Fake news has lately spurred many cases of violence around India. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have introduced new policies to fight fake news but TV news channels also have a big role to combat fake news, according to Shereen Bhan, managing editor and anchor CNBC-TV18.
She says: "We have a very rigorous process; every piece of information that the channel puts out, is put through several checks to ensure it is factually accurate. Every piece of information goes through a senior editor or a group of senior editors and is only broadcast after due process.
"We are absolutely clear that we will not compromise on accuracy over speed. If the two can go together then that is great and it is our constant endeavour to break the stories first, but it is our absolute effort to ensure that the stories we are break are authentic and right."
According to Assocham, Indians are spending more time on social media than on newspapers and TV. Meanwhile, Google has rolled out a program to train Indian journalists on how to debunk fake news. Whether social media has taken over news channels in India, Shereen disagrees.
She says: "I don’t believe social media has taken over news channels; it really depends on how a newsroom operates. I don’t believe social media can or should set the agenda for a news organization. For instance, any news or issue that might be very big on Twitter may not be relevant to a large section of the audience in the country. I think the responsibility is on the editors to exercise discretion, to use inputs from social media but not to be driven entirely by what is making news on social media.
"We look at what’s happening on social media and what people are talking about, we look at it from a perspective of being able to draw in ideas but we don’t use it to set the news agenda. Social media has given us the ability to engage with our audience and get feedback in real time. Often this helps us understand what is working what is not. Social media has also given us the ability to reach out to the much younger audience and has diversified our audience mix as well."
As per the GroupM futures report ‘This Year, Next Year’ (TYNY) 2018, which forecasted India’s advertising investment to reach an estimated Rs. 69,346 crores this year. This represents a growth of 13% for the calendar year 2018 over the corresponding period in 2017.
How important has advertising and branding become for news channels? Shereen emphasizes that it's fundamental but that advertising can't fix a bad product or service.
"I have always believed that no amount of advertising or marketing can make a bad product a success. I believe that fundamentally you need to have a product that is relevant, unique and differentiated. The effort should be to stand out on the basis of editorial integrity, and addresses gaps in the market, which is something that we at CNBC-TV18 have always focused on. Our main effort has been to ensure that we check all of those boxes and once we do that then advertising and marketing follows through.
"Our focus has always been to create a channel that has a distinct identity, high on specialization. I truly believe that in a commoditized and competitive market, specialization is the key and that is what we have always tried to improve upon. We have tried to be the best in business news and we have proved that over the last 17 years. Today we have an almost 70 % share of the English Business news market, this is a testament of our brand."
Recently, a UK House of Commons report on fake news listed India and how the activities of two firms – SCL and Cambridge Analytica scandal – impacted Indian elections.