The Urgency of Promoting Fact-Checking and Media Literacy in Bangladesh

Nazmul Haque | 26 April 2023
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Misinformation in journalism has serious consequences, including the erosion of public trust in institutions, the endangerment of public health, and the undermining the democratic process. In the following opinion piece, I will discuss the impact of misinformation on the people of Bangladesh, as highlighted by Hossain and Haque (2023), and emphasize the significance of fact-checking and media literacy in mitigating the effect of misinformation. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how much misinformation can threaten public health. In Bangladesh, Hossain and Haque (2023) demonstrate the role of social media in disseminating misinformation, resulting in distress, anxiety, and a loss of faith in government and health institutions. The pandemic fostered the growth of conspiracy theories, unproven home remedies, and false narratives, fuelled by social media's pervasiveness and a widespread lack of media literacy. As a result, people resort to unproven medications, disregard public health guidelines, and even engage in violent behavior due to this misinformation (The Daily Star, 2017)—using unproven medications, risky visuals, and overburdening. Disregarding public health regulations hinders efforts to control the virus's spread, prolonging the pandemic and its devastating effects.

In addition, misinformation has resulted in scapegoating and violence against communities falsely accused of spreading the virus. As authorities struggle to suppress the unrest and dispel rumors, this erodes social cohesion and trust in the government. As a result, the social fabric becomes stressed, and the potential for lasting injury to social harmony increases. The COVID-19 pandemic in Bangladesh has revealed the fragility of public trust in institutions and the urgent need to combat the epidemic of misinformation through fact-checking and media literacy initiatives. The threat of misinformation extends beyond public health crises, as evidenced by the possibility of disinformation influencing election outcomes and manipulating public opinion (The Daily Star, 2021). The integrity of democratic processes is at stake, highlighting the imperative of combating journalism misinformation. In order to resolve this difficulty, fact-checking is an indispensable instrument. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has acknowledged the importance of robust fact-checking in Asia, as it can effectively mitigate the effect of disinformation (IFJ, 2023). Fact-checking helps to verify the veracity of information before it reaches the public, fostering public confidence in journalism and promoting well-informed decisions.

In Bangladesh, efforts have been made to advance fact-checking to prevent the spread of misinformation. For instance, the "Fact Watch" project seeks to train journalists in fact-checking and increase public awareness of the dangers of fake news (IFJ, 2023). This initiative aims to establish a nationwide network of fact-checkers, providing additional scrutiny for online content. By providing journalists with the skills and resources necessary to verify information, the initiative contributes to disseminating only accurate and trustworthy news. In addition, a fact-checking network also serves as a deterrent for those tempted to disseminate false information, as they know their claims will be quickly debunked. 

However, verification of facts alone is insufficient. It is essential to equip citizens to distinguish between fact and fiction. Individuals must be taught through media literacy programs how to evaluate information critically, identify reliable sources, and recognize the role of confirmation bias in news consumption (CGS, n.d.). Media literacy education should be incorporated into the school curriculum, focusing on young people who are frequently the most ardent digital information consumers. Workshops and seminars can also be held for adults, focusing on debunking standard misinformation techniques and providing suggestions for evaluating the credibility of sources. People will be better equipped to navigate the complex digital information landscape by cultivating a culture of skepticism and critical thinking. Encouraging citizens to question the information they encounter and engage in open dialogue can cultivate an environment where accuracy and veracity are prioritized over sensationalism and clickbait. This will increase the demand for quality journalism while decreasing the appetite for false news. 

In addition, government agencies, media organizations, and civil society must work together to combat the multifaceted nature of misinformation. Promoting transparency, accountability, and ethical journalism can contribute to developing a more robust information ecosystem where misinformation is less likely to spread. While fact-checking initiatives such as the "Fact Watch" project are essential in Bangladesh's struggle against disinformation, it is equally important to invest in media literacy programs that equip citizens to become discerning information consumers. Bangladesh can effectively combat the misinformation epidemic and safeguard the citizens from the harmful effects of fake news by utilizing fact-checking, media literacy education, and stakeholder collaboration.

Nonetheless, misinformation in journalism has significant consequences for public health, institutional trust, and democratic processes. Bangladesh's experience with the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the potentially catastrophic effects of widespread misinformation, which can endanger lives, erode trust in authorities, and destabilize societies. Checking facts is essential. Fact-checking contributes to a culture of accuracy, credibility, and transparency within the media landscape by rigorously verifying information and holding journalists and media organizations accountable. This strengthens the public's trust in journalism as a dependable source of information, enabling individuals to make decisions based on facts instead of fallacies. Efforts to promote fact-checking and media literacy initiatives in Bangladesh are crucial for combating the proliferation of fake news and ensuring that citizens are well-informed and able to make sound decisions. In addition, strengthening the fact-checking infrastructure through initiatives such as "Fact Watch" is essential for establishing a national network of journalists committed to upholding journalistic integrity.

In the meantime, media literacy initiatives that teach citizens to evaluate information sources critically, identify bias, and verify claims prior to sharing can contribute to developing a more discerning and engaged public. However, fact-checkers and media literacy programs cannot win the war against false information alone. It necessitates a comprehensive approach incorporating collaboration between government agencies, media organizations, civil society, and individual citizens, all of whom have a role in fostering a responsible information ecosystem. By collaborating, these parties can foster an atmosphere where truth and accuracy are prioritized, and the influence of false news is diminished. Managing the crisis requires promoting fact-checking and media literacy and reinforcing the fand. By confronting this issue head-on, Bangladesh can protect its public health, bolster trust in its institutions, and shield its democratic processes from the insidious effects of misinformation.

Nazmul Haque is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS). Mr. Haque is currently pursuing his Master’s in Philanthropic Studies at Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI, Indianapolis, USA. He is working as a graduate assistant at Muslim Philanthropic Initiative (MPI) and assisting the research team of MPI. He is also an executive member of South Asia Centre for Labour Mobility and Migrants (SALAM), a knowledge hub supported by International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN WOMEN. Mr. Haque has co-authored numerous articles (, policy briefs and also coordinated numerous research.

Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.