The trend of airing fake news is spreading like wildfire. In an attempt to get more ratings and claim to be the first to air the news, media houses forget to crosscheck the authenticity of what is being reported.

On March 22, nine TV channels aired fake news of a plane crash in Kallar Syedan in Rawalpindi. This is just days after thirty-one news channels were issued a notice over the Gulberg blast hoax in February. Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has taken notice of this event as well, but while they are being vigilant, media houses need to realise they are responsible for broadcasting the truth, rather than just scandal.

The entire nation was devastated after the PIA plane crash in December and had still not recovered when reports of an explosion in DHA Lahore started pouring in with mass conjecture over whether it was a terrorist attack or a gas cylinder exploding. With news channels unable to sift through to the truth, the reports coming up online were a jumble of false claims and suspicions. It seemed at the time the media knew as much as the “forwarded as received” messages floating around on Whatsapp and SMS. It was easier for people to believe in false information circulated by friends and family, than the often unreliable media.

When the country is suffering at the hands of these terrorists, news stories have the potential to create panic and chaos. Our authorities already have their hands tied due to multiples operations being carried out. This sort of reporting diverts attention and makes it easier for the terrorists to carry out their attacks. It is thus the job of the journalist not just to broadcast the truth, after a fact-check, but also to frame news in a way to create trust and calm. If the news anchor is shouting blue in the face about every incident being a cataclysmic disaster, fake or otherwise, an on-edge population will see the news not as information to make better decisions, but as ammunition for specific ideologies and biases.

The audience that is consuming these reports needs to be vigilant as well. It is not intelligent to believe everything that pops up on your TV screens, is printed in the newspapers or is reported online. Media houses are businesses trying to make money, and not all vendors will put the truth first. In this process, several skip the responsibility of putting out authentic facts in the race to be ahead. Yet, reliable sources exist in Pakistan, as do reliable journalists. If the public encourages objective reporting, over controversy and conjecture, news vendors will have to deliver.