New Delhi: Two Indian news websites, Postcard News and Indiatimes, feature in a list of over 500 websites “spreading false or misleading information” that has been compiled by the US-based Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a non-profit journalism school.
Poynter had initially also listed the Indian news website Firstpost. However, the portal took to Twitter to strongly object to its inclusion in the list, accusing the Poynter survey of “flippantly” ignoring “the daily journalism that Firspost [sic] hosts… the reputation it has gathered for equipoise”.
It also pointed out that while the survey was underway, “the parody news website Faking News was a part of the Firstpost domain name… a fact that this exercise ignores”.
1/n, that this survey sidesteps, and, indeed, flippantly ignores the daily journalism that Firspost hosts, or the reputation it has gathered for equipoise, is unfortunate.
— Firstpost (@firstpost) May 1, 2019
The list was subsequently updated to remove Firstpost and a US-based media house.
— International Fact-Checking Network (@factchecknet) May 1, 2019
Indiatimes, a Times Internet product, was yet to issue a response by the time of publishing. Postcard News, too, had not issued a response. The founder of the website, Mahesh Vikram Hegde, had been arrested last year for spreading fake news intended at stoking communal disharmony.
The survey in question was conducted by the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter Institute for Media Studies. The resulting list of 513 websites believed to be associated with unreliable news was released Wednesday, in a report called “UnNews: An index of unreliable news websites”.
The index tags the websites under various categories such as “unreliable”, “fake”, “conspiracy”, “satire”, “bias” and “clickbait”.
The two Indian news websites have been tagged “unreliable”.
Barrett Golding, who spearheaded the project, said on the website that the index was created on the basis of lists that were “public and curated by established journalists or academics”, “contained original data” (rather than information from other lists) and stated their criteria for inclusion, and defined how they graded different sites.
No law for fake news
The list comes out at a time when India is in the middle of a highly-charged campaign for the next central government, when fake news and misinformation have emerged as major threats.
At present, India has no specific law to tackle fake news or misinformation on websites as online media does not come under the purview of any regulatory framework.
The government had appointed a committee under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) last year to study the challenges in online media, such as fake news and malicious content, and come up with a framework to tackle them.
A top official of the the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology had recently told ThePrint that there were several challenges involved in tackling fake news. “What is fake news for one person, may be purely an opinion for another. Moreover, most fake news is spread over internet which is largely unregulated,” the official had said.
Last year, former I&B minister Smriti Irani had issued an order laying down punishment for journalists found guilty of propagating fake news — suspension or cancellation of their press accreditation.
This was meant for print and television journalists, as journalists working in online media are not offered government accreditation at present.
The order, however, was scrapped in less than 24 hours by the PMO after it was widely panned as a move to curb media freedom.
This report has been updated to reflect that Firstpost had been included in the Poynter list and subsequently dropped.