Right to Disinformation?
A good controversy is game-time for all media and we do not mind when their claims are backed by facts. But in a rather deplorable instance, there was an attempt to create a controversy out of nothing and our media lapped up the fabrication, did not cross verify the claims, and went around in hope of a good head hunt.
A news agency called Milli Gazette which goes with the tagline “Indian Muslims’ leading newspaper” published an article based on what was claimed to be an RTI response to a journalist Push Sharma. The essence was “Modi Govt’s AYUSH ministry says ‘we don’t recruit Muslims‘”. The RTI had inquired about Muslim teachers and trainers recruited by the AYUSH ( Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) Ministry for foreign assignments during the World Yoga Day last year.
Here’s how it was played out by leading news agencies:
Pic: Media reports
Eminent journalists joined the hunt and condemnation and concern flowed without any attempts to verify the allegation! Only, there was one small flaw in the outrage.
There never was such a policy adopted by the ministry! The Ministry of AYUSH clarified that the news is fabricated and there’s no discriminatory restriction on employment of Muslims in Ayush.
Following are the documents sent by Ayush in the RTI Reply as per Official Press Release of Ayush.
The press release clearly mentions that the ANNEXURE-1 cited in the Milli Gazette is fabricated and was never issued by Ayush.
Sanjay Dixit, an IAS officer working as Principal Secretary in Ayush Rajasthan condemned the news plant and added that the Unani branch of Ayush has almost 100% Muslims!
In addition to statements and testimonies, our simple search of AYUSH officials establishes beyond doubt that Muslims are employed by AYUSH. How then can someone report such blatant lies and why?
There is an entire ecosystem that was built by the erstwhile ruling dispensation, linked by faith, ideology and possibly more. The ecosystem’s main line of attack on the now ruling party was that, “The BJP is Communal” (meant to say, anti-Muslim & anti-Christian). Their entire campaign has forever aimed at creating a fear psychosis that a BJP government will torment, victimize, annihilate minorities. Unfortunately for the credibility of their claims and their own credibility, evidence from BJP led states and now the GoI thus far, belies these fears.
The intention of Mr. Pushp Sharma and Milli Gazette is very evident by the language in his post. It is apparent they’re trying to create a sense of insecurity in Muslims. They recast the BJP tagline of “Abki Baar Modi Sarkar” to “Abki Baar Muslims pe Vaar”. We have already seen that these claims are a bunch of fabrications.
At this point we need to realize how our intellectuals and the fourth estate are failing us. This fabrication, though undertaken apparently to show one political party in poor light, has the potential of infusing entire communities with insecurity and widen cracks in our fragile societies, specially at a time when religious fundamentalism is on the rise and an emotional spark has chances of transforming into an inferno of mass discontent.
How is Milli Gazette, a self-proclaimed “Indian Muslims’ newspaper” doing service to Muslims by running a story to propagate a lie without due diligence? The (false) charge was serious, the news agency would be expected to verify and confront the government on this, specially since it has no precedent. Given that they project themselves as voice of Indian muslims, they must be doubly sure when making sensational allegations lest questions arise as to, “Whether the voice of Indian muslims is indulging in untruth?”. But their over-enthusiasm to publish the now falsified story without proper research puts their intentions in doubt. Do they aim to empower Indian muslims with information or instigate them with disinformation? As of today, despite MoAYUSH’s clarification, forget due apology, Milli Gazzete is still carrying the fabricated story!
Yet Milli Gazzete is a rather obscure name among mainstream news channels, but even our mainstream news channels did not show the sense of responsibility one would expect from industry leaders. Possibly in their hurry to report first they compromised on the essential of “reporting fair”. The first picture “Media Reports” shows how they hurriedly jumped to conclusions and abdicated their duty of reporting the truth. Perhaps it was a story too juicy to miss and/or perhaps they have such firm belief in the notion that, “BJP is anti-minority” that any such allegation of minority victimization is pre-validated for them or it’s also possible that some of them are agents of propaganda. In any case, the media is failing in it’s social responsibility. One wishes these were merely innocuous mistakes, but such misreporting can have serious repercussions for peace and national integrity.
The government has expressed anguish at the misreporting but we wish it does more to ensure any fraudulent reporting invites penalty and that falsehood does not find refuge with “Freedom of Expression”.