News vs Fake News
Apart from combating the coronavirus, the government has another task on its hands—combating the rumours and speculation doing the rounds because almost everyone with free time on their hand also has access to WhatsApp. And so, to counter the spread of false information, the Press Information Bureau (PIB) daily bulletin has a section for countering fake news where it scotches various messages that tend to be attributed to government sources. Such as “the govt may slash employee pension by 30%” or “Ministry of Railways has issued protocol regarding passenger travel post lockdown period”. While these fall in the category of mere misinformation, there are others which come with a slightly more malicious agenda and need to be nipped before they do serious damage, such as an “audio clip claiming vegetable sellers are spreading Covid-19 by spitting on vegetables is false”, to even the rumours speculating about Amit Shah’s low profile and hence needed to be countered. So the fake news section of 6 April stated categorically, “Home Minister Amit Shah is down with Corona”. That an official bulletin now needs not only to give news, but also counter fake news is a worrying sign of the times we are living in.
Well, since social media plays an important role in everyone’s social (and in some cases primary) activities, here’s a look at the natter on social media. Airlines are one of the sectors worst hit, but recently their banter went viral as they tried to make the best out of a bad situation with IndiGo tweeting to Vistara, “Not #flyinghigh these days” (which is Vistara’s tag line) and Vistara replied tagging GoAir with its tag line saying, “flying would not be the ‘smart choice’ these days” and so on went the banter including SpiceJet, Air Asia and Delhi Airport. Kudos to them for keeping the spirits high while their planes are grounded. Of course stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, who had been banned from flying by IndiGo, was quick to tweet to the airline, “Now you know how I feel!” Another tweet that went viral was a story on how Czech nudists were told to wear face masks by the police. Go figure! And here’s how former editor and anchor Vir Sanghvi summed up the mood on the ground, with some Twitter-verse (pardon the pun): “Was a sunny day/Not a cloud in the sky/Not a negative word was heard/Cause nobody was passing by!” Clearly that’s one silver lining in the time of lockdown.
Who will bell the cat?
We are facing an uncertain stretch of being locked down with no one coming up with an exit date, for obvious reasons. But what’s equally interesting is the conversation—and concerns—off record. You talk to anyone in government or opposition, to big corporates and migrant labour, the dominant concern is more towards economic health over medical concerns. But no politician is willing to bell this cat and recommend anything other than an extension of lockdown as the consequences are way too dangerous. Maybe a middle way can be worked out which allows restricted movement. Punjab government, for one, has suggested district wise relief from lockdown for farmers to harvest the Rabi crop, though Captain Amarinder Singh has extended the lockdown in his state until the end of the month, one reason being he wants to prevent overcrowding at mandis. This kind of phased opening up is something the Prime Minister’s Office is also said to be looking at, as it works out an exit strategy. It’s interesting to note that Malaysia has extended its lockdown till 28 April, but lifted some restrictions—amongst these are electronic shops, which will now be open and so will salons, but only for haircuts. Go figure!
Did the media do its job too well?
During the Covid-19 crisis, the Prime Minister has included us in the list of Essential Services that are exempted from lockdown. And certainly the media has done its job well—saying this, even though I am part of the fraternity—such as shows as we do on NewsX and India News, raising citizens’ concerns and reaching out to those in authority to solve them. But did the media, in trying to alert the public about not taking the coronavirus lightly, overplay the scare? One view is that the main reason the migrant labour left en masse was the scare that they are all going to die with this pandemic and so wanted to reach home as fast as possible. Well, that’s one view. Another is that they had no work and hence no wages, and more important, no place to stay.