Media misreports linking Bareilly violence to Jamaat not taken down a month after police clarification

Last month, ABP News anchor Rubika Liyaquat during the show ‘Seedha Sawal’ aired a video of policemen charging a group of men with lathis. She claimed that the police action was sparked by miscreants who attacked cops in search of members of Tablighi Jamaat in Izzatnagar’s Karampur in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. “Police visited Izzatnagar to save the area’s izzat,” said Liyaquat. Hindi word ‘izzat’ means respect in English. “The police had gone there to enforce quarantine, to save [people] from coronavirus and to search for Jamaatis. But stones were pelted at them,” she continued.

Another mainstream media outlet that carried a similar report was TV Bharatvarsh. “Who are the ones crossing all limits? Is there even a treatment for them? How can uncivilized Jamaat be controlled because this is the community which has defamed Muslims in India,” said the concerned anchor. The channel subsequently played a video of policemen threatening locals to come out of their residences and face them. The cop with the loudspeaker can also be heard referring to an incident where two policemen were attacked.

While this video is played, the ticker on TV screens reads — “The lockdown needs to end, uncivilized Jamaatis need to be controlled.” TV9 suggested that people associated with the Islamic organisation were behind the incident in Bareilly.

Dainik Jagran played both the clips — the one aired by ABP News and the other broadcast by TV9. The channel claimed that cops had visited Bareilly’s Karampur Chaudhary area to search for Tablighi Jamaat members. However, locals thrashed the policemen and denied providing any details. The locals subsequently attacked cops and also tried to immolate the nearby police station, the channel claimed.

There were essentially two claims raised by the media:

1. Bareilly police had visited Karampur Chaudhary area in search of members of Tablighi Jamaat – ABP News, Dainik Jagran, OneIndia, Republic Bharat and Asianet News.

2. Policemen were beaten by Jamaatis – TV9 Bharatvarsh.

Fact-check

Dainik Bhaskar’s report carries a video statement of Ravinder Kumar, SP City, Bareilly, who said, “About 200-250 residents of Karmapur reached the police station and misbehaved with cops.” He subsequently gave the reason for the scuffle which does not match with the media reports.

“The issue started after our cheetah mobile police visited the village [Karampura Chaudhary] to enforce the lockdown on-ground. The police were telling people to go back to their homes and not flout the curfew. Seeing the presence of only two policemen, villagers attacked the cops who then fled to the police station. The villagers surrounded the police station and engaged in violence,” Kumar further said, adding that the police later went to the village to retaliate and arrested several people. Towards the end, he claimed that the villagers had also attempted to burn down the police station. “We are also investigating if people from outside were involved and if any of them was coronavirus positive,” were his concluding words. The statement can be heard a minute into the report.

On April 6, the official Twitter handle of Bareilly police tweeted the statement of SSP Sailesh Pandey. “Our police teams are scattered at different points in the district to enforce the lockdown…Our cheetah team had visited Karampur Chaudhary village. A group of young men gathered at an area [in the village] were advised by the cops [to stay home] and they were removed from the spot following which the team came back to the police station. Someone instigated the locals, gathered 70-80 people and a huge crowd assembled at the police station. A boy was also brought before the police and [locals] claimed that he was beaten by cops. The SHO immediately took the boy and his family members to the hospital. When the doctors examined the boy they found that he had no injuries and was pretending [to be hurt]. Amidst all of this, we were informed that a lot of people had gathered at the police station. Cops reached the police station and dispersed the crowd using necessary force because it is our prime responsibility to enforce social distancing and lockdown…We have arrested 43 people till now,” said Pandey.

While there are inconsistencies in both police statements, none of them either claims that cops were patrolling the village in search of members of Tablighi Jamaat or the ones who attacked policemen were associated with the Islamic organisation.

On April 7, Lallantop had published a fact-check article on the incident where the outlet spoke with local journalists who also debunked the false claims. One month hence, none of the mainstream media outlets, with viewership in lakhs, has taken down erroneous stories or provided clarification for the false reportage. It is unfortunate that the above example isn’t a one-off case. TV9 Bharatvarsh had earlier aired a flimsy broadcast claiming that an underground tunnel runs through Nizamuddin Markaz. The channel provided no evidence for the same. ABP News had communalised the Bandra migrant crisis, falsely claiming that a crowd had gathered at the railway station instigated by the mosque. Republic Bharat had falsely claimed that a Tablighi Jamaat member flouted guidelines and infected his family with coronavirus before his own death. Mainstream media, which should be at the forefront of rightly informing citizens at a crucial time such as this, has taken the role of the misleader. The media’s demonisation of the Muslim community during a pandemic will have repercussions for years to come. We have already witnessed on-ground effects of misinformation — Muslim vendors attacked on streets, people promoting a boycott of the community and collective animosity against minorities.

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