A right to (tainted) information?

What is happening in India, appears to add confusion to the goals pursued by the largest democracy on the planet.
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By Nazarul Islam, Edited By Adam Rizvi, New York, USA. TIO: India’s conscience has been grimly shaken by the nation’s issues of caste, religion, ethnicity, and the stories of war with China. Again, this has compounded the economic distress, and hurled cruel injustice to seekers, on more than one occasion. Contaminated and ugly truths were once conveyed through radio broadcasts, television bulletins which again, were turned into headlines the morning after.
However, the onset of a global health crisis in the digital age has changed all this. Today, people are being subjected to a targeted media and their unrelenting blast of misinformation. There is thus a flood of information on the Covid-19 pandemic. Responsible journalists are struggling to filter and assess this information given our limited individual competency in data literacy. India’s electronic media is trying — ineptly — to navigate through this information deluge, pushing journalists to explain data to readers and viewers, who are consuming news at an unprecedented scale.
The appetite for more information has seemingly expanded, if not advanced, our ability to recognize contradictions in the messages. Distressed migrants of workers from megacities were among the first to realize that they had been duped to receive the short end of the proverbial stick. Many of them had taken to the road after waiting for the government, to offer help.
A large section of expelled laborers was duped when the government suspended labor rights in their own states. Unlike the fading memories of the Partition, wars or famines, the migrants’ exodus and the Indian government’s chicanery has haunted their collective conscience.
To be fair, the pandemic has had worrying implications for some of our fundamental freedoms, including the right to information, the right to expression and assembly as well as the right to health and justice. Mass surveillance technologies and mandatory contact tracing during lockdowns have placed civil liberties at stake, in the country. while falsehood, hatred, and stigma on the airwaves have contaminated popular judgment.
For instance, during Delhi’s Tablighi Jamaat controversy, the media had chosen to tune their prime time debates to the ‘irresponsibility’ of Muslims in spreading the virus and endorsed communal remarks instead of broadcasting useful information during a health crisis. This misdemeanor stopped after governments and leaders of Gulf nations called out the Islamophobic hate speeches, forcing the prime minister to tweet that Covid-19 does not discriminate among race, religion, color, and so on.
Evidently, Disinformation and fake news in the media are impeding access to reliable information. Indians are thus facing a parallel pandemic of confusing and poor variety of information.
A study in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government publication’Misinformation Review ‘ has echoed specific findings: higher exposure to channels like Fox News, it says, increases belief in conspiracy theories about the virus. It must be mentioned that in India, the coverage of the pandemic in several national and regional news channels was tainted with communal undertones.
Access to verifiable information complements the right to the freedom of expression while misleading information, or the absence of information, heightens the risks to public health. Strikingly, a survey of State Information Commissions, bodies established under the Right to Information Act, found that all but one of the 29 Information Commissions were shut down during the first two phases of the lockdown.
That transparency and the free flow of correct information are not a priority of this government was established when it argued in the Supreme Court that the media can only publish the ‘official’ account on the coronavirus.
What is really causing the information overload in India? Misleading information is perhaps the culprit. It has compromised the search for quality information amidst the background noise, leading to confusion. It has also challenged the culture of comprehension by cluttering the media.
The CoronavirusFactsAlliance at the Poynter Institute has listed over 1,200 fact-checks carried out in India over the past few months of the pandemic; this figure is unbelievable, the highest in the world. Racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia frequently feature in these false narratives, so much so that UNESCO is now concerned about the production, transmission, and reception of viral false news.
Most Indians appear to be caught in an ‘information turmoil’. This new normal should force us to consider a new digital template of producing and consuming information and data. The dissemination of incorrect information and the discouragement of good journalism is not in our best interests.
Should we attempt to reduce the demands on our time and efforts spent in accessing reliable information?
Yes…of course!
Compiled By Azain Rizvi, Curated By Maham Abbasi
The views expressed are of the author and do not represent the opinions or policies of  The India Observer, its editors, or staff. Be guided

Nazarul Islam

The author is a former Educator, based in Chicago (USA).

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