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Mid-Day admits their report on EVMs being unlocked by OTP was false, but doesn’t publish any apology, quietly deletes fake news from website

The last thing that Shirish "reposted" on X was the fake report he wrote. The report in which Mid-Day clarified it was fake was not reposted by him. The fake report, however, has been removed from Mid-Day's website.

On 17th June, the Mid-Day newspaper admitted that their report on EVMs being unlocked by OTP was wrong. A clarification was published on the front page of the newspaper below the report that contained the statement issued by an Election Commission officer debunking Mid-Day’s report. In the clarification, Mid-Day said, “The report ‘Waikar’s kin had a phone that unlocks EVM’ (pages 6, June 16) inadvertently erroneously mentioned that the accused person used his mobile phone to generate an OTP to unlock EVMs. The error is regretted.”

Source: Mid-Day

However, the way clarification has been published raises several questions about the journalistic ethics of the publication. First of all, the clarification portion covered a very small portion on the front page of the newspaper that too next to a large report on Bollywood actor Salman Khan. Such difference in the size of the reports and clarification, irrespective of the page on which the latter was published, is bound to be missed by the readers.

Source: Mid-Day

Though the original report published on 16th June was on 6th page, it was prominently highlighted by the newspaper as shown in the screenshot below.

Source: Mid-Day

Furthermore, the clarification came only after the Election Commission of India (ECI) issued a notice to the publication. Notably, neither Mid-Day has published any post on social media issuing clarification on the matter nor author of the original report, Shirish Vaktania, has issued any apology for the gross failure to confirm the information before publishing it. The last thing that Shirish “reposted” on X was the fake report he wrote. The report in which Mid-Day clarified it was fake was not reposted by him.

The fake report, however, has been removed from Mid-Day’s website.

Source: X

Fake news on EVM by Mid-Day and ECI’s reaction

On 16th June, the Election Commission of India has released a statement pointing out how Mid-Day twisted a case of an unauthorised phone found in a counting centre to claim that the phone was used to unlock EVMs and Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System using OTPs. Before the ECI’s explanation, OpIndia had published a fact-check on Mid-Day’s report.

Mid-Day published a sensational report claiming that a relative of newly elected Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Waikar was able to connect to EVMs using his mobile phone. The report claimed that a mobile phone was used for generating the OTP that unlocked the EVM machine, which was used inside the NESCO Centre during the counting of votes on June 4. The report states that police have launched an investigation into the case and sent the phone for examination to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL).

Mid-Day claimed, “During the counting of votes through the EVM machine, the candidate Amol Kirtikar was ahead but when the votes on the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System were counted, Kirtikar lagged behind, eventually losing the race to Waikar.” The report tried to insinuate that the Shiv Sena candidate won because his relatives used a phone to unlock an EVM and an ETPBS by generating OTPs.

Following the publication of the report, attacks on the EVMs have resumed on social media. As expected, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi used the report to resume his attacks on EVMs.

While the police have launched a probe over the use of a phone inside the counting centre in Mumbai, the Mid-Day report was grossly misleading. It claims Mangesh Pandilkar used a phone to generate OTP to unlock an EVM, which is a completely baseless claim. Electronic Voting Machines are not connected to any network, and they can’t be ‘unlocked’ remotely by generating an OTP.

After the voting is done, EVMs are sealed physically, and the authorised polling agents of the candidates along with polling officials sign on the seal. The EVMs are then stored in strong rooms where agents of candidates are also allowed to keep a vigil. On the counting day, after the EVMs are taken out, the counting agents of the candidates are allowed to check the seals and the signatures. After everything is found to be ok, the seal is broken, and the result button is pressed to see the number of votes polled by each candidate in that EVM.

At no stage from allocating EVMs to polling booths to voting to counting, there is any provision to lock or unlock EVMs remotely using OTPs. The EVMs are sealed and unsealed physically, not electronically. Therefore, the claim that the Shiv Sena MP’s relatives used a phone to OTP to unlock EVMs is completely fake news.

The report also talked about the Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System being unlocked by the same phone. OpIndia’s detailed explanation in the matter can be seen here. ECI’s statement in the matter can be checked here.

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Anurag
Anurag
B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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