Regional Conference on Dis-Information and Propaganda in International Relations (2023)

The annual regional conference organized by the Consortium of South Asian Think Tanks (COSATT) at Colombo, Sri Lanka in partnership with the Regional Center for Strategic Studies (RCSS) and the Political Dialogue Asia Programme of the Konrad Adenaur Stiftung (KAS), commencing on the 14th of March and concluding on the 15th of March 2023.

The key welcome address was delivered by Dr Nishchal N Pandey, director and convener for COSATT with the welcome remarks being delivered by Mr Andreas Klein, Director of the Political Dialogue Asia Programme of KAS. The keynote address was delivered by Dr Jehan Perera who highlighted upon the need to counter hate speech and false propaganda, a situation which was greatly exacerbated following the Easter bombings of 2019 which saw the development of suspicion and prejudice towards the Muslim community owing to the spread of misinformation and rumors pertaining to the latter.

The first session was on the topic Fake News and Propaganda-The Political Interconnection which was chaired by Professor Amal Jayawardane. The respective panelists included Dr George Cooke, initiator of the Awarelogue Intiative, Colombo who presented on the Sri Lankan case study pertaining to the dissemination of fake news and and failed narratives in post conflict Sri Lanka; Ms Avishka Ashoka, research associate from the National Institute of Advanced Studies who presented the Indian case study with particular emphasis on the detrimental impact as to the use of electronic media (the internet) during the Covid 19 pandemic ; Mr Bhusan Dahal, a senior journalist from Kathmandu, who presented on the Nepali case study highlighting upon  spread of fake news relating to the Nepali Royal family massacre; Mr Khathima Yoosuf from the Dhiyarej media who presented on the Maldivian case study.

The second session was on the topic of Disinformation and New Technology: responsibilities and challenges, which was chaired by Professor Maneesha Wanasinghe Pasquel. The respective panelists included professor S. Chaminda Padmakumara, Head of the department of International Relations at the University of Colombo, who presented on the Sri Lankan case study; Ms Saloni Singh founder of Didi Bahini and former member of the National Planning Commission who presented on the Nepali case study utilizing her practical experience in the national media sphere; Mr Sameer Patil, senior fellow from the Observer Research who presented on the Indian case study with special emphasis on the legal measures in Indian in regulating the harmful spread of dis-information, mis-information and mal-information and holding those accountable for the spread of such harmful content.

The third session focused on the topic Defining Media Ethics and Fact Checking. The session was chaired by Professor Nayani Melagoda. The respective presentations were presented by Dr. Rabia Akhtar, Director, Centre for Security, Strategy and Policy Research, University of Lahore who presented on the Pakistani case study, a country which is no stranger to the cause of concern, being  a constant target of defamation and malignment due to the fake propaganda ; Aanifa Hussain Siraj, Dhiyarej Media who presented on the state of affairs pertaining to media ethics in the Maldives; Dr. Vaishali Raghuvanshi, assistant professor from the Department of Political Science, Benaras Hindu University, Varanasi who presented on the Indian case study with specific emphasis on the detrimental effects of the pandemic on media ethics bringing forth the novel concept of ‘WhatsApp University’ in spreading mal-information, dis-information and mis-information albeit distinguishing the differences between the aforesaid types of fake news and propaganda.

The concluding remarks were delivered by Dr. Nishchal N. Pandey, Mr. Andreas Klein and Proffesor Nayani Melegoda all of whom highlighted upon the detrimental impact that fake news and propaganda has had upon society, an endemic cause of concern that was exacerbated with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and the importance of platforms such as the aforesaid conference facilitates the changing of perceptions pertaining to the receiving and perception of news and information circulating in the media sphere. 

Harini Weerasinghe