February saw a barrage of fake news and misleading information that circulated widely on social media. This month, the lead was taken by mainstream media houses. A number of prominent news organisations in both print and television rushed to report news without basic verification and ended up committing a series of gaffes on a number of issues. Alt News has compiled these instances, and more.

1. Aaj Tak falls for parody account

When the social media rage over actress Priya Prakash Varrier was at its peak, a quote by Maulana Atif Qadri was circulated widely, in which Qadri calls for a fatwa against the actress for hurting their sentiment. This quote was picked up by Aaj Tak and senior anchor Anjana Om Kashyap broadcast a show in which she attacked Qadri for his words.

Qadri had never said any such thing. The tweet that was being referred to was from a parody account called TiimesHow (T-I-I-M-E-S H-O-W) and not Times Now. This minor detail somehow completely escaped the channel.

2. Zee News wrongly attributes speech starting with ‘Jai Siya Ram’ to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince

On the day PM Modi landed in Abu Dhabi, Zee News reported, “As PM Narendra Modi lands in UAE, video of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince saying ‘Jai Siya Ram’ goes viral. WATCH”. Other media houses too reported this news.

The person in the video was NOT Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, but Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a United Arab Emirates-based columnist and commentator on Arab affairs. By the time the false news was pulled down, it had already travelled far and wide.

3. News of Sridevi’s death due to heart attack floated by mainstream media

Starting with Times of India, major news publications reported that actress Sridevi had died due to a heart attack, according to the forensic report. We traced the origin of this theory to this tweet by a Times of India journalist.

This news was also reported by Hindustan Times, First post and National Herald. As it turned out, the information was false. The autopsy report conclusively stated that the actress died due to drowning. There was no mention of heart attack. Yet, major news outlets reported it without verifying.

4. Senior BJP leaders spread fake information about missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmed

BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav and BJP Spokesperson Nalin Kohli were among those who spread the information that JNU student Najeeb Ahmad who had gone missing in 2016 had joined ISIS. Rajya Sabha member and senior columnist Swapan Dasgupta too spread this fake news.

It turned out the Najeeb in question who had joined ISIS was not the missing JNU student but 23-year old Najeeb, a student of VIT Vellore who went missing in Kerala in August 2017 and subsequently wrote to his mother that he had joined ISIS. Madhav and Dasgupta later untweeted the false info.

5. Sehwag gives communal colour to Kerala lynching

Former India cricketer Virender Sehwag posted a tweet after the incident of the lynching of a mentally challenged tribal man in Kerala with the words, “Madhu stole 1 kg rice. A mob of Ubaid , Hussain and Abdul Kareem lynched the poor tribal man to death. This is a disgrace to a civilized society and I feel ashamed that this happens and kuch farak nahi padta”.

What Sehwag did not tweet was the names of the other accused, not all of whom were Muslim. This attempt to give a communal colour to the incident was severely criticised on social media, following which Sehwag deleted the tweet and issued an apology. Interestingly, he later deleted his apology as well.

6. Serial faker Prashant P.Umrao spreads fake news about Rajdeep Sardesai’s son

After senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai filed a police complaint against lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao for spreading fake news on social media, the latter accused Sardesai of having secured a medical seat for his son at Manipal University by flouting rules.

As it turned out, this accusation was blatantly false. Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose produced documents that showed their son Ishan Sardesai had gained admission at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal on merit through the ‘General’ quota and not ‘NRI’ quota as alleged by Umrao. This was confirmed by Manipal University in a tweet.

7. MEA shares news about use of Saudi Arabian airspace which is denied by Saudi

“Riyadh allows Air India to use space for Israel flights”, The official Facebook page of Ministry of External Affairs shared this news quoting Israeli daily Haaretz as its source. The news was also widely reported across Indian media and hailed as a ‘historic first’, a ‘diplomatic win’ and ‘a sign of India’s nimble diplomacy in the region’.

MEA had quoted the report of the Israeli daily The Haaretz, which retracted its story four hours after it was published. The headline of the story was changed from “In a historic first, Saudi Arabia allows flights to Israel over its airspace” to “Saudi Arabia denies report of historic approval of flights to Israel using its airspace”. MEA also subsequently deleted their Facebook post.

However, Reuters on March 6, 2018 reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that Saudi Arabia had allowed the use of its airspace to Air India for flights to and from Tel Aviv.

8. Congress Twitter handle conducts poll based on fake news

Will your mobile phone number have 13 digits by the end of the year? This is what the Congress party claimed on Twitter. In a Twitter poll, it asked, “The Department of Telecom (DoT) has issued a directive instructing all telecom operators in the country to start issuing 13-digit mobile numbers later this year. Are you happy with this decision? #IndiaSpeaks” with the options being yes and no.

The truth is that there is no change in the numbering system for retail mobile numbers. The new numbers are to be provided for SIM based Machine To Machine (M2M) communication. It will NOT extend to retail mobile phone numbers, which will continue to operate on 10 digits.

9. Kamal Haasan’s party website registered in tax haven Cayman Islands

Kamal’s party website http://Maiyam.com is registered in Cayman Island.” “Maiyam Cayman Island link, Cayman Island is a Tax Haven, How did Kamal who is fighting Corruption, get people in Tax Haven to register his domain.?” The aforementioned claims vis-a-vis the party website of Kamal Haasan’s newly floated party were made by Hari Prabhakaran who claims to be an AIADMK member.

The allegation was completely baseless as the tweet betrayed ignorance of the basics of domain registration. However, it had been shared hundreds of times on social media.

10. Communal rabble rouser ShankhNaad maligns senior Navi Mumbai police officer

Serial faker and communal rabble rouser ShankhNaad tweeted that no one raised a hue and cry when a police officer in uniform openly promoted the Quran at an event by an Islamic organisation.

Contrary to what ShankhNaad was trying to portray, the event by the organisation Salaam Center had stressed on religious harmony, unity and brotherhood. It was attended by Hindu spiritual leader Swami Lakshmi Shankaracharya, among others. Shankhnaad also tried to malign Salaam Centre claiming it to be a ‘Jihadi’ organisation. As it turns out, this organisation is frequented by many politicians and celebrities of all hues.

11. ‘Chinese’ declared an official language of Pakistan

On February 19, news reports emerged that Pakistan has declared Mandarin as one of its official languages. This information was first put out by the Pakistani news channel Abb Takk news. A number of Indian media houses too reported it.

The news turned out to be fake. The Pakistani senate had not passed any such resolution declaring Mandarin as an official language of the country. What had transpired instead was that the Pakistani parliament had passed a motion to offer Chinese Language courses for Pakistani students in order to enhance communication, reduce communication gaps and secure jobs under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

12. Conspiracy theory on Ankit Saxena’s murder

Ankit Saxena was murdered by the family of the girl he was in love with. The incident occurred in Delhi in February. Shortly thereafter, a conspiracy theory began doing the rounds of social media stating that the murder of Ankit Saxena was the handiwork of Hindutva elements, and that no Muslim family lived in the neighbourhood where the murder took place. This theory which was floated by Amaresh Misra who is a politician from U.P was reported by some publications.

The post was replete with falsehoods. The claims made in the post were contradicted by reports published by The Hindustan Times, Times of India and Indian Express. Alt News had published a detailed article debunking the theory, which can be read here.

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About the Author

Arjun Sidharth is a writer with Alt News. He has previously worked in the television news industry, where he managed news bulletins and breaking news scenarios, apart from scripting numerous prime time television stories. He has also been actively involved with various freelance projects. Sidharth has studied economics, political science, international relations and journalism. He has a keen interest in books, movies, music, sports, politics, foreign policy, history and economics. His hobbies include reading, watching movies and indoor gaming.