1) The picture is clear, it is top-down misinformation
GS 2- Governance
Context: The following article the author talks about the sources of misinformation about the pandemic COVID-19 and ways to tackle them
Source of prime concern
- People worry about the source of misinformation of COVID-19
- Nearly one in four (23%) in our recent survey say that the Government, politicians or political parties are the source they are most concerned about.
- Among platforms, only messaging applications (e.g. WhatsApp) generate more widespread public concern among people. They are named by 28%.
- The data are not representative of India’s overall population as it covers only English speaking population.
- Still, it provides insight into how many Indians see the “infodemic” that has accompanied the pandemic, an immense wave of information that, unfortunately, also includes some false and misleading material, rumours, and attempts to exploit the crisis for propaganda or for profit.
- The author claims that many Indians think that misinformation about the pandemic often comes from the top.
- Top-down misinformation from politicians, celebrities, and other prominent public figures are a small part of the false and misleading claims one can come across online in terms of raw volume, but the research during the pandemic shows it accounts for a large share of social media engagement.
- In country after country, reporters have found that official COVID-19 death tolls are far lower than the actual excess deaths recorded during the pandemic .
- And politicians have sometimes promoted supposed coronavirus remedies with no scientific basis.
- Indian Medical Association (IMA) pointed out there was absolutely no evidence for this, just as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare last year came under severe criticism from for recommending a range of unproved, alternative remedies to prevent or treat the disease.
- Some misinformation circulates peer-to-peer on social media and on encrypted messaging services as people share supposed miracle cures and ineffective alternative health tips in good faith or carelessly.
- This can create problems. But arguably, far more problematic is when people in positions of authority and prominent public figures promote measures that have no scientific basis in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Examples from India
- The ayurvedic remedy was launched in June last year by Baba Ramdev’s company, Patanjali Ayurved, claimed the remedy guaranteed “100 per cent recovery from COVID-19 within seven days of consuming the medicine”.
- Hours later, the central government asked Patanjali Ayurved to stop advertising the drug and the Uttarakhand Ayurveda Department responsible for licensing the remedy pointed out the licence was for an immunity booster, not a cure.
- Ramdev’s company falsely claimed Coronil was certified by the World Health Organization (WHO) — a claim WHO immediately pointed out was untrue.
- The promotion and provision of what the IMA describes as an “unscientific medicine” marketed with “false and baseless” claims is an example of how misleading information from prominent public figures and people in positions of authority can lead to bigger problems.
If authorities in India are serious about addressing misinformation, they might take a cue from the fact that much of the Indian public clearly recognise that misinformation often comes from the top, and spend less time worrying about activists, journalists, and Twitter, and more time thinking about how to ensure that citizens can trust that the health remedies promoted by their own governments and by prominent political figures are actually safe and effective.
2) Countering a political act that has a legal garb
GS 2- Fundamental Rights
Context: With sedition cases rising, often solely based on word usage, people need to have a political and legal defence.
What’s the matter?
- Aisha Sultana, a film-maker from Lakshadweep, was recently booked for the alleged offences of sedition and statements prejudicial to national integrity.
- The court allowed interim bail thus got temporary relief from incarceration.
- In Lakshadweep, people have had sedition slapped against them for putting up placards or posters against the Prime Minister.
Background and implications
- In an interview Ms. Sultana said that her “bioweapon remark” was a “mistake” and that she was “entrapped”.
- It seemed like she was partly accusing herself or acknowledging the ‘mistake’ in some way. This self-accusation was, however, unwarranted.
- When the purpose of the sedition law is to curtail opposing ideas, her rescission had the effect of legitimising the state’s wrongful action.
Lessons from history
- The offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was inserted in the Code in 1870.
- In the great trial of 1922, Mahatma Gandhi, charged with sedition, described the provision as “perhaps the prince among the political sections of the IPC designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”
- Gandhi justified his act and said that it was his duty to do so as it is “a sin to have affection for the system (under the British Raj)”.
- This assertion that Gandhiji made in the court was indirectly laid down as the law by the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India in Kedar Nath Singh (1962) which said that incitement to violence is the gist of the offence of sedition.
- Even today, the very registration of crimes against political opponents under the draconian laws is essentially a political act, though it takes a legal form.
- According to the report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), between 2016 and 2019 there was a 160% increase in the registration of sedition cases whereas the conviction rate during this period fell from 33.3% to 3.3%. Thus, the process itself becomes the punishment.
- Therefore, one needs to build up a political defence as well as legal defence against such charges.
A new judicial activism
- But after 2014, cases of sedition are frequently and intentionally registered solely based on words spoken, written, or tweeted. This can have a chilling effect on people’s movements.
- The clear political object behind the invocation of the law is to create an atmosphere of fear. This, in a way, is the price which the country had to pay for the retention of the law of sedition, among other draconian laws.
- The author suggests that Supreme Court of India and the High Courts should take suo motu cognisance of the incidents where the state ostensibly uses draconian laws to suppress criticism and protest.
- The organised Bar, especially at the State level, must perform its libertarian role by constantly demanding for a judiciary that values freedom and acts for it.
23rd June Mains Expected Questions
Q.1) There are multiple schemes addressing malnutrition in India, despite the fact malnutrition remains a challenge for us. What are the possible causes and solutions to the problem. Discuss.
Q.2) The recent advantages of Biotechnology and it’s role in aiding farmers has come under severe critisim from environmental experts. Analyse critically the role of this technology in aiding the farmers.