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Create web portals to fight fake news on COVID-19: MHA to state governments

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has asked states to create a web portal at state-level on the lines of the one at the Centre to help people “verify facts and unverified news” on COVID-19 promptly.

The direction came in a letter Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla wrote to Chief Secretaries of States and Administrators of Union Territories, days after Supreme Court asked the government to take effective measures to check the spread of fake news on COVID-19.

“It has been communicated that the Government of India is creating a web-portal for people to verify facts and unverified news promptly. States and union territories have been requested to create a similar mechanism at their level for issues relating to them,” Bhalla said.

In the letter, Bhalla has asked the states to submit an Action Taken Report (ATR) so that the MHA could apprise the Supreme Court about the measures taken when the next hearing takes place on April 7.

While hearing a petition, the Supreme Court took serious note of the panic created by fake news leading to a mass movement of migrant labourers. This has lead to untold suffering to these people, the apex court had observed.

A number of messages circulated on WhatsApp regarding buses being arranged at Delhi border for them to be taken to their home states had led to an unprecedented exodus of migrant labourers in the capital last week.

Besides this, there are also messages of unverified medicines and treatment and those creating panic among people about COVID-19, which are not substantiated by facts.

The Press Information Bureau, the central government’s media arm, has started a dedicated page for COVID-19 tweets by the government, which can be accessed on their website here or on Twitter handle @COVIDNewsByMIB. It also has a multilingual webpage for PIB press peleases as well as a fact-checking page. Separately, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has welcomed the Supreme Court order and said it agreed that the media should report responsibly and weed out any fake news in social media while telecasting news on COVID-19. NBA President Rajat Sharma said in a statement that the daily bulletin by the government through all media avenues, including social media and fora, will be made available to clear the doubts of people. “This would help media immensely to clarify their doubts and enable them to do accurate reporting. NBA appreciates that the Supreme Court has acknowledged the freedom of the press and has stated that it does not intend to interfere with the free discussion, debate and coverage about the pandemic,” Sharma said.

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