CFWIJ organized an instructive discussion about fake news and its legal repercussions

for journalists

The Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ) held a discussion on identifying fake news and the legal repercussions for media organizations that generate fake news. The discussion took place at the Karachi Press Club.

The organization's Global Coordinator Luavut Zahid and Researcher Rabia Mushtaq organized the discussion with CFWIJ member and senior journalist Lubna Jerar Naqvi and Supreme Court Advocate Shoaib Ashraf.

“Clickbait travels faster and lives longer,” Luavut Zahid said.

“In the past, we have seen examples of hoaxes or misinformation spreading like wildfire but their clarifications didn’t see the same kind of popularity. This is why it’s important to go through the process of verifying news before it is released. Journalists are gatekeepers who stop bad information, so there’s no excuse for being the catalyst that allows it to spread,” she said.

Lubna began her discussion by explaining why the term ‘fake news’ is problematic. “The use of the term is wrong. This means that the content is fake – the right term to use is misinformation or disinformation,” she said.

In Pakistan, she said that this issue stems from local newsrooms’ need to break the story first. “Journalists are constantly trying to find stories that can captivate attention. The race towards breaking news first has resulted in many releasing information before it has been confirmed.

This is just bad journalism,” she said. “Don’t chase breaking news, chase good journalism,” she added.

The discussion steered towards the structure of the local industry as well. Many journalists are ‘offline’ journalists and are more comfortable producing news in a more traditional manner.

“They have not evolved as fast as the industry has,” Lubna noted.

“People are gradually understanding that verification is extremely important, finding news is not good enough. It is the duty of the journalists to filter content to ensure that no misinformation is being released,” she added.

Checking whether a story is real or not doesn’t have to take hours. Simple checks on whether the source is authentic, whether the website has credibility, and whether the news originates from fake accounts takes minutes.

If journalists fail to properly verify news they can lead themselves, and their organizations, into disaster.

Lubna was joined by Supreme Court Advocate Shoaib Ashraf, who is a former judge and social activist working on the constitution and human rights. He is also affiliated with many organizations as an advisor, including HRCP and Aurat Foundation.

Shoaib explained the four applicable laws in relation to fake news and misinformation or disinformation. He said, “PEMRA, PECA, Pakistan Penal Code 499 and the Defamation law deal with cases of liable, slander, defamation, and misinformation/ disinformation. Under these laws, criminal proceedings can be applicable.”

He noted that misinformation spreads because it attracts the attention of people. “It’s sometimes information that people want to believe. For example, something like ‘Bush’s daughter accepting Islam’ normally becomes viral because people want it to be true,” he said.

But sensational news that turns out to be false comes at a cost. Shoaib explained that being ignorant of the law doesn’t absolve any journalist of responsibility for the content they have created.

The discussion ended after a question-answer session with journalists who attended.

The Coalition For Women In Journalism is a global organization of support for women journalists. The CFWIJ pioneered mentorship for mid-career women journalists across several countries around the world, and is the first organization to focus on the status of free press for women journalists. The organization thoroughly document cases of any form of abuse against women in any part of the globe.