The year of 2020 saw some major events– the outbreak of a global pandemic, fatal clashes between India and China for the first time in four decades, and the tragic death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, to name a few. While these events were mostly well-reported on, there were certain instances when the mainstream media went a few steps too far and spread misleading or false information.
BOOM did 40 unique fact checks on misreporting or false reporting by news channels, websites and agencies between January 1 and December 24, 2020.
We have compiled the top 20 fact checks below to give you a glimpse of how reporting can go awry.
Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death And Its Aftermath
Media Outlets: Aaj Tak, Times Of India, ABP News, Times Now, India Today, IANS, Jagran
Actor Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide at the age of 34 on June 14 in his Bandra, Mumbai apartment. His death shocked fans into starting an online movement to get him justice alleging that he was coerced to take his life.
Fans also blamed his girlfriend Rhea Chakraborty and other Bollywood stars for Rajput’s death. The case became such that media outlets launched their own investigations and while doing that fell for, aired and published fake news.
1. AajTak, India.Com Run Fake Tweets As Sushant Singh Rajput’s Last Words
The screenshots claimed the actor tweeted about how he had been struggling and was going to end his life. The channels called the tweets the actor’s last message before he died. Read here
2. Times Now Links Rhea Chakraborty’s ‘Imma Bounce’ Chat To Bounced Cheque
A popular slang, “Imma bounce,” meaning, “I am gonna leave” took a hilarious turn after Times Now decoded alleged messages from Rhea Chakraborty’s phone and declared that she was talking about a bounced cheque. The channel added an image of a bounced cheque too! Read details about the gaffe here.
3. TOI, HT, ABP News Fall For Fake Account Impersonating Indrajit Chakraborty
The fake Twitter account impersonating actress Rhea Chakraborty’s father Indrajit Chakraborty demanded justice for the actor and was given prime column space by many media outlets. Read here.
4. No, This Is Not Sushant Singh Rajput’s Niece – Aaj Tak, India Today, TOI Misreport
A video of actor-choreographer Manpreet Toor dancing with Sushant Singh Rajput was shared claiming she is the late actor’s niece, Mallika Singh. Read the fact check here.
5. IANS, Jagran Fall For Fake Account Demanding CBI Probe
After fake Twitter accounts of Rhea Chakraborty’s father, wire agency IANS and news outlets fell for fake account of Rajput’s father K.K. Singh claiming he appealed for a CBI investigation into his son’s death. Read here.
The coronavirus pandemic
Media Outlets: Lokmat, TV9 Bharatvarsh, Times Of India, The Hindu
As COVID-19 cases shot upwards in India, so did the frequency of viral messages that claimed to know the source, cause, prevention and cure of the virus that brought the world including India to a standstill.
6. Marathi Newspaper Lokmat Falls For Fake COVID-19 Bioweapon Story
The English edition of Marathi daily Lokmat fell for a widespread conspiracy theory that the COVID outbreak was a bioweapon with details of the same leaked by a Chinese intelligence officer. Read here
7. The Hindu Article Erroneously Links Filovirus Study To Coronavirus
The Hindu newspaper published a study about Filovirus, from October 2019, months before the outbreak, linking it to Coronavirus. Read here
8. TV9 Bharatvarsh Falsely Links Mystery Virus In Tomatoes To Coronavirus
TV9 Bharatvarsh asked people to give up eating tomatoes claiming an unidentified virus affecting the fruit in Maharashtra was a more dangerous version of coronavirus and would transmit to whoever consumed them. Read here.
9. Times of India Misreports Agra Woman Fleeing After Coronavirus Tests
The Agra edition of Times of India made false claims that the wife of a Google employee who tested positive, escaped from quarantine in Bangalore and fled to Agra and resisted treatment. Read here.
The Scapegoating of Tablighi Jamaat Members
Media outlets: ANI, Zee Hindustan
As the country was trying to come to terms with the spike in COVID-19 case, an international gathering of Tablighis in New Delhi’s Nizamuddin area in March 2020, became the focal point with several blaming them for the spread and coining some new and highly bigoted terms: ‘Tablighi Virus’ and ‘Corona Jihad’. Media channels also added to the panic and blaming by falsely linking the Jamaat to unrelated and old stories.
10. ANI UP Misquotes Noida Police; Adds Tablighi Jamaat To Tweet
ANI UP misquoted Noida police and tweeted that residents of Sector 5 Harola in Noida had to be quarantined after they came in contact with Tablighi Jamaat members. Noida police called out the wire agency on Twitter for spreading fake news. Read here.
11. Zee Hindustan Peddles 2015 News As Recent, Adds False Communal Angle
Hindi news outlet Zee Hindustan peddled a 2014 incident about a UK eatery serving food contaminated with human faeces as recent and further added a deliberate false Tablight Jamaat angle. Read here
Misreporting on China
Media outlets: Times Now, Aaj Tak, TV9 Bharatvarsh, ABP News
After sporadic skirmishes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh since May, tensions between the two nations reached an all-time high in June when clashes turned fatal with the loss of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers. Following this incident, social media was flooded with fake news around the conflict. At the height of the conflict, we witnessed two occasions when the Indian media put out misinformation on China.
12. Aaj Tak, Times Now Air Video Of 1962 War Memorial As ‘Proof Of Galwan’
A video showing a burial ground in Xinjiang for Chinese soldiers who died during the 1962 Indo-China war was aired by Times Now and Aaj Tak with a misleading claim that it shows the graves of soldiers killed in the clash on June 20. Read here.
13. Taiwan Refutes Indian Media Reports About Shooting Down A Chinese Jet
In September, TV9 Bharatvarsh, Times Now and ABP News ran two undated and unverified videos that were circulating on Twitter to claim that it showed Taiwanese military shooting down a Chinese aircraft, which was later refuted by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence.
Misreporting on Pakistan
News outlets: India TV, Times Now, OpIndia, News18, Zee News, IANS, Republic TV, ABP News
Our analyses of all our fact checks on news channels, agencies and news websites reveal that Pakistan was a frequent target of misreporting and misinformation from Indian media. Throughout the year, we did five unique fact checks on mainstream media spreading fake news on Pakistan, and we decided to include four of them in this list. Read here.
14. Did Pak MPs Chant ‘Modi Modi’ In Parliament? No, They’re Chanting ‘Voting’
News channels India TV and Times Now, and right-wing website OpIndia shared a video of Pakistani parliamentary proceedings from October 26th, where Opposition MPs were chanting ‘voting, voting’, to falsely claim that there were chanting ‘Modi, Modi’. Read here.
15. Indian Media Trolled For False Claims Of ‘Civil War’ In Pakistan
In October, news outlets News18 and Zee News reported about a ‘civil war’ breaking out in Pakistan to describe a political crisis going on in the country. These rumours were quickly dispelled by experts and residents of Pakistan, which quickly led to a barrage of trolling by social media users. Read here.
16. IANS Publishes Satire Article On Imran Khan As News
At the height of the pandemic, news agency IANS published a news report, claiming that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the coronavirus curve was flattening, after he erroneously read the curve upside down. We found that the claim originated from a Pakistani satire website called The Dependent, and had no link to reality. Read here
17. Republic TV, Times Now, ABP News Run Old Video As Pak Ceasefire Violation
During a ceasefire violation by Pakistan last May along the Line of Control (LOC) in Kashmir, news channels Republic TV, Times Now, and ABP News passed off an old video claiming to show the conflict. We found that the video was unrelated to that event, and predated it by more than a year. Read here.
Misreporting of communal nature
Media Outlets: Sudarshan TV, NDTV, India Today, Hindustan Times, ANI, Republic TV, Times Now, Financial Express, DNA, Swarajya
The questionable coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat event was not the only misstep by the Indian media that was of communal nature. We also found several online and television channels along with some right-wing news outlets spreading communal misinformation throughout the year.
18. Sudarshan TV UPSC Show: 5 Misleading Claims
Online right-wing channel Sudarshan TV aired a highly controversial episode on 11th September, 2020, in which editor-in-chief Suresh Chahvanke accused the Union Public Service Commission of not being transparent in its functioning and favouring Muslim candidates over Hindus in the selection procedure. We found these claims to be highly misleading in nature. Eventually, the Information and Broadcast Ministry submitted an order, cautioning the channel over the ‘offensive’ content of the show, to the Supreme Court. Read here.
19. Tragic Death Of Pregnant Elephant In Kerala Fuels Bigotry, Disinformation
In June, the tragic news of the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala shocked the entire country. In the wake of this incident, several mainstream news outlets like NDTV, India Today, Hindustan Times, ANI, Republic, Times Now, Financial Express and DNA reported that the elephant was intentionally fed a pineapple laden with explosives, in the Muslim-majority Malappuram district, leading to a slew of bigoted attacks on Muslims and on the Left-ruled state on social media. BOOM was later told by forest officials that the elephant had accidentally eaten an explosive trap meant for wild boars, and that the incident happened in Palakkad and not Malappuram. Read here.
20. Swarajya Peddles Misinformation About Deepika Padukone’s ‘Chhapaak’
A day before the official release of Deepika Padukone-starrer Chhapaak, which recounted the real story of an acid attack survivor, right-wing media outlet Swarajya published an article accusing the film-makers of changing the religion of the acid attacker from Muslim to Hindu. However, after speaking to some movie reviewers we found out that no such change was made. We even sent one of our reporters to the cinema to confirm the details, and found that Swarajya’s accusation was completely unfounded. Read here.