On April 6, India Today published a fake news report that claimed that the central government had alleged that Kumbh Mela was becoming a super-spreader of Coronavirus. The headline of the report read, “Kumbh Mela becoming a super-spreader event, hope SOP is followed: Centre”. From the headline, the article gave the impression that Kumbh had already become a super-spreader of COVID-19.
In fact, the description of the article clearly stated that according to the central government, the ‘ongoing Haridwar Kumbh Mela is becoming a super-spreader event”.
Soon, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare took to Twitter, calling this report ‘incorrect and fake’. Armed with a screenshot of the headline of the article and the description that said that Haridwar Kumbh Mela had turned into a “super-spreader event”, the Ministry trashed the report by India Today.
What did the central government say about Haridwar Kumbh Mela and how did India Today misquote them
The report was based on the press briefing by the Ministry of Health on Covid-19 on April 6. Towards the end of the press briefing, when questions were being asked, one of the reporters had asked the ministry officials if there are indications of Maha Kumbh becoming a super spreader and if there are any plans to end the event sooner than scheduled.
In his reply, Rajesh Bhushan, secretary of MoHFW, said, “One fact that we usually lose sight of is that the duration of Kumbh has already been curtailed. Kumbh, wherever it happens, is usually for three-and-a-half to four months. The present Kumbh has already been curtailed to a month. So let’s not lose sight of facts. At times when we tend to push in particular interpretation or narrative, we tend to lose sight of very basic facts.”
“As far as super-spreaders events are concerned, the union government almost a month ago issued an SOP specifically for the practices to be adopted in Kumbh and had a longish meeting with the state government officers in which Dr Balram Bhargav and Dr Paul also participated and after that NCBC fielded four local inspection teams, two of which were led by director NCBC himself and they also shared with the state governments various protocols that need to be put in place,” he added.
Dr Paul further added, “While keeping the dignity of the event in mind, the SOP [Standard Operating Procedure] was formed. We hope that the state government is implementing it on the ground. We hope that the protocols that were mentioned in the SOP are being followed at the event.”
It is pertinent to note here that the Ministry made absolutely no indication that the Kumbh Mela was turning into a super-spreader event or they had any suspicions that it could turn into one, however, these facts were lost on India Today.
After spreading fake news, India Today quietly edits report, but continues to spread its agenda
After the fact-check by the Ministry, India Today quietly changed their report without offering an explanation or an apology. In the report itself, there is no indication that India Today had earlier spread fake news and have updated their copy after a fact-check by the Ministry itself.
Interestingly, while India Today changed their headline, they have not changed the URL of the report. Further, even in the changed headline, India Today continued to subtly suggest that the Kumbh Mela was becoming a super-spreader.
In fact, throughout the article, India Today was hell bent on calling Kumbh Mela a super-spreader. Despite the central government giving no indication of the same, India Today, in its changed headline, claimed that the central government had said that the SOP must be followed to prevent the religious event into turning into a ‘super-spreader’. From the statement of the central government, it is evident that they themselves never used the word ‘super-spreader’ for the Kumbh Mela, but responded to a question that raised suspicion.
In the first paragraph of the article, India Today mentions “super-spreader” in quotes, alluding to the fact that the Ministry had used those very words. However, that is not true.
It was evident from the India Today report that the intention was not to report the measures taken at Kumbh Mela, for example, the curtailing of the duration to 1 month, the negative COVID tests of attendees or even the SOP that had been issued, but they allude to the conjecture that it was becoming a super-spreader event.
ANI quoted an unnamed source suggesting the centre is worried
The report of India Today mentioned news agency ANI’s report in which they quoted an unnamed source in the Ministry of Health. According to ANI, the source said that during the secretary-level meeting over the Covid-19 situation on April 5, there were apprehensions that the Kumbh festival might become a “super-spreader”.
The source further added that the government is worried about the festival and discussed it in a high-level meeting on Monday. According to the source, a member had said, “If the government does not decide to end Kumbh before the stipulated time, it may become a COVID-19′ super spreader.” He further added, “The government is forming a team that will appeal to all with the help of sadhus and religious leaders to ensure pilgrims, who are visiting the Kumbh, wear masks and follow social distancing.” It is pertinent to note here that the ANI report was a wholly source-based report without any evidence that any such apprehension had been raised.