In the race for higher clicks, page views or TRPs depending on the medium of publication, the mainstream media seem to be competing with low credibility digital websites and social media handles, thus propagating fake news. Weeks after the BJP claimed on Twitter a major diplomatic victory for the Narendra Modi government by forcing the UAE government to seize assets worth Rs 15,000 cr of underworld fugitive Dawood Ibrahim, there is finally an official denial.
The Hindu reports that the Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Ahmad Al Banna has denied having any information about raids on Dawood Ibrahim’s properties in the UAE. “I heard about the reports, but with all respect to the media (that reported the story), I have no information about such raids taking place,” Ambassador Ahmed Al Banna told The Hindu. While diplomatic officials are not always known to speak the truth or confirm media reports, the lack of verifiable sources either from India or UAE does suggest that this story went viral due to the Indian media’s herd mentality when it comes to a sensational piece of news.
It all started on January 3, 2017 when two national channels, Zee News and ABP News went on breaking news mode, claiming the biggest ever crackdown on 1993 Mumbai blasts mastermind and fugitive Dawood Ibrahim. This report by Zee Media claimed that the UAE government, acting on a confidential list received from India last year, decided to seize the fugitive’s assets in Dubai, worth Rs 15,000 cr.
The report also claimed that the list was provided to the UAE authorities when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, visited UAE last year. The dossier provided by India to UAE listed several properties and also reportedly made a mention about a company known as ”Golden Box” being allegedly run in Dubai by Dawood’s brother, Anis Ibrahim, claimed the Zee Media report.
Interestingly, this report had no official source but attributed to Zee Media itself – a unique case of a publication quoting itself while providing the source.
Not to be left behind, another prominent Hindi news channel ABP News also pushed out the story, claiming high level government sources. While the story does come up on Google search, the story page with the video of the correspondent reporting the story is no longer available and is redirected to the home page of their website.
And then, the BJP’s IT cell jumped into the fray to add to the confusion. Quoting media reports, BJP’s Twitter handle created a graphical card on January 4, 2017, highlighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomatic victory. The source – ‘media reports’ appearing at the bottom of the Twitter card.
Several news reports followed – all attributing to the BJP’s Twitter handle and the originators of the news – Zee Media and ABP News. This Financial Express story wrote that ABP News had claimed confirmation from UAE government sources of the seizures being made. Despite the article being a curation of media reports, the headline (UAE government seizes Dawood Ibrahim’s assets worth Rs 15,000 crore) had no indication of the same.
By this time, the story had gone viral on WhatsApp groups and various social media forums, including websites (like this), known to taking pro-government positions.
The Economic Times also reported the story sourced to the Times News Network but with a more cautious headline. “UAE may seize Dawood Ibrahim’s assets worth Rs 15,000 crore,” ET reported on January 5 in which the reticence to officially confirm the story was attributed “to protect the UAE government’s sensitivities and considerations of confidentiality.” The story did mention that none of the intelligence agencies confirmed the seizure of assets in UAE.
The Times of India hedged its risk better in reporting such a dubious story by putting a question mark at the end of its headline (UAE about to seize Dawood’s assets worth Rs 15,000 crore?), clearly indicating its discomfort due to the lack of official confirmations but at the same time not wanting to miss on an high interest topic like Dawood Ibrahim.
Finally, Scroll.in puts out a more factual account of the story on January 6, 2017. They make a few calls to various people involved in pushing out this news, including Zee News Editor Sudhir Chaudhary and BJP spokesperson Shrikant Sharma, seeking to get an idea on where they sourced the information from. Ironically, both claim to have put out the information after reading it in the ‘media’. The conclusion of the article is very clear – there is no clear source for the news.
It is not a matter of surprise that the BJP – in this case the ruling party – chooses to push out an unconfirmed story on social media and refuses to retract it. But it is amusing how the mainstream media led the charge this time to spread fake news with social media and blog sites only being followers.