Prime Minister Modi made a faux pas while addressing the plenary session of the World Economic Forum at Davos. For some reason he wanted to inform his international audience about the number of people who voted his government to power and got the number wildly wrong. “In 2014, after 30 years, the 600 crore voters in India provided complete majority to any political party to form government at the Centre.” While bragging about his historic mandate, Mr. Prime Minister dropped the 600 crore (6 billion) number out of the blue. India’s population is 130 crore (1.3 billion) and the number of voters who voted his party to power is only a fraction of this number. Maybe he read the speech on the teleprompter wrong or for those who like to believe it was an extempore speech, maybe it was a slip of tongue. Either way, the audience knew it was an inadvertent error. What we are discussing here is not a small error, but Indian media’s surprising reaction to it.

The erroneous figure was tweeted and promptly deleted by the Prime Minister’s office. Indian media was reporting the speech verbatim and ended up tweeting the 600 crore number. Let us see how they reacted after discovering the error.

Those who deleted it…

It was not a mistake by the media but an unintentional slip by the prime minister. Yet several media like ANI, Economic Times, Aaj Tak decided to impose self-censorship and deleted the tweet. They did this knowing that the video is available and so are the screenshots of their tweets.

Aaj Tak however carried a story on its website about PM Modi’s slip of tongue. The same was the case with Firstpost Hindi. Times of India also reported PM Modi’s faux pas next day.

Those who didn’t….

There were others like Hindustan Times, Deccan Herald, DNA and Republic who stood their ground. The PM’s statement was reported the way it was made and no attempt was made to delete or cover-up after realizing that the PM had made an error.

Those who went a step further and changed speech…

Yes, believe it or not, there were those who decided to edit the error and report what the Prime Minister did not actually say.

ANI replaced their original tweet with this one.

Others like First Post reported the revised ANI version.

When India was ranked a lowly 136 in the 2017 Press Freedom Index, one of the reasons stated for it was the growing self-censorship in mainstream media. Here we see an example of media shying away even from reporting a statement from the Prime Minister’s speech because it contained an inadvertent error. PM Modi made an error that was televised the world over and is available as a video recording. Yet some sections of the media are purging all reference to it and others including a leading national news agency are bending backwards to cover-up the error. A simple faux pas has exposed Indian media’s fear of criticising the government or portraying it in a negative light.