of the countries to step up, rather than shun, cooperation. “In times of crisis, no one can stand alone or stay immune,” he pointed out. “As a Chinese saying goes, fire tests gold, and adversity reveals friendship.”

Mr. Ram observed that disinformation that was being “transmitted globally at warp speed on the so-called technology platforms, notably Facebook, Twitter, Google, WhatsApp, and Instagram” was “a major threat not just to the mainstream media, but, more importantly, to the lives and well-being of tens of millions of people and the safety and integrity of society as a whole.”

He said: “The BRICS Media Forum can make a real difference in the fight against motivated and harmful disinformation by promoting and strengthening relevant media exchanges, workshops, training of journalists, and interactions with technology companies that are willing to work with us to contain and end the menace.

“For example, rigorous fact-checking and investigation by well-trained teams of journalists and the new type of specialised fact-checking organisations can be supplemented by technological solutions, with the deployment of technologies like AI, in the fight against disinformation, especially large-scale online harms. BRICS countries have advantages in doing both things.”

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