Let us be blunt about it. Democracy is today in a state of vulnerability. And it is because of the many-pronged assaults which it has lately been facing from such quarters as militancy of the religious as well as politically rightwing kind. The rise of extremism across large swathes of the globe has for the first time in a very long time pushed democratic governance into corners earlier unimaginable.
And that is not all. A far greater and more potent threat to democracy has of late been coming from what has now come to be known as fake news. Add to that the sinister reality of hate speech, which has been assuming larger dimensions in these past few years. Last week, under the auspices of Cosmos Foundation, deliberations related to fake news and hate speech were revealing of the negative trends which have been undermining, indeed subverting the concept of democracy, to the extent that there is now a dire possibility of true news taking a backseat amid the onslaught of what is false and resting on hate.
One does not quite have to name the countries --- and they are around us and also quite removed from us geographically --- where fake news, often promoted through partisan and parochial politics as well as prejudiced journalism, has been gaining a toehold in the popular imagination. The result has been a blurring of the lines between the real and the fake. Compounding the situation has been hate speech, to a point where the spirit of tolerance and free speech which have for generations underpinned democracy have systematically been pushed into a dark corner. Deliberate attempts are being hate to incite people into paroxysms of hate based on religious and political obscurantism. The deliberations at the Cosmos Foundation lecture, the first in its Distinguished Speakers’ Series, were therefore a necessary move toward drawing attention to the problem. More importantly, the theme of fake news and hate speech was a powerful statement on the need to roll back these dark realities through creating increased awareness among people all over the world of the dangers which have crept up to our doors.
There are, of course, the many factors behind the rise of hate speech. There could be subtle grounds for fake news to try to supplant true news. All of these will need looking into, for the good reason that they must not lead to a derailment of political pluralism. If the central idea in today’s world is a greater degree of globalisation, it naturally follows that hard and harsh moves must be made to clamp down on fake news and hate speech by governments and civil societies everywhere.
Democracy is an ever expansive affair. Let it not be circumscribed or wounded by the false and the intolerant.