On 7 December 2023, BOOM Live convened a virtual discussion on "Fact-Checking in the North East" as a pivotal step in the formation of a North-East Fact Alliance. Panellists Tridip Mandal, Creative Head of The Quint, Karma Paljor, Editor-In-Chief of EastMojo, and Sanskrita Bharadwaj, freelance journalist, delved into their experiences of fact-checking in the North-East and the numerous challenges it presents.
A consensus emerged that fact-checking efforts are often isolated and not prioritised by traditional news outlets. The discussion unearthed fundamental factors contributing to the scarcity of fact-based journalism in this volatile region.
As Karma Paljor noted, the numbers in the North-East are not enough to convince publishers or investors to bring in revenue. “They think we can’t scale and it’s the lack of revenue that impedes us from investing in people or technology,” he explained.
Extending the argument further, Paljor said that the diversity of multiple tribes within the region, alongside language and dialectical barriers added to the existing revenue crunch, making the North-East a difficult region to pierce by outsiders.
Tridip Mandal agreed that a robust stringers network is necessary to overcome these barriers. “It’s difficult to parachute into the region. We must pay local stringers for their inputs so they’re more encouraged to help us with fact-checking,” he argued.
Both speakers acknowledged the general reluctance of publications to invest in fact-checking in the North-East due to its geographical distance from the mainstream hubs. Tridip believes that most national media outlets would refrain from investing in North-East correspondents, let alone fact-checkers. "However, the recent Manipur crisis underscored the importance of fact-checking networks," he remarked.
Freelance journalist Sanskrita Bharadwaj admitted that publisher attitudes affect freelancers. “When the Manipur (crisis) happened, I was asked to cover it by many publishers, but most stated they would not be able to give me a travel budget.” According to Bharadwaj, a freelancer’s travel accessibility is already hampered by the lack of press cards or obvious association with news networks.
Bharadwaj stressed the need for a support system for a journalist. While staffers have an editor’s support, freelancers face the risk of being by themselves. “Journalists and activists were already being slapped with UAPA for their work. It could’ve been me and I would have no one to fall back on,” she continued.
So what’s the way forward for fact-checkers in the North-East?
Karma Paljor provided a valuable suggestion: be present to conduct fact-checking or rely on local talent. Earlier there was no push for fact-checking in the North-East because they thought there didn’t exist any. “But now, as more and more are coming out in numbers, they know to not believe everyone,” he added.
Echoing Karma, Bharadwaj said, “Locals must ensure fair representation of the many tribes…there is a homogenisation of the North-East; they’re treated as one unit.”
Tridip also suggested developing a network of citizen journalists. “Local media schools could help us train citizens to fact-check,” said Mandal. But to keep citizen journalists interested and motivated, it’s important to also regularly pick up stories from them. But this requires commitment from national media, which has largely been absent.
The discussion concluded with a call for collaboration among various stakeholders, including fact-checkers, journalists, media outlets, and citizen groups, to foster a more robust fact-checking ecosystem in the North-East. By addressing the identified challenges and implementing innovative strategies, fact-checkers can play a pivotal role in combating misinformation and promoting informed decision-making in the region.
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