‘Government to issue protest cards, only those with valid cards may protest’ declares one. ‘Greek Delegation visits New Delhi to study direct democracy from AAP’ harps another. ‘New eye-patches available in the market for men who say women should not wear short clothes’ states a third.
It isn’t difficult to guess that these are headlines of news stories. But one may fail to notice that none of them are true. In fact, all are fictional headlines of fake news reports fabricated by online portals that go by the moniker of ‘news satire websites’.
News satire, also famous as fake news, is a type of parody where fictional content is packaged in the form of a mainstream news story and the style of writing borders on the sarcastic and farcical. It has been around as long as conventional journalism but it is only post-2007 that it gained currency in India. The growing preference for online content has only added to its tremendous popularity among the average Indian news reader.
Today India has a number of websites like Faking News, UnReal Times, News That Matters Not, Mocking Now, Farzi News, and The Indian Satire which stoke the readers’ interest in current affairs and cater to their sense of humour.
Shree D. N., Associate Editor at Citizen Matters, a Bangalore based online news magazine says that she follows satirical news websites as they provide a totally different approach and outlook to a story. Shikha Singh, Assistant Producer at Communication Resource Centre, Hyderabad concurs, “Websites such as Faking news break the monotony of views and present those that are not popular in the mainstream media.”
Most of the satirical websites claim to be independent of any corporate or government influence. They provide content for the sake of plain humour and to serve as ‘alternate conscience keepers’. Shree believes that such independence is necessary. “Often, I have observed that websites that are not [independent] end up targeting certain parties, for example Faking News (which is associated with First Post). In that case you may see the satire bending towards one political ideology and favouring another party or person. Sometimes it’s very obvious.”
Yunus Lasania, a reporter at The Hindu also doubts if websites are truly independent. “It all depends on who owns it. I can own a website, right? I can let reporters write anything they want. But for all I know someone in the website may know someone from a party and they may not write about them.”
However, he appreciates the way in which these stories are written. “Online news reports need to be catchier to hold the readers’ attention. And the fact that many people read them means that they are actually doing something right.”
Mocking News encapsulates the spirit of their website thus, “the ‘other’ side of what happens, and ‘a’ side of what doesn’t”. But more often than not average readers cannot distinguish between hard news and satire, feels Shree. “It looks like serious news and people often mistake it to be so if they are not familiar with the genre of satire.”
According to Shikha, news satires are becoming popular because they use the very jargon of journalism to mock mainstream media. But while they do have the potential to change the dynamics of reading news on the web she feels that people need to develop a certain sense of humour to understand satire.
Yunus says that Facebook has been instrumental in making people aware of these sites. “I don’t have the time to go looking for the sites. But if there is something on Fb, I go read it… Fb is where everything comes together. As long as there is social networking they will be fine,” he adds.
They mock society, take a dig at politics, parody social trends and construct spoofs out of real news. For them, it is ‘social commentary’ and ‘constructive criticism’. Think what you may; they are funny, satirical to the extreme and make no bones about being so!