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Mainstream media and the lost art of satire

It is now a widely accepted fact that the mainstream media’s fact-checking and news reporting skills are unreliable. But who would’ve thought that their comprehension skills would also questionable. And it all started with a tweet. Let me walk you through.

Scientist and columnist Anand Ranganathan, who has been a vocal critic of selective reporting by mainstream media and regularly exposes hypocrisy of politicians and journalists, had put up a satirical tweet about two years back claiming Mysorepak is a Tamilian invention, as endorsed by Lord Macaulay. In the very apparently fake news clip he had posted for fun also quoted Macaulay’s ‘good friend Lord Crinklybottom’.

Somehow, many so-called journalists took the tweet on its face value and credited Lord Macaulay for gifting the sweet to Tamilians. The ‘news’ made it to Times of India (TOI) and to many publications after that.

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Ranganathan’s exasperation was evident as he discovered the mainstream publications picking up the tweet and writing ‘factual reports’ around it.

After being called out by Ranganathan, the report was removed from Times of India website. But by then, the word had spread.

For me, personally, the saddest was the one where the Marathi newspaper Loksatta ignored Lord Crinklebottom in their story.

The word has spread far and wide, including the vernacular newspapers, even in the states which ‘claimed’ the sweet as theirs.

Remember Indian states bickering over origin of the sweet Rasagulla? And the misleading tweet by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee which sparked the debate about Indian sweets on Twitter? Of course, we wrote a satire piece that Modiji should take moral responsibility about the mithai mess and resign immediately. But when hate for one man is so strong, it is easy to mistake sarcasm for real.

Shockingly, this is not the first time Ranganathan has been left facepalming for media houses’ inability to understand satire.

Rajdeep Sardesai, who regularly places his prejudice over journalism, also could not understand when someone is being sarcastic to him, especially Anand Ranganathan.

In case you wondered too, the tweet by Ranaganathan was a code word, to be decoded by picking up first letter of every word in his message. Rajdeep failed to get that in a hurry to share any praises he got, while his wife too, who writes ‘satire pieces’ herself, could not understand it:

Earlier, too, Ranganathan’s satire on Indian babudom was taken up seriously on National Museum ‘loaning’ priceless artefacts to journalists, including the Harappan Dancing Girl, was taken as true by many media houses.

Soon the piece got picked up and people started asking ’eminent’ journalists whether it is true.

Tribune ran a major story and interviewed everyone except the one who started it all, Ranganathan, for clarification. The BJP had alleged a scam and the Museum Director had to assure that the Dancing Girl was very much ‘available’ with the authorities and not loaned out.

Perhaps the blame to media houses mistaking satire for real news should go to Rahul Roushan who founded Faking News, one of India’s first satire websites. One of the fake news titled “Unable to attract even a single girl, frustrated man sues Axe” was taken as seriously by mainstream media houses.

Now, if only mainstream media houses has tried to check facts before sensationalising, or even had a sense of humour, we wouldn’t have to spell out sarcasm to them.

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