October 2019: Mainstream media at the forefront of misinformation

In October 2019, several instances of misinformation emanating from mainstream media organizations were observed. Key events were misreported, deliberately or otherwise. The month also witnessed the usual attempts on social media to spread misinformation, from photoshopped images to pictures and videos placed out of context in order to mislead.

MISINFORMATION BY MAINSTREAM MEDIA

1. Misreporting UP govt’s approved estimated budget as 133 crore instead of 1.33 crore

On October 26, 5.51 lakh ‘diyas’ were lighted as part of the ‘Deepotsav’ in Ayodhya, an event which was declared an official function where the expenses will be borne by the Uttar Pradesh government. Media outlets reported that the state government sanctioned Rs 133 crore for the event. Nearly every mainstream news organisation carried similar reports – NDTVNewsclickNational HeraldThe Times of IndiaLive HindustanThe Indian ExpressABP NewsMumbai MirrorThe WireThe HinduThe QuintJansattaOutlook and Daily Pioneeramong others. Some of these media outlets like NDTV, Outlook, published IANS feed.

The estimated cost of ‘Deepotsav’ for 2019 is Rs 132.70 lakh or approximately Rs 1.33 crore, not Rs 133 crore. This was first pointed out by NDTV journalist Alok Pandey. The press release stating the budget allocation is available on the UP government website. It was released on October 22, a day before most media reports published the erroneous figure. The press release states, “वर्ष 2019 में आयोजन पर लगभग 132.70 लाख रुपये के व्यय का अनुमान है। इस मेले के आयोजन पर होने वाले व्ययभार का वहन शासन द्वारा धनराशि की उपलब्धता के आधार पर किया जाएगा। (Approximately Rs 132.60 lakh has been estimated toward the expenses of the event. The expenses incurred to organise this fair will be borne by the government based on the availability of funds.)“

2. Promotional video on Balakot airstrikes broadcast as ‘real’ footage

On October 4, the Indian Air Force (IAF) released a promotional video on Balakot airstrike which was carried out in February this year in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack. Subsequently, several media outlets reported the representational video as “real” footage or “evidence” of the IAF’s airstrike in Pakistan.

For instance, Republic TV played the footage as “IAF’s Balakot proof”. Zee News also carried the misinformation. Its tweet and article headline called the video the “first footage which gives proof” of Balakot airstrike. The story was later updated by the channel. Moreover, A PTI copy published by media outlets like Firstpost and Business Standard  claimed, Ahead of the press conference, the IAF also showed video clips of the Balakot strikes.” The word “promotional” appeared nowhere in the article.

ANI had uploaded the footage released by IAF, specifying that it is a promotional clip showcasing the Balakot aerial strike. A defence correspondent with WION had also tweeted that the Air Chief clarified during the press conference that there were “no shots of Balakot strikes in the video.” Alt News’s complete fact-check may be read here.

3. Media misreports: Pak PM called ‘welder from Bronx’ by American anchor

A video of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s interview with American television network MSNBC was massively circulated with the claim that the anchor told the Pakistani PM that he sounds like a “welder from Bronx.” Former Indian cricketer Virendra Sehwag shared the 36-second clip on October 3. Subsequently, Republic TV published an article (archive) on Sehwag’s tweet writing, “Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan humiliated himself on a US television show on which he was called ‘a welder from the Bronx’ by an anchor.”

Media outlets ANI, MoneycontrolNDTV and Hindustan Times also carried similar reports based on Sehwag’s tweet. NDTV’s story was a syndicated ANI feed. ANI wrote, “…in the latest gaffe, he [Imran Khan] has been humiliated by American anchors on live television.”

If one carefully listens to the anchor’s statement, he does not say ‘welder’ but ‘voter’. Khan praises the infrastructure in China while criticising “bumpy” roads of New York. The anchor laughs at the PM’s statement and responds, “You do not sound like a Prime Minister from Pakistan. You sound like a voter from the Bronx who would complain about the infrastructure and money being spent on wars in Afghanistan instead of fixing LaGuardia and other infrastructure there.” The anchor’s statement can be heard 13:17 minutes onward in the broadcast below.

4. False claim of “Pakistani conspiracy” behind #GoBackModi trend on Twitter

In an October 11 ‘exclusive’ story, broadcast at around 3:30 PM, Times Now claimed that Pakistani social media accounts were behind trending the hashtag #GoBackModi ahead of the Prime Minister’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Chennai.

“#GoBackModi is trending on Twitter. Just hours before Prime Minister Modi meets Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mahabalipuram, it has now been revealed there is an insidious plot by Pakistan behind this trend on Twitter,” claimed the Times Now anchor while “Pak hand behind #GoBackModi trend” and “Spooked by India-China Bonhomie” were flashed on television screens. The anchor asserted that most users tweeting this hashtag were from Pakistan. CNN News18 broadcast a similar reportage.

Alt News found this claim to be false. #GoBackModi or any other hashtag related to the Prime Minister’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart did not trend in Pakistan between 3 PM to 6 PM on October 11. The only hashtag related to India trending in Pakistan was #KashmirChained. This was revealed by searching for worldwide Twitter trends on the website trends24.in. In fact, #GoBackModi was among the top trends for Indian social media users on October 11 in the said time period. Alt News’s detailed fact-check may be read here.

5. ANI, PTI falsely claim 14-year old girl wrote book on Article 370

On October 9, Union Minister Jitendra Singh launched a book, ‘In the Times of Article 370’. “In a rare ceremony of its kind, released a book on #Article370 written by Ayanna Kohli, a 14 year Delhi school girl,” tweeted Singh on the occasion. The book release was covered by the media. ANI reported that Union Minister Jitendra Singh released a book on Article 370 written by a 14-year-old girl, Ayanna Kohli. Providing the purported synopsis of the book, ANI wrote that it “seeks to draw the inference that it was necessary to revoke Article 370 in order to bring lasting peace in Kashmir.” PTI also reported that 14-year-old Ayanna “wrote a book on Article 370.”

The book is not about Article 370. While the book is named ‘In the Times of Article 370’, it does not talk about the removal of J&K’s statehood and special status. The book is a work of fiction – a story about protagonist Ram, who is an army man.

6. IANS, NDTV use old photo to claim BJP’s Pankaja Munde wept after electoral loss

News agency IANS tweeted a photo of Pankaja Munde, the BJP candidate from Maharastra’s Parli assembly seat, who was defeated in the recently-concluded assembly elections. The news agency’s tweet read, “#BJP’s heavyweight and #Maharashtra minister #PankajaMunde weeps inconsolably after her shock defeat in #Parli (Beed) seat by her estranged cousin, #NCP Leader of Opposition in Legislative Council #DhananjayMunde. Photo: IANS”. The tweet now stands deleted but an archived version can be accessed here. NDTV also tweeted the image and later deleted the same.

The image was a screengrab taken from a TV9 Marathi broadcast from October 20, 2019“Exclusive interview with Pankaja Munde before voting (translated)”, reads the title of YouTube video posted by the channel. One can see that the thumbnail of the YouTube video is the photo which was posted by IANS.

7. News18 tweets old video as “live murder” in Meerut

On October 22, News18 Uttar Pradesh tweeted about a video supposedly viral on social media. The channel said that, in the clip, one can hear a blizzard of gunshots piercing through the dead and that SSP Meerut Ajay Sahani has stated that the video will be investigated – “मेरठ- लाइव मर्डर का वीडियो वायरल ताबड़तोड़ गोलियों की गूंज से मेरठ में मची है सनसनी .. .. !मृतक को एक के बाद एक गोलियों से छलनी किया गया .. .. !सोशल मीडिया पर जमकर वायरल हुआ है वीडियो .. .. !एसएसपी अजय साहनी ने वीडियो की जांच कराने की बात कही है .”

With the help of Invid, Alt News broke the video into multiple frames and found that the video has existed on the internet at least since November 2015.  French television station France 24 had debunked this video in March 2017 when it was viral with the claim that it depicted xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

8. Misreporting by NDTV: “Assam CM has six children”

Recently, the Assam government announced that with effect from January 1, 2021, persons with more than two children will not be eligible for government jobs. Reporting on the development, an anchor on NDTV stated that the Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal himself has six children. The anchor, speaking about the news development said, “The policy will come into effect from January 1, 2021. The interesting bit in this is that the Chief Minister himself has six kids, but he has decided to finally implement this two-child policy.”

NDTV’s reportage, wherein it was stated that the Chief Minister of Assam has six children, is factually incorrect. In an affidavit filed by Sarbananda Sonowal in 2014 for the Lok Sabha election, which is available on the website of the Chief Electoral Officer, Assam, it is categorically mentioned that he has no children. Alt News’s fact-check may be read here.

9. Sudarshan News runs fake news claiming Asaduddin Owaisi danced after Kamlesh Tiwari’s murder

In an impassioned October 20 broadcast, Sudarshan News’ Suresh Chavhanke hurled abuses at AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi and claimed, “See how Owaisi danced yesterday after the murder of Kamlesh Tiwari.” Hindu Samaj leader Kamlesh Tiwari was shot dead in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on October 18. Chavhanke played a video and asserted that the Hyderabad MP danced on October 19, a day after Tiwari was murdered.

This video of Asaduddin Owaisi was taken a day before Kamlesh Tiwari was shot dead. The clip was uploaded by ANI on October 18 and the news agency clearly mentions that it was shot on October 17 – Maharashtra: AIMIM Chief Asaduddin Owaisi performs a dance step after the end of his rally at Paithan Gate in Aurangabad. (17.10.2019). Tiwari was murdered on October 18.

PHOTOSHOPPED IMAGES

1. Photoshopped News18 graphic credits PM Modi for death of IS leader Baghdadi

A purported graphic of News18 show ‘Aar Par’ is circulating on social media. The text on the graphic credits PM Modi for the death of Islamic State (IS) chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. It says that Baghdadi was taken down by US president Donald Trump after pressure from the Indian prime minister – “मोदी के दबाव के चलते ट्रंप ने किया बगदादी को ढेर.” President Trump declared Baghdadi dead on October 27 after the US intelligence cornered the ISIS leader in a raid where he killed himself detonating a suicide vest.

The graphic is not genuine but a work of photoshop. A comparison of several past graphics of ‘Aar Par’ with the one floating online makes this evident due to a mismatch in the font. Furthermore, journalist Amish Devgan, anchor of the show ‘Aar Par’, called out the misinformation.

2. Photoshopped image showing Narendra Modi with gangster Chhota Rajan

A photograph showing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and underworld don Chhota Rajan was on social media platforms. The picture shows a young, clean shaven Mr. Modi smiling at the camera. To his right, a person wearing a white shirt is seen standing about two steps behind. He appears to be Chhota Rajan. The photograph was also shared with the caption, “मेरे मुन्ना भूल न जाना,मेरे दूध का कर्ज निभाना”, insinuating that PM Modi is obliged to favour Chhota Rajan. The broad context was speculation over Chhota Rajan’s brother contesting the assembly election in Maharashtra.

The image is photoshopped. In the original picture, there is no Chhota Rajan. Upon reverse-searching the image on Google, we found the real photograph in an article published in The Times of India dated September 26, 2014. The write-up chronicled Narendra Modi’s visit to the USA undertaken in the 1990s. The person seen standing to the right of Modi is not Chhota Rajan, but an elderly gentleman.

3. Photoshopped image showing Mahatma Gandhi with a woman

An image of Mahatma Gandhi with a woman was circulated on social media with the caption, चमचों तुम्हारे राष्ट्रपिता कर क्या रहे हैं? Bootlickers, what is your Father of the Nation doing?”

A reverse search of the image revealed that the picture has been photoshopped. In the original image, Gandhi is with former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The image was found in the archives of Associated Press which said that it was clicked at the“All-India Congress committee meeting in Bombay, India, on July 6, 1946.”

4. Satirical image of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Indian attire shared as real

A photograph of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was shared with the claim that the former dressed in an Indian attire while meeting the latter. This image circulated on the internet in the backdrop of Xi Jinping’s two-day visit to Chennai where he met PM Modi.

With a reverse image search on Google, Alt News found that in the original photograph Xi Jinping was wearing a black suit. This image was clicked by Thomas Peter, a photographer with Reuters. “Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 2, 2018”, reads the caption posted with the image.

5. Photoshopped image showing books on Modi and Hitler placed together

A photograph showing two books placed together on a shelf was shared on social media with the caption, ‘Saw this on Mumbai airport’. The book on the left features Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the cover, whereas the book on the right features Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The arrows placed beside these books seem to suggest that if a reader likes the book on Narendra Modi, he/she may try the volume on Adolf Hitler.

Alt News found that the image is photoshopped. There were several clues in the image itself to suggest that it is fake. The original image had US President Donald Trump on the book cover.

6. Fake quote on mohalla clinics attributed to Manoj Tiwari; Aaj Tak logo misused

A screenshot of Aaj Tak was shared on social media, according to which a statement is ascribed to Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari. In the screenshot, the title of the Aaj Tak report is, “हर कॉलोनी में मोहल्ला क्लिनिक खोलकर नर्सिंग होम और प्राइवेट अस्पतालों को बर्बाद करना चाहते है केजरीवाल: मनोज तिवारी।” (Translation: Kejriwal wants to destroy nursing homes and private hospitals by opening a mohalla clinic in every colony: Manoj Tiwari).

The screenshot of the Aaj Tak shared on social media is photoshopped. To verify this ‘news’, Alt News searched for this report on the website of the channel, but we found no such report. Apart from this, no media organisation has reported such a statement having been made by Manoj Tiwari. Alt News also spoke to Aaj Tak and confirmed the same.

COMMUNAL MISINFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA

1. Old incident of Congress MLA attacked by mob viral as Hindu woman beaten by Muslim husband

“In Assam, Hindu woman quit her husband, kid to marry Zakir Hussain & became Rubiya What’s Zakir Hussain did to her after marriage!” was a message shared on social media along with two images. The first photograph shows a woman with a man and in the second image, the woman has injuries on her face. It was shared from the Twitter account, History Of India (@RealHistoriPix)among others.

Alt News found that a 2012 incident was given a communal spin on social media. According to July 1, 2012, report by The Hindu, Assam Congress MLA Rumi Nath and her second husband Jakie Zakir were beaten up and injured in a hotel in the southern Karimganj town. A seven-year-old photograph of a Congress MLA injured in a mob attack was falsely shared as a Hindu woman, who had converted to Islam after marriage, beaten up by her Muslim husband. Read the Alt News fact-check here.

2. Old video of village drama from Rajasthan shared as child sacrifice by Muslims

“ये कौनसा धर्म है भाया जिसने एक मासूम बच्चे की बली चढ़ा दी और सारे लोग खुशियां मना रहे हैं sayad ye sab log musalman lagte he,” is a message that went viral on Facebook. It claims that a boy was sacrificed as per a religious tradition and suggests that the ones behind the ritual were Muslims.

The narrative used to circulate the visuals was false. A statement put out by Rajasthan police both Facebook and Twitter on October last year said – “A video of a boy sacrificed in Bhilwara, meant for entertainment purposes, is being shared by giving it a superstitious narrative on social media in order to mislead people. In reality, this a magic show which is held every year during Navratri. The drama that takes place in village Khakhla is being circulated with a false narrative. (translated)”. Visuals of a magic show held in a village in Rajasthan were attempted to be communalised, implicating the Muslim community for human sacrifice.

3. Images of Gwalior fort shared as Jain temple discovered upon demolition of mosque in Karnataka

Images of ancient structures and sculptures were circulated on social media with the claim that a Jain temple was excavated beneath a mosque in Raichur, Karnataka after a road renovation project. “कर्नाटक रायचूर मे रोड सौंदर्यीकरणकरने के लिये मस्जिद गिराई उस मस्जिद के नीचे निकला जैन मंदिर,” (Jain temple discovered upon demolition of mosque during road widening in Raichur, Karnataka), read the message.

A simple Google reverse image search revealed that the photographs shared on social media are of Gwalior fort in Madhya Pradesh. The fort is built on a solitary rocky hill called Gopachal which has been carved to build Jain statues, images of which are available on the internet. Photographs of different structures and statues inside the Gwalior fort were shared as a Jain temple excavated beneath a mosque in Karnataka.

MISLEADING USE OF IMAGES AND VIDEOS

1. Old image shared as PM Modi bowing to the wife of Gautam Adani 

A photograph of PM Modi bowing to a woman was shared with the claim that she is Priti Adani, wife of Gautam Adani, chairperson of Adani Group.“भाइयो यह महिला उद्योगपति अडानी की पत्नी है जो इंसान झुका हुआ(बिका हुआ) है, वो हमारे देश का PM है”, read the message viral with the photo.

A Google reverse image search revealed that the woman in the photograph is the Mayor of Tumkur or Tumakuru, a city in Karnataka. Alt News found a Reddit post from September 2014 which carried the same image with the title, “Modi greeting Tumkur mayor (after leaving ISRO to launch that food park)”.

2. Old photo from Somalia shared as Ilhan Omar at training camp of warlord

A photograph of a turbaned woman holding an automatic weapon was shared on social media as US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, with the claim that the photo was taken at an Al Qaeda training camp in Somalia. The image was circulated in the context of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on “Human Rights in South Asia” in Washington, of which Congresswoman Omar was also a part.

This photograph does not show Omar but a woman recruit of the Somali Army at a military training campus at Halane, Mogadishu. The image is available in the archives of Associated Pressaccording to which it was shot on February 25, 1978. Omar wasn’t born until four years later in 1982.

3. Karti Chidambaram shares misleading photos to portray PM Modi’s beach cleaning effort as staged

On the sidelines of the Modi-Xi summit in Tamil Nadu, PM Modi tweeted a video of him picking up trash at the beach in Mamallapuram, and made an appeal to keep public places clean. Soon after the video was posted online, many people on social media alleged that the exercise was staged. Karti Chidambaram, an MP for Congress from Sivaganga in Tamil Nadu, tweeted a collage of three pictures, two of which showed PM Modi picking up trash, while the third picture showed multiple individuals with camera and lighting equipment. The attempt was to show that PM Modi’s act of cleaning the beach was essentially an exercise meant for the camera, and not genuine.

This was a clear attempt to mislead social media users. Alt News found that two of the three photos tweeted by Karti Chidambaram did not pertain to PM Modi’s act of picking up trash at the beach in Mamallapuram.

4. Old video of ex-defence minister’s wife performing puja on INS Vikrant shared as “baptism”

A video of Elizabeth Antony, the wife of former Defence Minister AK Antony, performing a ritual on ‘INS Vikrant’ was shared on social media. It was claimed that Mrs Antony was drawing a ‘cross’ on the aircraft carrier and baptising the vehicle. “Former Defence Minister A.K Anthony’s wife Elizabeth drew a cross on INS Vikrant and Baptised it during its launch….no one had any problem.. Hallelujah!!!”, read the message tweeted along with the video.

With a Google search, Alt News found that Elizabeth Antony had launched the indigenously-built Aircraft Carrier ‘INS Vikrant’ at Cochin Shipyard in Kochi on August 12, 2013. The ritual which was performed was a Hindu ceremony, and not a Christian one, as claimed by several social media users. Alt News’s fact-check may be read here.

5. Unrelated photographs shared as images of submerged city of Dwarka

A set of images was posted on social media with the claim that these represent the submerged city of Dwarka on the western coast of India. “Shri Kishna’s Dwarka, The sunken city in Gujarat. As described in the Mahabharata. It is real yet the Christian world says there is no proof!”, read the message posted along with the photos.

Alt News’s fact-check revealed that none of these images pertain to Dwarka, Gujarat. While one of the photos is from Tamil Nadu, another is from an artificial reef in the USA.

6. Movie still shared as photograph of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination

A photograph of Mahatma Gandhi which supposedly captures the moment when he was killed by Nathuram Godse was circulated on social media. A day after 150th birth anniversary of Gandhi, on October 3, the image was shared with the claim, “Rare photo of Gandhi jis murder”. 

Through the comments posted below some of the tweets, Alt News found that the image is a still from a movie named ‘Nine Hours to Rama’. The film is based on the novel with the same name written by Stanely Wolpert.

MISCELLANEOUS

1. Fact-checking social media claim of India repaying all World Bank loans under PM Modi’s governance

A viral claim on social media asserted that the Prime Minister Modi-led government has cleared all of India’s debt with the World Bank in the last six years. The complete message says, “For 70 years India was the biggest borrower at the world Bank, Once every Indian born was a debtor at birth, the things which great economists couldn’t do, a chaiwala did it, he changed India’s and Indian’s fate, within 6 years @narendramodi has cleared every penny of India’s debt at the world Bank, all paid. Full settlement done at UN by India, who is that fellow who was talking about some economic slowdown in india? #UNLoanCleared #ModiHaiToMumkinHai.” The claim was propagated using a screenshot of a tweet by India’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin.

Alt News found these claims to be incorrect. For instance, Syed Akbaruddin’s tweet pertained to India’s payment of dues to the United Nations, and not repayment of loans to the World Bank. Moreover, payment of dues to the UN is not repayment of loans. Also, the claim that India has repaid all its loans to the World Bank is incorrect. Read the complete fact-check here.

2. Narendra Modi vs Manmohan Singh on foreign visits: Fact-checking Amit Shah’s claim

Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently spoke at a public function, where he claimed that former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh went on more foreign trips than PM Narendra Modi did, in five years. His exact words were, “Just now a Congress leader said that Modiji keeps travelling abroad, so I said lets probe this, in 5 years of Manmohanji’s rule and 5 years of Modiji’s rule, who went abroad more, then we found out that Manmohan Singh had had more foreign trips than Modiji. So I pondered, why is it so that it seems Modiji has travelled abroad far more frequently?” (translated from Hindi).

Alt News compared three sets of numbers (number of visits, number of countries visited and number of days spent abroad), and found Amit Shah’s claim false. The numbers do not tally with the Home Minister’s narrative. Information about international visits undertaken by the Prime Minister is readily available on the website of the PMO.

3. Rahul Gandhi tweeted clipped video of BJP Haryana candidate alleging vote-rigging

A video of Bakhshish Singh Virk, BJP candidate from Haryana’s Assandh constituency, was shared on social media where Singh can be heard making comments about voting machines – “Whichever button you press, the votes will automatically go to flower (BJP’s election symbol)”. He further suggested that BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Manohar Lal Khattar can sense which voter voted for whom and from which constituency. Congress MP Rahul Gandhi tweeted the viral video and wrote, “The most honest man in the BJP”.

Alt News found that this video is mischievously clipped, however, a part of it is unadulterated. The video is 39 seconds long but close observation reveals a jump-cut at the 24th second. Read the complete fact-check here.

4. False claim of Shivraj Singh Chouhan plastering different arms in morning and evening

A set of two photographs of BJP MLA Shivraj Singh Chouhan was viral on social media to claim that the former MP CM had plastered different arms in the morning and in the evening. “ऐसा चमत्कार, सुबह इस हाथ में प्लास्टर, शाम को दूसरे हाथ में प्लास्टर । भगवान शिवराज सिंह चौहान जी के दोनों हाथ जल्द ठीक करे (What a miracle, this hand was plastered in the morning and in the evening, the second hand was plastered. God, please fix Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s both hands.)” – was the caption used to share the images.

From a video uploaded by the former CM of MP, Alt News found that the right arm of Chouhan was plastered. The confusion arose from the fact that the ‘mirror image’ setting in the front camera (one of the images was a selfie) was probably turned on, due to which the image got laterally inverted. The person who clicked the selfie with Chauhan must have kept ‘mirror image’ switched-on in his camera settings, which is why it appears that Chouhan’s left arm is injured. However, if you flip the image, it is evident that the right, and not the left, arm is plastered.

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