Today the whole world is at a standstill and locked down in their homes due to the deadly and dangerous pandemic – COVID 19. It wont be wrong to say that the corona virus is spreading like forest fire and this can be easily seen as a result of the high increase in the COVID 19 cases in the world. In India, the first case of corona virus was reported on 30th of January 2020. As of 24th April 2020, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare have confirmed a total of 23,452 corona cases in India.[footnoteRef:0] To prevent the transmission of corona virus at large levels the Government of India took early and effective steps which made a difference in India’s health statistics when compared to other countries in the world. These measure include imposing travel bans and entry restrictions, compulsory screening of international passengers at the airports and disinfecting public places. Schools, colleges, gyms and cinema halls were also shut down in order to avoid large public gatherings. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced a nation wide lockdown of 21 days on 24th March 2020. This lockdown was announced with a view of practicing social distancing to avoid the spread of the virus. In this times of emergency, the doctors, health workers, policemen and media personnel are working in front lines and risking their lives for us in order to fight this pandemic. [0: www.mohfw.gov.in. Retrieved 22 April 2020]
The majority of Indians are now in their homes amid the nationwide lockdown. This has resulted people to adopt new ways of spending their times and at the same time staying connected to the world. This connection wouldn’t have been possible without the help of media. Be it news telecasting, radio, print media or social media, each one of them have collectively played it’s role in establishing an important connection between people around the world. Without the media we would never know what is happening around us and how much better or worse the situation has turned out. The journalists are those ‘Corona Warriors’ who are tirelessly working day and night to bring to us accurate and reliable news reports.
People are unaware about the virus and hence media is acting as a guide in educating them for the same. It is also informing the importance and necessity of hand washing and social distancing through social media, digital posters and short films. Apart from this, the media is effectively giving safety tips on boosting immunity and making people aware about the early symptoms and stages of coronavirus. Regular news updates on the internet and television channels also give recent reports on the number of people getting affected, cured and deceased on a daily basis. All this not only make people aware about the situation but also instills fear in their minds. This acts as an effective psychological measure and encourage people to follow the issued guidelines religiously.
Social media in the recent times gained massive popularity, specially among the youth. It helps you maintain a virtual social life in this health crisis. Online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft helped in conducting video lectures for students, conference meeting of government officials and live court proceedings. Online apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have also stood out as a platform for people to share personal experiences and views.
Fake news are news which are not true and are intentionally spread to create confusion and mistrust among people. Fake news also results in spreading rumors that may have adverse effects on the people at large. It is usually published to deliberately mislead people in order to gain benefit out of it. Some of the fake news are spread by social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook through forwarded messages. News agencies sometimes spread information before verifying it from official government sources with the sole object to gain some Television Rating Points (TRPs) and increase their channel’s viewership. Such irresponsible behaviour not only creates a situation of fear and panic among people but also makes it difficult for them to distinguish between fake and trustworthy news. One such example of this was the panic buying of goods triggered by the forwarded messages spreading fake news on Whatsapp.[footnoteRef:1] In order to combat these situations several social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook took responsibility and are aiming at making stricter measures and policies on forwarding messages. [1: Times of India, Whatsapp forward causes panic buying in Bengaluru (11th April 2020) ]
On the increasing spread of rumors, a plea was made in Supreme Court regarding fake news and migrant labours. The court directed the media companies and journalists to act responsibly and publish news with only “official versions”. It also asked the government to invoke Section 54 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005 for spreading misinformation and creating panic.
All States and Union Territories were appealed by the Home Ministry to take effective measures against fake news. To curb this, a special COVID-19 web portal is constructed for people to help them in confirming facts and verifying news.[footnoteRef:2] The central government has also launched a Whatsapp chatbot – MyGov Corona Helpdesk – which helps in tackling people’s queries by responding to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to the virus. This helps in creating awareness among people and also helps in busting rumors and fake news on social media. [2: https://factcheck.pib.gov.in]
India currently does not have any specific law to deal with the problem of rumors and fake news but there exist some laws and provisions which can be applied in such cases. These include –
Coronavirus pandemic has affected every industry of India in an observably negative way. One such industry poorly affected due to the nation wide lockdown is the Press and Media houses. One of the biggest and the most important source of income for the media industry is the Advertisement Revenues – both from the government and companies. It makes up to 80% of the total revenue earned by the media industry which has now come down to zero in this pandemic. This slash in the advertisement revenue is due to the economic crisis in the country and the need to conserve cash at this time. All of the big media houses including The Times Group, Indian Express, Hindustan Times Media Limited, Business Standard Limited and the Quintillion Media Private Limited have been badly affected due to this financial crisis. Many media groups are now slashing the salaries of their employees and some are even temporarily suspending their publications. As per news, Indian Express has cut pays up to 30% of their employees, Times Group which includes Times of India, Economic Times and Navbharat Times has also informed about 5-10% reduction in salaries from April 1, 2020. NDTV has also cut pays of employees who earn more than Rs. 50,000 per month from 1st April 2020 for the next quarter. The Quintillion Media Private Limited has sent 45 of their employees on indefinite leave without pay. On such a large scale reduction of advertisements, Times of India (TOI) which is the largest circulating newspaper in the country has shrunk the total number of newspaper pages from 40 to barely 16 pages. The Outlook Magazine has also temporarily suspended their publications due to the current crisis.[footnoteRef:13] [13: The Print, Coronavirus triggers news crisis for Indian media (23rd April 2020) ]
The largest circulating Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar as well restricted pay to nearly 12% of their workforce that counts to 1000 employees. Due to such sever impact of coronavirus on media, the total loss estimated over the next seven months is to be $2Billions.[footnoteRef:14] [14: The Jakarta Post, Hit by sharp ad decline India’s newspapers cut jobs and salaries (16th April 2020)]
As India is under the second phase of nation wide lockdown, the data shows a boost in the use of both social and digital media for news and entertainment. With increased use of mobile phones and televisions, news apps have recorded an increase of 8% users and a significant jump of 6% of Television viewership in India.[footnoteRef:15] [15: Warc, India’s TV and mobile consumption spikes as COVID-19 lockdown progresses (30th March 2020) ]
Another reason for a decline in the use of print media is the spread of rumors and fake news. One such misinformation convinced people to believe how newspapers and magazines are responsible for the transfer of the COVID-19 virus. This news created not only panic but also fear in the minds of people of getting infected from the deadly virus. As a result, the vendors too now suffered severely after people spurned the delivery of newspapers. This fake news added more to the already financially hit media industry in India.
To curb this fear in people many newspaper companies including The Times of India, Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran told it’s readers how they are strictly following a hygienic and safe procedure of printing newspapers. They also informed how the use of gloves, sanitisers, masks and regular hand-washing is followed in distribution centers to ensure safe distribution of papers to it’s users.
On 24th March 2020, Prime Minister Modi interacted through video conferencing with over 21 journalists and various stakeholders from the media industry. In this the PM emphasized over the tremendous trust and credibility on newspapers. He also mentioned how the print media responsibly act as a link between the government and the people.[footnoteRef:16] [16: Narendramodi.in, PM interacts with Print media journalists and stakeholders (24th March 2020)]
The government advised also people not to pay heed to baseless rumors and ensured confidence on the fact checking and correct news of the print media.
Due to the financial crisis prevalent in the industry, many newspaper companies have put forward their concerns and requested the government to reduce the custom duty on them. On this request, Government reduced the custom duty on newsprint to 5% from the previously existing 10% custom duty. Information & Broadcasting Ministry also wrote to other ministries requesting them to pay the amount of Rs. 400 crore which they owe to media houses. This will provide the companies some relief and motivate them to continue their publications.
The recent news reports states how the media personnel who are working in front line to deliver news from the hotspot areas of the country are getting infected from coronavirus. To this the Information & Broadcasting Ministry advised all media persons to take necessary precautions which performing their duties.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting appealed all States and Union Territories to ensure continuity of media in the hard times of COVID-19. It further urged to facilitate operational convenience of services and provide the news companies with uninterrupted electricity supply and other logistics as requested by them.[footnoteRef:17] Hoping for better times, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS) demanded a package from the government to help the already sinking media industry in India. Along with this, they also demanded a total removal of 5% custom duty on newsprint and a 2 year tax holiday, 50% increase in the advertisement rates in the coming times and a 100% increase on the budget spent on print media.[footnoteRef:18] [17: The Economic Times, Ensures operations of newspapers work fine, centre tells states (25th March 2020)] [18: Deccan Herald, INS demand Package for print media in the face of unprecedented coronavirus crisis (12th April 2020)]
With such hard times ahead for the country, nearly every sector and industry is badly hit by the pandemic. Better management of resources, cash flow, and correct timely decisions by the Centre may help in bringing a positive outcome. The collective act of all will surely bring the conditions back to normal.
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