Guess what is common between Zee News, OpIndia and Postcard News? They have all fallen for a hilarious satire and published it as real news. Read on…

On the occasion of Holi, Navbharat Times decided to do a full page of satire. It carried stories about Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya partying in Delhi, 18% GST on Good Morning messages, Renuka Chowdhary laughing at Rahul Gandhi’s top level meeting, China and Pakistan doing Yoga in Doklam, subsidy on liquor if you link Aadhaar, and so on. The stories were satirical in the spirit of “bura na mano Holi hai”. Out of a page full of satire, the three picked on one story. Yes, the one about Rahul Gandhi.

Zee News

Zee News was the first to run the satire as real news. They tweeted, “Renuka Chowdary now laughs in Rahul Gandhi’s high level meeting, party upset” Zee News went on to describe details about the incident at a Congress high- level meeting.

Zee News was left red-faced when they realized that it was a joke that they had taken seriously. The same was also pointed out to them by a NBT journalist. In their haste, Zee News deleted its article. It forgot however to delete its tweet that we have shared above.

Right wing web portal OpIndia that regularly scouts the net for negative news on topics linked to Rahul Gandhi, opposition parties, Muslims, liberals, etc was the next to report the false news. In its characteristic style laced with whataboutery, OpIndia rewrote the Zee News article in English and went on to ask, “will Congress supporters defend her now”.

The hilarious OpIndia article reported in all seriousness, “Rahul was speaking about the grim situation the party is in currently. He added that the party leaders would have to ‘give their best’ to overcome the hardships. Right then, Renuka Chowdhary laughed at full throttle, again. A Congress leader, on conditions of anonymity, has stated that Renuka’s laughter was met with by stunned silence by other attendees. The Congress President, seeing that reaction, reportedly sat down abruptly without finishing his talk.” ;

It took jibes at the Congress spokesperson, supporters and feminists and asked, “Will Renuka Chowdhary have the same kind of support this time around too?” Little did OpIndia realize that all their whataboutery was wasted on an incident that never took place. It was a satirical piece they were reporting in all seriousness as real news. OpIndia had quoted Zee News report and just like the recent case where they accused Mumbai police of inviting Ajaz Khan as a Chief Guest this time too they did not do any fact check.

OpIndia’s reaction on learning that the original piece was a satire was rather shocking. They didn’t delete, retract or apologize. They quietly added a sentence at the end of the article saying “Note : This is a Holi special satire”, removed the Zee News tweet they had earlier quoted and made a few more changes to their article to make it look like a satire. Well, we can only feel sorry for their readers who outraged based on a fake news that was presented by the portal as factual. OpIndia perhaps thought that no one will notice the amendment to the article. They couldn’t escape the sharp eye of Alt News who archived the earlier version.

Like OpIndia, Postcard News wrote a whole story based on the fake Zee News report. They concluded “Once again it is proved that Rahul Gandhi is not taken seriously by even his own party leaders.Postcard News can perhaps be forgiven for this gaffe because they are serial peddlers of fake news and most people already know that their articles can’t be taken seriously.

Postcard News has not bothered to delete or amend the article. In their case, it doesn’t matter as the article fits in well with rest of the content on their website.

Falling for satire is not so funny. It raises serious issues about bias in the selection of news and editorial checks before publishing it. How the portal reacted on realizing they had published false news is something for them to reflect on. Readers would expect honesty, not a cover-up.

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