By Sunil Garodia
First publised on 2020-03-29 10:06:57
Any crisis, especially a pandemic like Covid-19, is the time when the media has a huge role in keeping the people updated with genuine news. This is so because, at such times, know-alls come out of the woodwork to spread all kinds of rumours and cures. With social media getting hyper-activated in times of the lockdown and self-isolation, these mischievous handouts from obscure sources, unfortunately, get spread exponentially. Hence, it is upon the media to scotch these rumours and help prevent the people from getting alarmed unnecessarily.
Obviously, this does not mean that the media will not point out the shortcomings of the government in fighting the epidemic. It would be failing in its duty if it does not inform the people of how and why the government is being lax in combating the pandemic. The people have the right to know if the government is doing the right things, in the right ways and at the right times to fight the epidemic. But that does not give media the license to twist news or try and 'create' one when it does not exist. This license is not available to the media at any time but in times of such crisis, it has an added responsibility to shun alarmist tendencies.
Hence, it is disgusting that a news website put out an alarmist story about India having already entered the third stage of Covid-19 transmission. That it used inputs from obscure sources to put the story together perhaps fits well with its self-declared mission of telling "stories no one else is willing to tell". But did it gel with its other stated objective of asking its contributors to "dig deep, long and hard for the truth"? Truth was obviously going to be the first casualty when the person whose inputs formed the basis of the story was not qualified to make those statements. He had no authority and the website tried to 'build' that authority around him to convince the readers into believing what he was saying was true.
India may yet enter the third stage due to other lapses on part of the government, but jumping the gun and announcing it as a done thing when it has not yet progressed to that stage is not responsible journalism. If the third stage does happen, the website might say "we told you so" with glee, but that is not the way to do things. The media should wait for confirmation and collate news from different sources to be doubly sure before putting out such alarmist stories.
Readers are advised to form their own opinion after reading the original (updated later) article and the article that exposed the story as fake.