Aroon Purie: ′Fake news is a scourge′ in India | DW Freedom | Speech. Expression. Media. | DW | 20.05.2019
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Aroon Purie: 'Fake news is a scourge' in India

There is no control for social media platforms in India making them the breeding grounds for fake news says Aroon Purie, chairman and editor-in-chief of India Today in a DW exclusive interview.

DW: What type of media are most successful in India today?

Aroon Purie: Ever since the Indian government allowed private TV broadcasts in 1991, television has trumped newspapers to become the country's most successful media with more than 880 channels today. Among these, news is the most crowded genre with at least 463 24-hour channels in operation today. News channels are sub-segmented into Hindi, English and regional language channels.

TV's proliferation and penetration across the country has been triggered by affordability. Cable TV companies are providing as many as 500 channels for a monthly charge of around Rs 300 ($4.33/3.75 euros).

A decade and a half ago, print accounted for more than half of total advertising in India. Today it's less than one-third of the total advertising pie of $10 billion. TV, which was about a third, now makes up nearly half.

Yet, unlike most other parts of the world, legacy print media is not just growing in India but is also profitable. digital media,, which accounted for about one percent of media revenue in the country 15 years ago, is now 18 percent and growing at a very robust 30 percent per annum. But just like anywhere else in the world, digital media remains unprofitable. Platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter account for 90 percent of the total digital advertising pie.

How do Indian media react to rapid technological changes as well as social changes, such as the continued empowerment of minorities and women?

Growth of mobile and social platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram is exposing and challenging the whole social landscape. At the same time, social media has become the most popular tool to reach the masses. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is one of the world's most-popular leaders with over 46.5 million followers on Twitter.

Read more: India elections — Narendra Modi's fandom persists despite spotty record

India's social media proliferation and penetration also have been enabled by affordability as mobile data rates in India have crashed to the lowest in the world. Indian mobile users get 1 GB of data for Rs 18 ($0.25/0.22 euros) against the world average of Rs 600 ($8.57). Thus, social media is empowering people down to the village and the poorest users.

What is the relationship between leading Indian media and the government?

India is one of the world's most vibrant democracies enabled by the plurality of views, free flow of information and a population that has learned to thrive on chaos.

India does not have a strong constitutional backing for media similar to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India provides for the right to freedom of speech and expression as fundamental rights. The right to freedom of the press does not exist independently but is part of the right to freedom of speech. Hence, the right to free press is also regarded as a fundamental right.

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once said: "Freedom of the press is an article of faith with us, sanctioned by our Constitution, validated by four decades of freedom and indispensable to our future as a nation."

Read more: India fights fake news on social media ahead of election 

To what extent do populists shape public opinion in India? How do the media combat fake news and hate speech?

Indian media on its face stays neutral and does not have a tradition of endorsing parties like the United States. However, often the leanings of the media become quite apparent from their coverage. Mainstream political parties propagate their agendas through public rallies as well as through debates on national and regional TV. They are also now using social media to propagate their agenda through supporters.

Alt News Indien Fake News (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Qadri)

Alt News is one fact-checking website used to combat the spread of fake news ahead of elections

Fake news is a scourge. It is often created by politicians themselves or their supporters. The problem gets more acute because of the sophistication of its proliferation. In India, there is no control for social media platforms, the breeding grounds for fake news. Regulations ought to keep pace with change. Mainstream media has set up its own methods to check for fake news. India Today’s own Anti-Fake News War-room (AFWA) initiative is being widely appreciated for its ability to check facts and quickly identify fake news.

In terms of hate speech, India has very strict laws and mainstream media follow them very seriously, specifically by not naming communities and sects in sensitive stories that could erupt in communal tension. The punishment for inciting communal violence is imprisonment for up to three years and a fine as per the court's discretion.

Read more: India elections: Why are Kashmiris not voting? 

What is your vision for Indian media after the upcoming elections and in the next ten years?

The role of media as a watchdog and as the fourth pillar of democracy continues to be relevant as ever. Higher literacy levels, growing per capita and disposable income will all contribute to keeping media as a vibrant and flourishing industry in India.

The biggest challenge will be how to make digital media viable and make readers pay for credible content. In my view, the establishment of credibility will be the most crucial part of that journey. The industry has already taken the lead in adopting self-­regulation but getting the user to pay for credible media will be the challenge to overcome in the next decade.

Aroon Purie is the chairman and editor-in-chief of India Today, India's most diversified media group which has been continuously growing since 1975. He's an advocate of democracy and freedom and an outspoken critic of the rise of protectionism. Purie is the recipient of numerous honors, including the third-highest civilian award of the government of India for his contribution to journalism.

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