There is no doubt that the rumour-mongering has been exacerbated by official silence.

Jayalalithaas health Lack of transparency doesnt justify rabid rumour mongering and fraud
news Opinion Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 14:59

It has been nearly three weeks since Tamil Nadu CM Jayalalithaa was admitted to Apollo Hospital for ‘fever and dehydration’, and this period has been, perhaps, among the toughest for the different pillars of our democracy in the state in recent years.  We now know that her health problems are not as simple as they were initially made out to be, but that has only been a product of logical inferences and credible ‘leaks’ from a few in the establishment.

The track-record of the Jayalalithaa government in information transparency has always been piteous, and her stint at Apollo is the best illustration of that. There has been no clear communication to the people from the government. All official information on her health has come only through press releases from Apollo, which are cleverly worded and, barring one or two, have revealed very less. Even today, it is difficult to say with absolute certainty as to whether Jayalalithaa is capable of discharging her Constitutional duty.

On The News Minute, writers have repeatedly held, as you can read here and here, that it is well within our right to know if she capable of being the CM, and that there must be more transparency in the government.

But nothing, not even the AIADMK and TN Government’s absolute secrecy rooted in their sycophantic devotion to her, is any justification for the absolute irresponsibility with which large sections of the public and some sections of the media have peddled rumours.

Over the weeks, in the digital rumour-lands of the state, she has been repeatedly declared dead or brain dead, and later brought back to life, a‘special machine’ worth Rs. 5cr has been bought to save her, or was even taken abroad for treatment through the back gate of the hospital.

Worse, here are some things people have cooked up on the internet:

Created a fake photo of Jayalalithaa inside the ICU.

Created a fake audio clip of nurses talking to each other about her health.

Created a fake audio clip of two DMK men plotting to spread the news of her death.

Created a fake audio clip of paranoid AIADMK men stating that she is dead.

Created a fake audio clip of Jayalalithaa herself, ‘addressing the people of Tamil Nadu’.

And this is just the shortlist.

While there is no doubt that the rumour-mongering has been exacerbated by official silence, what justifies malicious propaganda and fraud?

On Monday, the TN police arrested two persons for such mischief, and both of them have been accused of uploading fake audio clips and spreading false information in the digital space.

Their specific involvement could be questioned based on facts, these ‘rumours’ cannot be dismissed as just products of the establishment’s non-transparency.

We are living in the Age of WhatsApp, and our proclivity to spread misinformation, be it with specific motives or just for fun, is perhaps at an all-time high.

It isn’t just Jayalalithaa’s health which has fed rumour mills. After the Uri attacks, there were several rumours spread on ‘revenge attacks’.

During the Chennai floods last year, malicious text messages and pictures were circulated, and as journalists, much of our time and effort was wasted in just busting them.

As a people, and as journalists, we have to understand our duties as responsible citizens. When subject to non-transparency, our response cannot and should not be rumour-mongering, but asking for more information. Had there been enough public and media pressure to get more clarity on Jayalalithaa’s health, it would have been fruitful. But to dismiss the rumour epidemic as a result of scarce information would be absolving ourselves of our own responsibility. It’s true that the TN government cracks down on criticism coming through official channels, but that doesn’t make justify rumour-mongering by any stretch of imagination. 

 

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