Breaking (fake) news: Sections of Indian media acquit Lalu Prasad Yadav before convicting him

Here we go again. In a rush to break the news, multiple news outlets got it wrong and reported Lalu Yadav’s acquittal in the fodder scam case. It was a “big relief for RJD chief” flashed the India Today news alert. Times Now reported the same as “Big Story” and the same was shared by their sister publication, Economic Times. Janta Ka Reporter, Aaj Tak, Navbharat Times and Rajasthan Patrika were some of the others that carried the fake news. The red faced publications quickly changed their headlines when it emerged that Lalu Yadav was convicted and not acquitted.

Facts have little place in this mad rush among media outlets to break news. Even before the judgment was announced, the breaking news industry had pronounced its verdict. Within minutes the same “news” was carried by others without bothering to cross check the facts on their own.

Here is the hall of shame:

BJP Delhi spokesperson picked on the Janta Ka Reporter story calling its editor Rifat Jawaid an AAP spokesperson. Jawaid retaliated by name calling and asking what about the others who reported the same incorrect news. However, this whataboutery doesn’t reflect well. The answer from the media cant be that others have done it too.

Janta ka Reporter later explained that there was utter confusion in court “when the court’s acquittal of Mishra was misconstrued as the acquittal of Yadav.”

Is that really a good enough excuse? Weren’t there other journalists on the ground who waited patiently to confirm the facts before rushing to tweet?

Milind Khandekar, Managing Editor at ABP clarified that it was the acquittal of IPS Natarajan that was mistaken as that of Lalu Yadav.

The age of “breaking news” has left no space for verifying facts. The real time model is actually in direct conflict with fact checking. Interestingly, BBC in a re-prioritizing exercise has focused on creating what is called “slow news journalism”. It has meant “moving away from pursuing every incremental breaking news update toward publishing fewer but more thoroughly contextualized in-depth stories, as well as more short data visualization pieces.” A US magazine by the name of Delayed Gratification published by the Slow Journalism Company actually prides itself in being the “last to breaking news”. The publication revisits the news to see what happened after the dust settled and the news agenda moved on. This may still be a long shot for Indian media organizations that are still caught in the 24X7 cycle of bombarding their audience with one breaking news after another. Till our media decides to pause and verify before it breaks the news, we will continue to be assaulted by this all too familiar sequence of breaking news followed by a realization of the gaffe and a subsequent retraction.

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