The year 2021 saw several big news events - from the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic to elections in key states like West Bengal to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. While mainstream media newsrooms were busy covering these big events, there were several instances of misreporting and publishing stories that were based on misleading and false information.
A detailed analysis of 794 stories (till December 24) published by the BOOM newsroom in 2021 showed that we did 27 fact checks on false reporting by Indian news channels, websites and agencies between January 2 and December 26, 2021. In 2020, BOOM fact-checked media organisations a whopping 40 times.
Of the 27 stories fact checked by BOOM, 25 were published by mainstream media outlets through their own bylines. Two stories were misreported by the wire agency ANI and published by newsrooms as part of their syndicated feed.
The top news organisations which misreported events, aired or published false information were Republic TV, Zee News and Times Now with six instances of misreporting, followed by Hindustan Times with five stories. Next in line were Zee Hindustan and Navbharat Times with four stories each where they reported false news.
Of the 27 fact checks, 22 were in English while five were in Bangla language debunked by BOOMBangla. BOOM found Bengali news outlets like Hindustan Times Bangla, News 18 Bangla, ABP Ananda, Anadabazaar, Zee 24 Ghanta featured in the list of stories misreported by media outlets.
We found that most of the misreporting was during the crisis in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country with news outlets using video game footage and sometimes unrelated old videos from different places. Similarly, Bengali language media outlets in addition to misreporting about Afghanistan, also aired false news about Cyclone Yaas and the Tripura violence.
BOOM has compiled a list of the top fact checks below to give you a glimpse of how reporting can go awry.
Taliban Take Over Of Afghanistan
Media Outlets: India Today, Aaj Tak, Tv9 Bharatvarsh, Times Now, Republic TV, Zee Hindustan, Zee News, News 24, Navbharat Times, Jansatta, News 18 Hindi, TV9 Hindi, Live Hindustan, Zee Marathi, Wion, Amar Ujala
In August 2021, the Taliban in a swift and planned move, took over several parts of Afghanistan even as American troops were withdrawing from the country. In just 10 days, starting from August 6, the Taliban troops took their first provincial capital and by August 15, they had reached the gates of Kabul -- capital of Afghanistan.
The withdrawal and the take over led to unrest in the already war ravaged country with residents flooding the airport to escape. Videos and images showed families pleading with defence personnel to let them board planes or at least take their children, in a bid to escape the Taliban rule. Human rights organisations raised questions about the safety and status of women given the earlier atrocities of the Taliban.
The news not only dominated the news cycle - in India and globally - but also been a hot topic of misinformation. BOOM published 25 fact checks pertaining to false news about Afghanistan and of these eight stories were misreporting or false reporting by mainstream media outlets..
1. Republic TV, TV9 Bharatvarsh, Zee Hindustan, Times Now Navbharat Passed Video Game Footage As Off As Real Air Strikes
In what became a mockery of Indian journalism on social media, news channels in a hurry to be the first to air visuals from Afghanistan, aired footage from video games claiming it was real.
Republic TV, Zee Hindustan and Times Now Navbharat aired visuals from Arma-3, claiming it showed airstrikes by Pakistani drones in Panjshir valley against resistance fighters. The channels ran the visuals claiming it showed Pakistani involvement and how it was helping Taliban in the take over of Afghanistan, with leading anchors analysing the footage and also bringing in defence experts to talk about it.
2. India Today, Aaj Tak, News 18 And TV9 Hindi Mis-indentify New Governor Of Afghanistan's Central Bank
A photo of a Taliban fighter sitting with a gun at an office desk was used by Indian news outlets to claim that he was Haji Mohammad Idris, the then newly appointed acting governor of Afghanistan's central bank -- Da Afghanistan Bank.
The photo had been viral since August 18, 2021, with various captions and was also doing the rounds on meme websites like 9gag with funny captions.
Read about the misreporting here.
3. Times Now Aired Unrelated Video From Wales As Pakistani Fighter Jet Flying Over Panjshir Valley
Times Now ran an old video from Wales, United Kingdom of a United State Air Force (USAF) fighter jet training in the mountains, claiming it showed Pakistani fighter jets helping Taliban weaken the resistance in Panjshir valley of Afghanistan. Read the story here.
4. India Today Airs Old Photo Of US Jet Crash As Pak Jet Downed In Panjshir
In yet another reporting gaffe on the fight between Taliban and the Northern Alliance, India Today ran an old photo of a US F-16 Fighting Falcon that had crash landed during a routine training flight in Arizona, United States. The news channel falsely claiming that it showed a Pakistani fighter jet shot down by resistance fighters in Panjshir. Read the story here.
By September 6, 2021, a month after Taliban took over Afghanistan, BOOM had found that 16 news organisations had published a total of 24 false or misreported stories.
5. Zee Hindustan Runs Old Video As Children Picking Up Arms Against Taliban
Hindi news channel Zee Hindustan aired an old video of a minor girl in a colourful head scarf firing from a machine gun and laughing at the camera, falsely claiming that it showed children taking up arms and firing at Taliban in the Panjshir province of Afghanistan.
Read about how the channel claimed the old video an exclusive from Taliban here.
6. NDTV, Aaj Tak, News18, WION News, Dainik Bhaskar, Republic TV, Amar Ujala Falsely Claim Man Suspended From Helicopter Was Executed By Taliban
A viral video which showed a man dangling from a helicopter went viral and was picked up by several news outlets with many editors of the channels also sharing it on Twitter, with the false claim that it showed a barbaric execution by the Taliban.
In reality, the man was not executed and the video in fact showed that he was hanging from a harness and even waving his hands at the people below. Read about how the video was misreported by nearly 11 media outlets here.
7. India Today, Wion, Times Now, Republic TV, Zee News Aired Old And Unrelated Visuals
As news of the blasts came in, mainstream Indian news outlets such as India Today, WION, Times Now, Republic TV, ZeeNews and News18 Bangla, used old photos of Kabul airport and an old video of an airstrike reported to be from the Gaza strip, as visuals streaming in from Afghanistan.
Read the story here.
8. Zee 24 Ghanta Airs Video From Libya Claiming It Shows Taliban Flying An US Helicopter
A video of a helicopter seemingly moving of its own accord, went viral days after the Taliban take over of Afghanistan with tweets claiming it showed the militant group learning to fly a US chopper.
Bangla news channel, Zee 24 Ghanta also aired the video with the anchor detailing and analysing the events happening and adding that the "helicopter refused to take off" as the Taliban tried to operate it. The anchor in his detailed analysis did not think it important to tell the audience that a vehicle could be seeing towing the chopper.
Read the story here.
9. News18 Bangla Airs Digital Video Created By A TikTok User Claiming Afghan Man Escaped By Sleeping On An Aircraft Wing
A video of a man lying on the turbine engine of a flying aircraft was viral on WhatsApp with a false claim that it showed an Afghan man escaping from the Taliban. News18 Bangla picked up the viral video, believing the false claim and aired on the channel. We found that the man in the video was doctored into a digitally created video by a Vietnamese TikTok artist.
Read the story here.
Management Of COVID-19 By State Governments And Vaccination Status
India rolled out its vaccination programme for frontline workers and essential workers in January 2021 before slowly rolling out the same for the general public in phases. Even as the country limped back to normalcy, the second COVID-19 wave wreaked havoc across with high number of cases reported in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala and Maharashtra. India's capital Delhi faced an acute shortage of oxygen and hospital beds and the state of Uttar Pradesh reported high number of deaths with the governments being criticised for their handling of the pandemic.
Many media houses did extensive ground reports detailing the dismal situation. However, many others misreported events including falsely claiming UP government led by Yogi Adityanath was praised by international universities for how they dealt with the second wave.
Media Outlets : Zee Hindustan, DD News, Hindustan Times, Free Press Journal, Jagran, IANS, Times Now, UNI India, The Pioneer, BBC Hindi, Navbharat Times, Live Hindustan, News 18
11. Uttar Pradesh Top Performer In Managing COVID-19? News Outlets Misreport Johns Hopkins Study
News outlets UNI India and The Pioneer reported that Uttar Pradesh is among the toppers in managing novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the globe. In fact one of the news articles was also tweeted by several UP state ministers and UP government's official handle - all of them praising the chief minister Yogi Adityanath.
But a fact check by BOOM found that the case study, being cited by the news reports was not a comparative study with Brandon Howard, Communications and Marketing Manager, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health clarifying that neither the case study made comparisons to other countries or states nor did it make claims about which states or countries are top performers.
Read the story here.
12. HT, FPJ, Jagran, IANS, Times Now Falsely Claim Harvard University Praised UP's Migrant Crisis Handling
Hindustan Times, Free Press Journal, Jagran published reports claiming a Harvard University study praised Yogi Adityanath's handling of the pandemic. The same was reported by wire agency IANS and carried by Times Now. BOOM found that this was false and misleading reporting, as the study was done by the Gurgaon-based Institute for Competitiveness and not by Harvard University. While IFC is an affiliate of Harvard Business School's Microeconomics of Competitiveness affiliate network, Harvard did not have any involvement in the study.
Read the story here.
13. DD News Misquotes RBI Governor On Vaccine Availability For All
A quote by Shaktikanta Das, Governor of the Reserve Bank Of India, where he cited an assumption by the International Monetary Fund was taken out of context and misrepresented by DD News. The channel, misquoting the RBI Governor tweeted that Das said that vaccines would be available for all by the second half of 2022.
Read the story here.
14. BBC, Navbharat Times, News 18, Live Hindustan Claim COVID-19 Vaccine Cause Spoons, Coins To Stick To Person's Body
A video of metal spoons and coins sticking to a person's body was viral on Facebook and Whatsapp when news outlets including BBC Hindi, News18 interviewed him and making the unverified claim that COVID-19 vaccines are the reason for metal sticking to his body.
The channels tracked down the man, identified as Arvind Sonar from Maharashtra, nicknaming him the Magnetic Man and made the unverified and misleading claim that COVID-19 vaccines make metal stick to a person's body.
Read the story here.
Misreporting By Bengali Media Outlets
News Outlets - Zee 24 Ghanta, News18 Bangla, Hindustan Times Bangla, ABP Ananda, Anandabazaar, Aaj Tak Bangla, Calcutta News, Asianet News Bangla, Sangbad Pratidin
Several Bangla news outlets misreported leading events like using a video from Uruguay as visuals of Cyclone Yaas making landfall in India, airing visuals from Libya and using old videos for stories about the Taliban take over of Afghanistan. News outlets like Sangbad Pratidin and Asianet News Bangla misreported hyperlocal events in the entertainment world.
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