On 14 Feb, 2018, senior anchor at Aaj Tak Anjana Om Kashyap began her programme Halla Bol by saying, “Yeh aaj ki sadi ka Hindustan hai, ek 18 saal ki ladki raato raat puri duniya mein chha gai, deewangi ka asar ye hota hai ki karoro log video share kar lete hain. Lekin iss bich kuch logo ko ye gawara nahin aur woh iske khilaf police shikayat kar lete hain, chetavni jari kar dete hain, baat kar rahe hain Priya Varrier ki jiske baare mein kuch maulanao ko ye apatti hai ki uske gaane se islam ka apmaan hua hai. Maulana Qadri ye keh rahe hain ki jaw woh namaz ke liye aakhen bandh karte hain toh unhe Priya Varrier dikh rahi hain” (An 18 year old girl becomes an overnight global sensation and millions of people have shared her video. But some do not accept this and they have lodged a police complaint. We are talking about Priya Varrier who has been opposed by some Maulanas who say her song is an insult to Islam. Maulana Qadri has said that when he shuts his eyes for prayer, he sees Priya Varrier)
As it happens, a tweet by a parody account has been viral all day and multiple people have fallen for it. The entire one-minute introduction to Aaj Tak’s evening programme was based on this tweet which at the time of writing had been tweeted over 2000 times.
Just In : After the viral video of Priya Prakash Varrier, Whenever we or our fellow Muslim Brothers closed our eyes to offer Namaz, instead of Allah, her face would appear, which is hurting our sentiments, hence we issued a fatwa against her.”
– Maulana Atif Qadri (File Pic) pic.twitter.com/YOksBNt8S0
— TIMES HOW (@TiimesHow) February 14, 2018
The quote which was attributed to Maulana Qadri made him the punching bag for both mainstream and social media. So, did he really issue a fatwa against Varrier and did he really say those words? Look closely at the tweet. The tweet is not from the Times Now official handle but Tiimes How (T-I-I-M-E-S H-O-W), a parody account. The account in its biography clearly states that it is a parody/satire account. However, a morphed logo of Times Now that the account uses fooled a large number of people who took the tweet to be real. This is not the first time this has happened. A few days back, Madhu Kishwar had fallen prey to a tweet by this account assuming it to be real. The below screengrab shows the difference in the logos between the real account on the left and the parody account on the right. Moreover, the official Times Now account is a verified account with a blue tick.
Indiatimes.com which is an Internet subsidiary of The Times of India Group also took the bait. In an article on the Indiatimes website, it published the tweet which quoted the Maulana and reported that a complaint had been filed against Varrier for hurting religious sentiments through the song.
Not just mainstream media but even social media fell for the tweet. Users widely tweeted and shared the screenshot of the tweet on various platforms.
So, was a fatwa issued as reported by the media? No, but a complaint was lodged at the Falaknama police station in Hyderabad by some Muslim youth who alleged that Varrier through her expressions had hurt their sentiments. They also claimed that the lyrics of the song were an insult to Islam as they referred to the life of the Prophet.
In response to criticism over the termination of the contract of one of its senior employees on 13 Feb, 2018, the India Today media group in its defence had stated that the organisation adheres to a ‘gold standard of journalism’. India Today’s avowed commitment to the core principles of reporting came under the scanner the very next day, when it broadcast the above programme on Aaj Tak.
For a news organisation which claims to follow a ‘gold standard of credible journalism’ while at the same time terminating the services of an employee allegedly over a tweet, a tweet from a parody account which had no basis in reality was picked up by Aaj Tak and construed as truth in its urge to garner eyeballs and TRPs. Aaj Tak’s skullduggery only reinforces the media house’s penchant for compromising with facts in the pursuit of sensationalism.