Fake Message Saying Akhtar Didn’t Win Dawkins Award Goes Viral

We found that this is completely fake news and that the Richard Dawkins award has actually been conferred on Akhtar.

Published10 Jun 2020, 01:18 PM IST
4 min read

Screenshot of a fake WhatsApp forward which alleges that the news about Javed Akhtar winning the prestigious Richard Dawkins Award is false has gone viral on social media. The message, by someone claimed to be from English news channel NDTV, elaborates how a recommendation made by a London-based group was mistaken by Akhtar as a win.

However, The Quint found that this is a fake message and that the Richard Dawkins award has indeed been conferred on Akhtar. He has been given the honour for critical thinking, holding religious dogma up to scrutiny, advancing human progress and humanist values.


Fake Message Saying Akhtar Didn’t Win Dawkins Award Goes Viral
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

The above message, purportedly sent by an employee of NDTV, claims that there is a story behind the news of this award being conferred upon Akhtar. According to the message, a London-based group of activists had proposed Akhtar’s name as the recipient for the 2020 award, in a mail on which Akhtar himself was also marked. The message claims that Akhtar mistook this as him having won the award and announced it to everyone.

The message further says that the same group is now pleading for the award to be given to Akhtar to spare embarrassment for “Indian intellectuals and free thinkers” and that an official announcement will be made soon.

We found that the message was viral on Twitter and had been shared by a handle called हम भारत के लोग.

An archived version of this tweet can be seen <a href="http://archive.is/o4tm1">here</a>.
An archived version of this tweet can be seen here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)

We found some others also sharing the same message on Twitter.

An archived version of this tweet can be seen <a href="http://archive.is/jPKoj">here</a>.
An archived version of this tweet can be seen here.
(Photo: Screenshot/Twitter)


What this viral message is making use of is that on 7 June, when the news broke of the award being given to Akhtar, there was no official announcement from Dawkins or the Center for Inquiry, the organisation which houses the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, which confers the award.

There were multiple news reports and Akhtar’s family, including Shabana Azmi, Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar all took to social media to congratulate him on the honour, as well as multiple other figures from the industry.

The Quint found that in a news report dated 8 June, Javed Akhtar had told PTI, “I received an email from him informing me that I had been unanimously selected for the award by the board of Center for Inquiry USA, in which The Richard Dawkins Foundation is housed.”

Further, we found that Azmi herself also responded to the tweet by India_Policy saying that the viral message was untrue and there were emails to prove that the award had been given.

The Quint then reached out to Azmi, who sent us the emails mentioned, which clearly show that Richard Dawkins had himself emailed Javed Akhtar on 5 June (much before the news broke on 7 June) informing him that he had been unanimously voted as the recipient of the 2020 award by the board of Center for Inquiry.

We have also seen another email from Robyn Blumner, President and CEO, Center for Inquiry to Akhtar congratulating him on the win. This email is dated 6 June.

Therefore, it is clear that the claims made by the message that the award was not won by Akhtar and that the group mentioned was pleading for the award to be given to him are completely baseless. Private correspondence between those directly involved since 5 June clearly show that the organisation had informed Akhtar about him having won the award, much before news broke on the media.

Moreover, Dawkins himself took to Twitter on 9 June to clear the air about the award, while the Center for Inquiry also published a press release on the same day about Akhtar being given the award.

It is clear that the viral message is making completely fake claims using the fact that the news did not come first from those involved with the Center for Inquiry. However, the official announcements have now been made and there is absolutely no basis to claim that the decision to give the award to Akhtar was made after the news broke, as the viral message claims.


The citation for the Richard Dawkins award says that the recipient is “a distinguished individual from the worlds of science, scholarship, education, or entertainment, who publicly proclaims the values of secularism and rationalism, upholding scientific truth wherever it may lead.”

Previous winners include philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, Cosmos co-creator Ann Druyan, activist and feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and actor and writer Stephen Fry. In 2019 the award was given to comedian and actor Ricky Gervais.

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