The Fake News Contagion

 

Editor,

Superstitious beliefs continue to plague our society despite efforts from various organizations who have used science to eradicate them. Earlier this month, amid the coronavirus pandemic, A local TV news channel aired a story titled “San sngi kynthih ïai bteng ka jinghab ki maw ha ïing ka Kong Lonti Jyrwa ha Umtrew.” People in the video claimed that baseball-sized (even football-sized) stones pelted at the house from “the unknown” miraculously passed through the solid tin roof without even damaging it. Moreover, they also claimed that stones, potatoes, onions pelted directly at them (even at full impact) could not cause them any harm whatsoever. Medical experts disregarded the idea calling it speculation “unsubstantiated by any concrete evidence.”

That TV news channel isn’t the only media outlet guilty of airing the misleading story; a few others including are equally guilty. The “crime” is often seen as victimless or irrelevant so long as viewers digest the story itself and form their own conclusions. A study demonstrates that the initial impressions formed from a misleading story can have a measurable influence on a person’s thoughts and intentions, even if that person views enough of the corresponding story to recognize it’s flaws.

Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had issued an advisory to various entertainment and news channels not to engage in content that encourages superstition and blind belief. This advisory was sent on to media organizations such as News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and the Advertising Standards Council of India. A copy of the note was also sent to other media organizations like Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) – a unit of the government that monitors television and radio content.

The Press Council of India and the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had also issued guidelines in this regard. But television and news channels (both regional and national) continue to neglect them. Programme and Advertising Codes prescribed under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 (Rule – 6) states that “No program which encourages superstition or blind belief should be carried in the cable service; superstition gives rise to various fears and anxieties that are unfounded. It holds back the achievements of many healthy and good programs. Superstitions retard the scientific knowledge of civilization.”

As a reminder, a few years back, Lemon TV had been warned by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry for airing a programme ‘Khauf ke 10 Destinations’ on 11 December, 2013 referring to 10 places in Mumbai, which it claimed are haunted and where there was dominance of evil spirits and invisible powers. A program or story that misrepresents the evidence for a particular claim is bad, but one that misrepresents the scientific method in doing so is even worse. Among scholars and skeptics, there is a common assumption that mass media should take a major responsibility for the fact that so many people seem to accept paranormal claims uncritically. The reason for the prevalence of “absurd beliefs” among us Khasis is to be found in the uncritical acceptance and promotion of these notions by the media.

Media has an important role to play in removing blind beliefs from society especially one like ours that engages in mob lynching as an excuse for eradicating witchcraft. It is because of this that today we have so many news channels to influence and tap the beliefs of the millions who watch them. I therefore recommend that channels should focus on providing scientific explanations and having expert discussions that provide an in depth understanding of a superstition rather than simply showcasing a superstition.

In the wake of various events, I am putting forth my concern which I hope would be taken in the right spirit.

Yours etc,

Shalabas Syiemlieh

Shillong – 8

The healthcare saga

Editor,

Our state is now heaving under the weight of the Covid cases going up every day. Whilst saluting the hard work and immense pressure the health workers are being subjected to round the clock, it would seem that the health care system of the state is in a flurry. Those at the helm of affairs are doing their best we’d like to believe.

However, with recent incidents of patients being turned away because those on duty were apprehensive about the health status of the patient, in this case a pregnant woman who’d come for delivery, speaks volumes for the efficacy of the health care system in our state. The end result being the death of the child in question!

The Director of Health Services was quick to reiterate an inquiry into the matter but it’s come a little too late for the grieving mother who’s lost her child for no fault of hers except for the fact that she came from a containment zone. Rules and protocol are to be followed as law abiding citizens but what about the humane aspect? Have we lost this too?

With all due respect to the DHS, it’s confusing for us ordinary people when he gives information on the status of the recent death of a person who tested positive for the virus that the death wasn’t due to the virus but other health issues. Please don’t confuse us. We’re already a confused lot as we don’t know who or what we’re fighting against. The enemy is invisible. Give us the bare facts. I’m sure we can handle the truth. Don’t hide behind the facade of some medical jargon we can’t understand.

Once again, I express my appreciation for the untiring efforts of the health workers but again, I request the powers that be to lay the facts bare for all to see.

Yours etc.,

Angela Lyngdoh

Shillong -14

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