2018 marked yet another year when confidence and trust in mainstream media took a hit. There were a number of instances where top news organisations ended up disseminating misinformation, wittingly or otherwise. Disturbingly, on numerous occasions, reportage by media outlets ended up furthering the communal divide.

1. Provocative media reports fuel communal hatemongering on murder

Ankit Kumar Garg, a 31-year old teacher was shot dead on October 1 in Delhi. Soon after the incident, multiple news organisations reported that this was a case of honour killing. The basis of the reports was the accusation by the victim’s family that Ankit was killed by the family of the Muslim girl he was in a relationship with.

Several media organisations including Zee News, Aaj Tak, News18, Dainik Bhaskar and Times Now reported that Garg’s murder was a case of honour killing. The language and tone of the reportage was inflammatory.

It turned out that the motive for the murder was not honour killing. This was confirmed by Delhi police which stated that a BTech student had been arrested for the murder, and the motive was jealousy over the friendship of the victim with a female.

2. ‘Fanatic evangelism’ falsely declared as motive for Gurugram shooting

On October 13, the wife and son of a Gurgaon district judge were shot in broad daylight by their personal security officer (PSO) while on duty. On October 16, the police declared that the sole motive behind the murder was “sudden rage”. Several initial media reports had, however, linked the murder to “religious conversion” even before the police concluded its investigation.

These media reports declared that the accused had pressurised the judge’s family to embrace Christianity, which led to frequent altercations, and the subsequent attack. The basis of these reports was the perpetrator’s spiritual inclination and the multiple statements he gave during police interrogation. Several news organisations like Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagran, One India and Aaj Tak had reported this.

Haryana police clarified that the murder was not linked to the spiritual inclination of the perpetrator. “After probing all aspects of the case, we have reached the conclusion that Mahipal left the car unattended when the judge’s wife and son went shopping in Arcadia market, Gurgaon. When he was questioned and rebuked for not returning on time, he shot the duo in a fit of rage,” said DCP (crime) Sumit Kumar in a press conference.

Although many media organisations later updated their reports, there was no acknowledgement or clarification regarding the misreporting of the incident.

3. Post-mortem report of Kathua victim contradicts Dainik Jagran report

“No rape of the girl in Kathua, postmortem report only talks of injuries” screamed the front page of the Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran on April 20. The article claimed that the post-mortem report of the Kathua incident makes no mention of rape. It stated that there could be other reasons for the injuries that the victim suffered. The report went on to explain that scratches on the thigh could be a result of a fall and the torn hymen could be a result of activities like cycling, swimming, horse riding etc. The article had no mention of other injuries that also point to a possibility of sexual assault.

The Dainik Jagran report was in contradiction to the post-mortem report of the rape victim of Kathua. Alt News accessed the post-mortem report, in which there was mention of blood on labia, vulval lacerations, vaginal bleeding, hymen not intact and blood marks on thighs and abdomen. Moreover, a subsequent written response by the Board of Doctors of the District Hospital Kathua to the police clearly explained that “injuries mentioned could be because of any form of sexual assault”.

4. Sudarshan News falsely links ijtema gathering with mob violence

On December 3, a policeman was killed in clashes after a mob went on a rampage protesting alleged illegal cow slaughter in Siana tehsil of Bulandshahr district, U.P. The outbreak of violence coincided with the three-day ijtema gathering of Islamic scholars from December 1 to December 3 in Bulandshahr.

Sudarshan News chief Suresh Chavhanke tweeted that the violence was linked to the ijtema gathering. In another tweet, Chavhanke referred to the ‘Tablighi Jamaat’ as the organiser of the Ijtema, adding that it is on the radar of security agencies. Sudarshan News also broadcast a prime time programme on the same.

Bulandshahr police clarified via twitter that the violence which shook the town was NOT related in any way to the Ijtema gathering. Replying to Chavhanke’s tweet, police also appealed not to spread misinformation about the violence.

5. RSS-affiliated organisation reported as ‘Muslim women’ supporting Ram Mandir

With the Ram Janmabhoomi issue once again at the forefront of public discourse, certain news organisations in November 2018 reported that “Muslim women” were wholeheartedly supporting the cause of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. For instance, Amar Ujala published an article titled – “We swear on God, Mandir will be built there: Muslim women come forward, men’s stance unclear (translated).”

It turned out that these Muslim women who were spearheading this campaign were doing so under the banner of organisations affiliated to the RSS. ‘Muslim Rashtriya Manch’ and ‘Rashtriya Ekta Mission’ are platforms under the umbrella of the sangh parivar. This detail was omitted in the report by Amar Ujala, giving the impression that a mass of Muslim women from Meerut had extended their support to the cause of Ram mandir.

6. Misreporting by Sudarshan News about decree passed by mosque against UP police

शुरू हो गया वो सब कुछ जिसका डर था. #up की एक #मस्जिद से आया फरमान – “टुकड़े टुकड़े में काटना है @Uppolice वालों को” (Everything we were afraid of has started. #up A decree came from a #mosque – cut them @uppolice into pieces- translated) tweeted Suresh Chavhanke, the editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News channel on July 21, 2018 with an article titled exactly the same, which claimed that a decree against the UP Police has been passed by a mosque in Uttar Pradesh. What followed was an inflammatory article.

Baghpat police, UP had responded via Twitter through a video that explained the details of the incident of a public threat which was given to a police officer over a death caused due to drowning. In a conversation with Alt News, the police rubbished the claim about a decree passed by any mosque against the police. However, there was no clarification or retraction from Sudarshan News.

7. Aligarh encounter: News outlets falsely report Umar Khalid involved

In an alleged case of fake encounters, the Uttar Pradesh police on September 21 shot deadtwo purported criminals – Mustaqeem and Naushad – in Aligarh’s Harduaganj, and ‘invited’ media personnel to film the act. Aligarh SP Atul Srivastava later refuted that the encounters were stage-managed.

Activists, journalists and student leaders of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), including Umar Khalid, visited the kin of the deceased on September 27 to investigate the encounters. The following day, several media outlets reported that Khalid was involved in abducting family members of the alleged criminals. These included Zee News, Dainik Jagran and Jansatta.

The women had not been abducted but had accompanied Khalid and others of their own free will. This was affirmed by the women in a conversation with Alt News. Speaking to Alt News, Umar Khalid reiterated the same. The titles of several media reports portrayed Umar Khalid as involved in the abduction, while the articles failed to establish the same.

8. Times Now announces arrest of Nirav Modi in Hong Kong

At 5:41 pm on April 9, Times Now broke a story. The story was that Nirav Modi, accused in the Rs.11000 crore PNB scam has been arrested in Hong Kong.

“Alright, this is the big breaking news coming in now, Nirav Modi has been arrested in Hong Kong. That is what we are breaking for you first on Times Now. Reports coming in of Nirav Modi arrested in Hong Kong; this could be a major major breakthrough for the security agencies, for the investigative agencies who are trying to get Nirav Modi back in India and face the law”, said the Times Now anchor.

Curiously, Times Now did not return to this ‘big breaking news’, for the simple reason that Nirav Modi had not been arrested. The only update at that time was the possibility of Hong Kong acceding to India’s request for his arrest.

9. Misreporting by Times of India on AMU student

In January, Times of India published an article titled, “Roommate of AMU PhD student who joined Hizbul also missing”. A day after the news broke out that PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University Mannan Bashir Wani had allegedly joined terrorist group Hijbul Mujahideen, Times of India reported that his roommate too has been missing. Quoting Aligarh SSP, Rajesh Pandey, the paper claimed that a preliminary enquiry has revealed the roommate who was also from Baramulla is missing since July 2017.

In a call to Free Press Kashmir, the gentleman in question stated that “I am very disturbed since I saw this report. I have a career and a life here and this news report has put me in danger. This journalist never called or spoke to me before doing this report. I don’t know how they are claiming that I am missing and what they mean by it.” This was also confirmed by Baramulla police via a tweet.

10. Nitin Gadkari misquoted by media on pre-poll promises

We were very confident that we can never come to power. So our people suggested us just to make tall promises. Now people remind us of our promises…Now we just laugh and move on.” said Union Minister Nitin Gadkari in 34-second clip which went viral on social media. Gadkari was on a Colors Marathi reality show, Assal Pavhane, Irsal Namune alongside Bollywood actor Nana Patekar as a guest on October 4, 2018.

Numerous media organisations such the Times of India, The Week and The Wire misquoted Gadkari by reporting that the latter had acknowledged that his party made promises in the run-up to the general election of 2014.

Gadkari was speaking in the context of the Maharashtra assembly election which took place in late 2014, and not the general election of the same year. The false conclusion drawn by media organisations was on the basis of a truncated video clip.

11. Fake news of transfer of top cop by Karnataka CM

A Kannada news channel, BTV News reported in May 2018 that the IGP of Karnataka had been transferred by Karnataka CM H D Kumaraswamy. Several mainstream media organisations reported the same. These included DNA, Financial Express, Zee News and Swarajya. According to reports, the transfer took place because the top cop had made West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee walk almost a kilometre for the swearing-in ceremony of the Karnataka CM.

The fake news was busted by The News Minute which confirmed that no such transfer order has been issued. “I am only the CM designate, not the CM until the floor test is over. I cannot make decisions about who should be transferred. Neelamani Raju has not been transferred now,” said Kumaraswamy, according to the report by The News Minute.

12. Speech starting with ‘Jai Siya Ram’ wrongly attributed to Abu Dhabi crown prince

In February 2018, Times Now tweeted, “When the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince was invited on stage to share his views, he began the speech with ‘Jai Siya Ram’, sending the crowd into a frenzy.” The tweet was later deleted. The Times Now story went on to say, “As Abu Dhabi gears to welcome PM Modi today, a video of its Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan is being re-circulated on the social media. Zee News reported the same.

The two channels had carried this report without due verification. It was revealed that the person in the video is not the crown prince of Abu Dhabi but Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, a United Arab Emirates-based columnist and commentator on Arab affairs. The channels didn’t pause to think whether it was plausible for Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Force to be opening a Ram Katha of Morari Bapu with the chant of ‘Jai Siya Ram’.

13. Zee News, DNA circulate fake image of AIIMS doctors paying last respects to Vajpayee

A photograph of the doctors paying their last respect to the veteran political stalwart has been accessed by Zee News”, declared an article by Zee News following the death of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. “All the doctors stood in queue and observed silence as they bowed their heads as a mark of respect to the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee“, said a DNA article, describing a picture which showed doctors standing in a row with bowed heads around a dead body on a hospital bed.

A closer look at the photograph would suggest that it is not from India. It is a picture from 2012 of a group of Chinese doctors paying tribute to a woman whose organs were donated after her death. Medical workers bowed to 17-year-old Wu Huajing who donated her organs after her death in Guangdong on Nov 22, 2012. Both Zee News and DNA later realized their gaffe, deleting their tweets and revising their articles.

14. Parody accounts fox media organisations

There were numerous instances wherein mainstream news organisations fell for parody accounts of news outlets. Early this year, Aaj Tak fell for a parody account of Times Now, called Times HOW which tweeted a quote of a ‘maulana’ who had supposedly issued a fatwa against teen sensation Priya Prakash Varrier. Aaj Tak broadcast an evening programme on the same.

Another such instance included the faux pas by the news agency IANS which fell for a parody account of Tripura CM Biplab Deb.

While instances of misinformation via media outlets throughout the year were more than a handful, on the flip side, 2018 was also the year when multiple media organisations set up dedicated fact-checking divisions. Hopefully, this will help further the cause of accurate and prudent reporting, and arrest dissemination of erroneous news in 2019.


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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.