Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled visit to gurudwara Rakab Ganj on Sunday, December 20, that started a flurry of activity among journalists. After being provided information about the visit by their ‘sources’ journalists, one after the other, rushed to break the news. They copy-pasted and replicated the identical text provided to them including the mistakes. The first to tweet was Vikas Bhadauria of ABP News. “Today morning, in a sudden visit, PM @narendramodi went & bowed his head at Gurudwara Rakabjung. He paid tributes to Guru TegBahadur for his supreme sacrifice”, tweeted Bhadauria, misspelling Rakab Ganj as Rakabjung.
Today morning, in a sudden visit, PM @narendramodi went & bowed his head at Gurudwara Rakabjung. He paid tributes to Guru TegBahadur for his supreme sacrifice.
— Vikas Bhadauria (ABP News) (@vikasbha) December 20, 2020
It was clear that the same text was provided to journalists when others repeated the same error — TV9 Bharatvarsh deputy editor Utkarsh Singh, Ravikant Rai, Pankaj Kumar Pandey, ABP News associate editor Ashish K Singh, News18 political editor Amitabh Sinha and DD News reporter Sudhakar Das.
PM Narendra Modi’s personal website also carried the same spelling mistake.
The error was mirrored by news websites as well, including NDTV, The Economic Times and Janta Ka Reporter among others.
Interestingly, ANI, which tweeted a few minutes after Bhadauria took time to correct the text, replaced ‘sudden visit’ with ‘unscheduled visit’ and ‘Rakabjung’ with ‘Rakab Ganj’.
In an unscheduled visit today morning, PM Narendra Modi visited Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in Delhi and paid tributes to Guru Teg Bahadur for his supreme sacrifice. pic.twitter.com/5kbtyGZ6rF
— ANI (@ANI) December 20, 2020
Journalist Nistula Hebar too corrected the spelling of Rakabganj and replaced ‘sudden visit’ to a more appropriate phrase, ‘surprise visit’.
— Nistula Hebbar (@nistula) December 20, 2020
A second part of the messaging sent out the journalists was “No police bandobast or traffic barriers to the common man during this visit”. This was also dutifully replicated.
Today PM @narendramodi went to Gurudwara Rakabjung. He paid tributes to Guru TegBahadur for his supreme sacrifice. PM made a sudden visit , there was no security protocol or bandobast ..
— Naveen Kapoor ANI (@IamNaveenKapoor) December 20, 2020
This morning, in a sudden visit, @PMOIndia went & bowed his head at Gurudwara Rakabjung. He paid tributes to Guru TegBahadur for his supreme sacrifice…No police bandobast or traffic barriers to the common man during this visit of @narendramodi
— Payal Mehta/પાયલ મેહતા/ पायल मेहता/ পাযেল মেহতা (@payalmehta100) December 20, 2020
This is not the first time that text has been provided by ‘official sources’ to tweet. We saw examples of this when leading sportspersons were made to tweet praising PM Modi or when journalists were asked to tweet thanking Smriti Irani.
Such senior sports-persons copy-pasting stuff which they've been asked to tweet by the PMO. The person at the top forgot to remove the "Text: " bit which was to be stripped off before tweeting rest of the text. pic.twitter.com/2lDCxsMsqt
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) October 26, 2019
When asked to bend, they crawled….
p.s: They are not random trolls but journalists. pic.twitter.com/1goOxFnnY8
— SamSays (@samjawed65) March 9, 2018
While it may not be unusual for journalists to be part of WhatsApp groups where political parties make announcements, the replication of tweets like bots without putting any attempt to check its veracity is a massive cause for concern. The messaging around the PM’s visit including words like “no security protocol or police bandobast” was relayed to journalists who obliged by pushing the narrative. Does such type of coordinated tweeting of official talking points qualify as journalism?