Counteracting spread of false information | Sunday Observer

Counteracting spread of false information

28 February, 2021

Misinformation is simply described as; incorrect, false, and misleading information spread deliberately to harm someone. In politics, sinister information can be fabricated as news and can be delivered to the public as disinformation. Such news is always unethical, malicious, and detrimental. The incumbent government is compelled to confront a barrage of misrepresented and sometimes fabricated news spread by the parties with vested interests to discredit every action taken by the government.

Throughout the previous Yahapalana government, under a weak, petty, and insecure leadership the country witnessed inefficiency, deceit, fraud, and frequent lame decision making. Right from the birth of the then government, the general public also have observed political victimisation and attempts to derail the democratic process to the whims and fancies of a few who were looking for political mileage or financial gains.

The irony is that the present opposition is acting as if they have no clue about what has transpired during the period of their administration. They have not been able to keep the country in the proper path in any sphere amidst distrust, fear of backstabbing and political rivalry prevailed at the top level. The coalition was a complete flop from the beginning of their term.

On more than one occasion, it was revealed by none other than the then President himself that severe differences of opinion existed throughout the period. Although many of them attempted to conceal the disturbing facts at the time, the general public was aware of the tug of war inside the government. Due to the obvious incompetence of the previous government, the vast majority of the general public was completely disgruntled so they offered a clear mandate to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Corrupt actions such as the Central Bank Bond scam have further distanced voters from them. The Opposition calling him a candidate with inadequate political experience was grossly neglected by the masses. Hence, the country outvoted the ruling government by sizeable margins, three times in a row within a period of two years.


The Easter Sunday bombing incident made the entire country feel insecure about the obvious weakness of yahapalana administration. People placed trust in the leadership of candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa believing that he will set things right for the benefit of the country. Besides, his election manifesto, ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ was an exceptionally attractive, effective, and pragmatic document.

Regrettably, barely three months into President Rajapaksa’s election to office came the worst disaster the world has confronted in recent history, the Covid-19 pandemic. Then the country witnessed the President’s non-political, robust, and timely decision-making from the beginning of this grueling health issue. Despite what his critics say, moves such as deploying the military machinery, appointing Presidential Task Forces, lockdowns on health authority advice were extremely effective and timely. Such moves prevented the spread of the virus successfully at first instance. People can clearly imagine what would have happened if they had to face such a demanding issue during the period of the previous regime.

In contrast, as disclosed by the media during the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday attacks, the previous government even with many warnings by both local and international intelligence agencies had not taken proper action to prevent the disaster. The ardent critics of the present administration were part of the said failed government, most of them were also cabinet members, and yet none of them are prepared to take responsibility of this grave mistake. Instead, they criticize any move by the government’s attempts to bring the culprits to justice.

These dubious politicians, more than once, attempted to derail the investigation proceedings by spreading false information from time to time and blaming others including respected clergy.

However, despite various calls by several interested parties such as the Catholic Church and the Attorney General, the Presidential Secretariat has not yet released the copies. The public deserves an explanation on the matter and the delay provided the opposition an opportunity to launch scathing attacks.

Sensitive information

This writer has witnessed a senior official in the Presidential legal unit offering a reasonable and credible justification in a recent television interview. The official explained that the document is 100,000 pages including attachments that contains extremely sensitive information on national security, regional and international politics, racial harmony, religious issues, and so forth. Therefore, clearly, no leader of a state anywhere in the world will release such a sensitive paper without completely and comprehensively studying the contents. That was a simple but an understandable and effective explanation.

Similarly, from the beginning of March last year they kept spreading misinformation about Covid-19. Even when the truth was obvious, the opposition that had no credible slogan to criticise the government, pointed at every petty issue to discredit the government and health authorities. Without any knowledge or experience about the disease or medications, they went as far as recommending the wrong medicine to patients just to show off false ingenuity.

Even after the vaccines were first ordered, the Opposition politicians attempted to convince the public that the government is not making any effort to bring down them. When the authorities commenced the vaccination programme without credible evidence, they tried hard to create doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine. President Rajapaksa constantly states that his government is doing the right thing for the people at the right time despite criticisms leveled at him. The present government, regardless of the exhausting health issues and the extremely critical economic downturn, does not seem to be postponing any development effort. The key issue and the focal point is whether the response of the government is adequate, timely, or effective on the spread of misinformation. Surely, they must be having a strong media team comprising professionals. However, these misinformation campaigns by collective Opposition through press briefings, social media, gossip websites, and even the mainstream print and electronic media seem to be far ahead of the government’s counteraction.

The government’s counter-action on many of the negative propaganda is mediocre and often late. The vigour and efficiency of media response during the presidential election campaign has disappeared. The government stakeholders must realise that merely responding through political talk shows or isolated press briefings is not effective enough. Currently, the trust of the general public in such publicity stunts has tremendously diminished.

The good news for the ruling party is that the common citizens seem to overwhelmingly trust the President as a non-political, honest, and forthright individual. The relentless attempts to tarnish his image have not succeeded. Yet, with the habitual Sri Lankan mentality, the Presidential media team must be alert on countering destructive propaganda. President Gotabaya Rajapkasa still seems to be taking a soft stance on many issues even though he has been conferred with considerable powers through the 20th amendment.

Enormous impact

Although controversial, applying some of the Machiavellian theories now and again may bring results and the common citizen too may be expecting such action. Despite the occasional lame criticisms, the enormous impact created in the ‘Dialog With the Village’ (Gama samaga pilisandara) programme can offer solutions to many public welfare issues at the grassroots.

However, the issue is that whether his directives and instructions are being carried out by the public officers. If they falter as they often do, the public image can be reversed and damage to the President’s image will be detrimental. Therefore, an effective monitoring process must be in place. The Opposition is already vehemently criticizing and they will observe the programs like hawks to strike whenever they can.

Finally, the government must take effective action on negative propaganda and misinformation, particularly circulating in social media. People usually like to listen to negative comments on common issues even if those critics belong to fast-fading left wing political parties that oppose any and every move made by the government. Hence, they must be given the accurate picture at all times. Therefore, the best remedy would be to make the government media team more active, efficient, and aggressive.