Bodies in Ganga to 'Real' Death Toll: How Dainik Bhaskar Led COVID Coverage
Dainik Bhaskar, the largest circulated daily, has been relentlessly covering the pandemic from ground zero.
The Bhopal edition of Dainik Bhaskar, one of India's most-read newspapers, carried a devastating image on 16 April – an aerial capture of multiple burning pyres in the city's Bhadbhada Vishram Ghat.
The photo, which went viral on social media, was one of earliest indications of the devastation caused by the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic – because of the lack of oxygen supply and adequate medical infrastructure.
Just three months after the photo was published, Income Tax raids were conducted in Bhopal, Jaipur, and other office locations of the newspaper, on Thursday, 22 July.
Dainik Bhaskar, the largest circulated daily with 65 editions, has been relentlessly covering the pandemic from ground zero – sending a mammoth 40 reporting teams to 12 most-affected states of the country.
From Uttar Pradesh to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh to Rajasthan, the newspaper has been publishing hard-hitting stories, bringing to the fore how the second wave of the pandemic crippled India.
Exposé on Dead Bodies in River Ganga
On 14 May, the newspaper published a photograph with the headline – ‘Sharmsaar hui Ganga’ which translates to 'Ganga is ashamed.' The story revealed how corpses were seen floating in River Ganga – at least 2,000 bodies along its 1,140-km long shoreline.
This, as the paper pointed out, was an unusual occurrence.
A Newslaundry report said that the paper sent 30 reporters to document the bodies along the holy river – a deep-dive report from 27 districts. The story was picked by several national and even international outlets.
Om Gaur, one of the editors of the paper, wrote an op-ed for The New York Times – ‘The Ganges Is Returning the Dead. It Does Not Lie.’
Just days after this report, the group published another report highlighting an increase in bodies floating in the river, as noticed in Prayagraj’s Shringverpur.
The report hinted that the number of corpses had increased from 8-10 to even 100 per day on some days.
Published Gujarat BJP President's Number as Headline
In April, when cases in the country were increasing steadily, the Bhaskar team in Ahmedabad, under Devendra Bhatnagar, had noticed that the state BJP president CR Patil had made an unusual claim.
While the country was reeling under the shortage of Remdesivir, he had claimed that he would be giving away 5,000 injections for free to COVID patients.
When Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani was asked in a press conference how his party’s leader had obtained a drug that the public was struggling to buy, he told them to ask Patil, the Newslaundry reported.
Following this, the newspaper published an article with the headline '98241-27694' – Patil's phone number – so that people 'could ask him directly.'
Death Toll Fudged in Rajasthan
According to The Print, Rajasthan Editor of Dainik Bhaskar, Mukesh Mathur, asked his 33 district bureau chiefs to send their reporters to villages to find out how many deaths had taken place since 1 April.
“Initially, we had three teams of two reporters each tracking deaths in towns. Sporadic numbers came in. We then decided to coordinate in a bigger way,” Mathur told the The Print.
On 25 May, the newspaper reported 14,482 deaths in 512 villages in 50 days as against the government’s figure of 3,918 deaths in 25 districts.
The editor later revealed that 74 reporters had worked on the story across 28 districts.
On 31 May, Bhaskar broke the news that 500 vials of vaccine have been found in the waste of 35 vaccination centers in 8 districts of Rajasthan – containing more than 2500 doses.
The newspaper is also one of the few Hindi dailies covering reports of possible surveillance on politicians, journalists, activists, amid the Pegasus row – a spyware allegedly sold only to vetted government clients by the Israeli NSO Group.
Headline on the Day of the IT Raids
On 22 July, the day multiple raids were conducted across various offices of the newspaper, the front page of the Dainik Bhaskar focused on the lack of government acknowledgment of the oxygen crisis and highlighted the 'true extent of the COVID-19 crisis during the second wave.'
Who Owns Dainik Bhaskar?
Dainik Bhaskar was founded by Ramesh Chandra Agarwal in 1958 and is headquartered in Bhopal. Over the years, the newspaper has expanded to 12 states – with particular focus on the Hindi heartland.
According to a report by Reporters Without Borders and Dataleads, Dainik Bhaskar is now owned by DB Corporation Private Limited, a listed company.
The Indian Readership Survey data ranks it as the most-read newspaper in India, with a circulation figure of 4.57 million. WAN-IFRA, a global news association, ranks the paper as the third largest-circulated newspaper internationally.
The media group employs nearly 3,000 journalists across the country and is said to have a strong network of stringers, The Print reported.
(With inputs from Newslaundry, The Print)
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