Mainstream media has been spreading communally sensitive fake news for quite some time

Recently, the editor of Postcard news Mahesh Hegde was arrested for spreading fake news about an attack on a Jain monk by Muslims. This has suddenly created awareness about fake news that is being spread by the media.

Fake news is dangerous for society as it can lead to violence and create false impressions and nobody in their right mind can support the phenomenon. However, the menace of communally sensitive fake news is not new. The mainstream media is routinely involved in peddling such news. So far they have not been arrested the way Mahesh Hegde has been.

Raped for consuming beef? Pallavi Ghosh’s inflammatory and false tweet

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Pallavi Ghosh of CNN News network had shared false reports of a rape committed because of consuming beef. This news was busted by Uttar Pradesh police.

Instead of arresting the journalist for fanning communal tensions, UP police said that her Tweets were fictional and they could not verify the same. The same kind of treatment could have been given to the Postcard News founder who had shared false news of a Jain monk who had been attacked by a particular community. In fact, the brazenness of the mainstream media is such, that Pallavi Ghosh has still not deleted the high sensitive, and blatantly false tweet even after being corrected by the police.

Sagarika Ghose forced to delete her Tweet 

Sagarika Ghose was also forced to delete her Tweets that were aimed at fanning communal discord. As mentioned in an older article on OpIndia: She didn’t give any reference to any incident or data to back her sensational claims, which incite communal passions. [..] It should be noted that the Indian laws have provisions for punishing speech that can create enmities between communities or disturb law and order, especially if the speech is not based on facts. Sagarika’s tweet was deemed as a provocation that could have led people to take law into their own hands.

Hate speech by Sagarika Ghose
The controversial tweet, now deleted by Sagarika.

Dubious ‘Data Journalism’ claiming 86% killed in cow related violence are Muslim

Another classic example of fake news was the claim that “86% killed in cow-related violence since 2010 are Muslim, 97% attacks after Modi govt came to power”. This piece of news was carried in almost all major media houses in India. The links to the same are below :

These reports are based on a piece of data journalism by a portal called IndiaSpend. An article that busted this myth was published on OpIndia. The writer clearly called this analysis a lynching of data because the analysis was not done based on police records or crime data. It was done after analysing news reports in media! The three major loopholes in the IndiaSpend study pointed out by the author are :

To summarize, we see:

  1. No attempt to define the source (“English media”) that has been studied.
  2. No attempt to explain why the subclass (“English media”) that has been studied is representative of the whole class (“media”).
  3. No justification provided as to why media reports are to be preferred to government records.

Such a blatantly communal news peddled across English media without any stringent analysis went without punishment under a government headed by a ‘fascist party’ like BJP. One must question as to why such fake news went unpunished. The same myth has been countered by an another OpIndia article exposing the piece of fake news.

Hindustan Times’ infamous ‘Hate Tracker’

Similarly, Hindustan Times “Hate Tracker” (content has been taken down by HT) which peddled biased views of all hate crimes in the country is another example of biased news with communal implications. The OpIndia article countering this propaganda had highlighted as to how crimes against Dalits and Muslims had been given more weight, thereby promoting the propaganda that violence against these groups had increased under the BJP government at the centre. Not many socially conscious intellectuals called out Hindustan Time’s propaganda using biased data.

Gujarat has only 2.33% of India’s Dalit population but ranks fourth on atrocities?

Another interview in The Wire which wrongly claimed that violence against Dalits in Gujarat was high in spite of their low population in the state is also an example of how media peddled lies to sow seeds of hatred in the country. The article claimed: “Gujarat has only 2.33% of India’s Dalit population but ranks fourth on atrocities against the community.”

The OpIndia article countering this false data using the information published by NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) revealed that Gujarat was not among the top 10 state in terms of violence against Dalits. The Wire was not held accountable for its biased reporting which ostensibly has the intention of furthering social divisions in Gujarat and elsewhere.

The Wire’s interview that falsely dragged RSS on Naga accord sparks violence?

While above examples have the ability to widen social divisions and create violence, another interview by The Wire led to actual violence in Assam. The interview’s title was: ‘Revealed: RSS Draft Plan for Nagaland Accord’. Further, the report carried the following extract: Jagdamba Mall, a known face of the RSS in the Northeast, who has also been instrumental in BJP’s electoral inroads into the region, said the Accord is his “personal effort” coming from his “study of the Naga issue for over 45 years”.

The suggestions of Jagadamba Mal on resolving Naga issue were blown out of proportion by The Wire according to him. Jagamba Mal also clarified to Indian Express that he was not associated with RSS.

“I had indeed drawn up a list of suggestions for a proposed solution to the Naga issue, which included a one-time grant of Rs 500 crore for 10 districts including Dima Hasao of Assam, and formation of a development authority to ensure proper utilisation of that amount over a given period of time. But then that was entirely my personal opinion and has nothing to do with the government or the RSS. It is also a fact that I had shared this idea with a journalist who totally misinterpreted it, leading to such serious problems including the death of two innocent persons,” Mal told The Indian Express over the telephone.

In spite of spreading false news which allegedly led to violence, the portal was allowed to go scot-free by the Assam government.

Arundhati Roy’s false claims on anti-Muslim violence forced her to apologise

Arundhati Roy, the icon of liberals has also been involved in spreading communally sensitive fake news. She had claimed that Babri Masjid was demolished in the year 2002. In addition to that, she had distorted facts about crimes against Muslims in an article published on Outlook and was forced to publish an apology. The standards that were applied for the founder of PostCard news are not applicable to the liberal icon Arundati Roy.

An international columnist tries to stoke violence with fake news in Kasganj

CJ Werleman a US columnist tried to stoke violence with a video claiming that people were barging into the house of Muslims in Kasganj. However, the UP police were quick to bust the myth on Twitter. Werleman deleted his original tweet. Indian media tried to spin news with a secular angle while reporting the events from Kasganj.

When NDTV reinvented the identity of a Cow 

In response to a circular by the central government, some members of Kerala Congress slaughtered a calf and shot a video of it. NDTV which had some hidden agenda in reporting the matter called the cow as a buffalo and then changed it to an Ox. A detailed report of the same can be found here .

Jadhav and Doklam – Media has jeopardised national security as well

In addition to communally sensitive news, half baked reports jeopardising national security have been peddled by top journalists with impunity. Theories about Kulbhushan Jadhav and Doklam are published based on unnamed sources and flimsy logic without any fear of government action. The government is also not keen on acting upon these journalists.

After the Mahesh Hegde/Postcard episode, we can probably hope that fake news spread with an intent of creating communal discord or jeopardizing national security will be dealt with seriously. In addition to that star journalists who have spread the fake news in the past should also be brought to book based on the evidence that is already available in the public domain.

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