“Locals, not entirely accustomed to the internet, believed anything available on it,” stated Ms. Radha Shukla, a representative of Waqt Ki Awaaz, Kanpur Dehat.

 

Fake news is one of the major issues plaguing the nation since the beginning of the pandemic. The novelty of the situation at hand makes receiving of updates and relevant procedural information extremely crucial, and misappropriation in this domain can lead to nationwide fear and even exploitation. Community radio stations, across the nation, are working in association with the local government bodies, district magistrates, hospitals, and other authorities, to ensure that locals are correctly informed, secure, listened to, and safe.

Social awareness among school children by Manndeshi Tarang Vahini.

 

Community radio stations have had a lot to tackle on this front besides reporting of accurate figures on the number of cases in their vicinity, and legitimate government sources the locals could visit. They had not only to inform but also to help people understand what to trust and believe, in order to tackle the impact of the transmission of fake news.

 

Various dubious bodies took to social media, to propagate fake news. “People need to get news from different perspectives,” said Mohan Singh Karki of Radio Kumaon Vani. The station held ten episodes, focusing on the analysis of news on social media, to help people build efficient analytical machinery and not fall prey to false information from non-credible sources.

 

Radio Muskan and Radio Bulbul of Odisha, spread awareness regarding the lack of legitimacy of WhatsApp and Facebook forwards, in order to quell the fear and panic people felt having read false information from these sources. The programmes that dealt with fake news did not stop at just informing people of the possible sources of the same, but were also often discussion-based such as ‘Yuva’ the programme produced by  Radio Madhuban, in Sirohi, Rajasthan where people could elaborate on the specifics of how they could access relevant news that is not false.

Community outreach programme by Radio Muskan, Odisha.

Fake news doesn’t stop at the propagation of wrong general facts. Untrustworthy sources also impact news related to ration collection and information regarding other essential provisions. Consequently, community radio stations have taken to informing locals of the correct information in coordination with local government bodies to prevent unnecessary exploitation during these testing times. “The Government scheme provided for the delivery of LPG gas to the locals’ houses. However, locals were led to believe that the delivery is charged or has to be self-serviced,” said Mr. Andaz of Radio Namaskar, Odisha. Radio Namaskar, thus stayed closely in contact with the DM’s office, tehsildar, local police stations, and other administrative units, to ensure the steps taken by the government reach the locals without malicious manipulation.

 

In the context of this, tracking the country-wide reporting of fake news is also extremely important, to tackle the spread of incorrect information. Community radio stations have therefore taken to propagating the various means by which these practices can be reported to the relevant authorities if locals were to come across it. “Announcements of numbers of relevant authorities to report doubtful news,” said a representative of Radio Gunjan, Himachal Pradesh, “was a part of the station’s fake news segment.” The station was working in association with Kangra Police for this cause. It did not just promote awareness of fake news, but also guided the locals on taking action against the same.

Awareness programme in Mhaswad by Manndeshi Tarang Vahini

The steps, taken by the community radio station in association with other bodies to tackle fake news, were well appreciated by the locals. They understood the importance of having a credible source and looked upon the radio stations as one. “Various locals have approached us themselves, with forwards they receive, to check if they are legitimate. They regard us as the relevant source of information,” said Mr. Manvendra Negi of Mandakini ki Awaaz, Uttarakhand. WhatsApp groups were made with locals, by Radioactive, Bangalore, Karnataka, for locals to send in forwards for verification. “Migrant labourers in a 3km distance from the station, do not have smartphones. They solely rely on us for information,” said Ms. Preeti, of Gurgaon Ki Awaaz, Gurugram, Haryana.

 

Despite formidable challenges community radio stations, in collaboration with various government agencies and local authorities, were able to keep their audiences calm, informed, educated, and have significantly contributed to maintaining lockdown measures and effectively tackling the pandemic on the whole.

 

Shruti Iyer

Indian Institute of Management, Indore

(Summer intern with UNESCO Chair on Community Media)