Press Council should take quick action against those deliberately spreading fake news: Vice-President Dhankhar

Speaking at a National Press Day event, he says maintaining a free and fair media environment is imperative, as the Fourth Estate serves as watchdog of government 

November 16, 2023 10:40 pm | Updated 10:41 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar. File 

Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar. File  | Photo Credit: ANI

Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar on Thursday said fake news, wrong and mischievous information, political ambitions and preferences, tendency to play power brokers, and monetary considerations, had eroded the people’s faith in the media.

“The Press Council of India [PCI] should take quick action against those deliberately spreading fake news and compromising professional ethics. It is not the time to show teeth but a time to bite. And the bite must be strong because those who are serving with high ethical standards must be encouraged only by those not doing so being visited with exemplary consequences,” he said while addressing a National Press Day event.

Mr. Dhankhar said: “Media is not a power centre or stakeholder in realpolitik. Ground reality is, it is doing everything under the sun to be a power centre -- not only a stakeholder, it seems to control it, seems to infuse it. It is so painful that some journalists have taken on themselves to change the course of democratic process contrary to the ground sentiments.”

Stating that the media’s duty was to tell the truth, the Vice-President said: “It is in their self-interest to be credible and trustworthy. It is time the media realises that their audience is turning away from them... actually, the expression ‘fake news’ has never been heard so loudly before as it is these days.”

On this year’s theme of the event, ‘Media in the Era of Artificial Intelligence’, Mr. Dhankhar said the technological advancements had presented unique challenges and ethical questions -- such as the spread of misinformation, deep fakes, creation of echo chambers, and micro-targeting of information to influence the democratic process and create chaos and instability in societies -- combined also with opportunities.

“Artificial Intelligence also has the potential... to dramatically alter the employment remark,” he said, adding that introduction of AI anchors and language models was threatening the jobs of hundreds.

“Facing these challenges, the responsibilities of journalists and media professionals have expanded, requiring an even greater commitment to the principles of truth, accuracy, and accountability...,” said the Vice-President. He said no disruptive technology could be a substitute for a well-informed, conscientious journalist. Although AI had the potential to harm, the media should acknowledge that the technology was here to stay and that it had to adapt, regulate and deal with it.

Mr. Dhankhar said maintaining a free and fair media environment was an imperative, as the Fourth Estate played a pivotal role in a democratic society by serving as the watchdog of government, holding those in power accountable, and providing citizens with the information they needed to make informed decisions. He paid tributes to the “journalists who have dedicated their lives to reporting the truth, often at great personal risk”. He appreciated their role during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking on the occasion, I&B Minister Anurag Thakur said he looked forward to the media playing an increasingly constructive role in not only in highlighting the story of transforming India, but also the hopes and aspirations of the people.

About the theme, he said while AI added a new dimension to news reporting, it was crucial to recognise its limitations. The nuances of years of experience, context and oversight that an editor brought would always be a step ahead of the AI. It was crucial to ensure that AI models did not adopt biases from their training data, thus compromising media integrity, he said.

Observing that an attempt was being made to create a negative perception about the country, the Minister said: “There are individuals and media outlets that consistently spread fake propaganda against Bharat, both domestically and internationally. It is our collective responsibility to challenge such narratives, expose the falsehoods, and ensure that truth prevails.” It was crucial to address the persistent misconceptions propagated by certain “Western biases regarding the portrayal of Bharat and its media”, he said.

Union Minister of State L. Murugan cautioned against the transgression of AI in matters of copyright, creativity, originality and plagiarism. He said like every other technology, AI also required ethical human oversight.

Keynote speaker G-20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant said media entities that viewed technology as an enhancement to human talent and not its substitute had been able to rejuvenate investigative and documentary journalism. It was also essential to be aware of the harm that unchecked AI usage in media might introduce, he said, adding: “Curating personalised news with the aid of AI risks creating echo chambers in our society limiting our exposure to diverse perspectives.”

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