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How Media Outlets Amplified Fake Claims Made by Leaders During Election Speeches

The lack of fact-checking units and the rush to publish all content led media organisations to publish false claims.

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While campaigning for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Rajasthan's Banswara, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a misleading speech about the Congress manifesto and claimed that the Congress party wanted to snatch people's property and distribute it to those 'who have more children'.

When a leader as big as the prime minister of India speaks, media organisations are bound to telecast it and that is what happened.

Multiple mainstream and online media outlets shared video reports on their YouTube channels, amplifying PM Modi's statements about the Congress' manifesto.

  • Below are screenshots of five such channels that showed PM Modi's remarks and gained a combined viewership of approximately 2,12,000 views on the said platform.

  • The video had garnered over a lakh views.

    (Source: Mojo Story/Screenshot)

Several fact-checkers, including Team WebQoof, found that these claims made by the Prime Minister were misleading and lacked facts. We published a fact-check debunking the three claims made by him during his speech in Rajasthan.

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However, the carousel shared on The Quint's official Instagram account received only 12,854 likes. Why is this important, you may ask? This is because it clearly highlights the difference in viewership between the videos shared by media organisations and a fact-check story.
What's worse is the bigger media organisations don't even have a fact-check wing to state that the statements made by the politicians were not factual.

A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report outlined that mis/disinformation can likely cause a turmoil in the electoral process over the next two years. It showed that India topped the list of countries that are facing the risk for mis/disinformation affecting the elections

Through this story, we will look at the role of mainstream media in furthering the misleading narratives shared by prominent leaders. We spoke to journalists and fact-checkers to understand what leads to such situations and how one can address them.

The Dilemma of Sharing ‘Breaking News'

On a similar line, the Congress party had launched attacks at the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and said that the latter will change the Constitution if it comes back to power.

Even AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) leader Asaduddin Owaisi levelled the same allegations against the BJP, while seeking support for his party during the general elections.

However, there were no such claims mentioned in the BJP's election manifesto. While there were some BJP leaders who said that the Constitution will be changed after winning the elections, the top leadership has denied any such plans.

  • The report was last updated on 25 May.

    (Source: Business Standard/Screenshot)

While such allegations being made against a party during elections is nothing new, the lack of proof or counter in a news report shared by media outlets can raise doubts among people and further mislead them.

Kritika Goel, Head of Editorial Operations (India), Logically Facts, told The Quint that news organisations are responsible for presenting facts and verified information to the people.

"A large audience consumes content from these news outlets. For instance: When someone reads something in the paper or watches it on the television, they have a certain level of trust on the information they have consumed or gathered. In the absence of verification or gatekeeping, it then becomes a concern as the layperson could easily be mislead. This also leads to erosion of trust."
Kritika Goel, Head of Editorial Operations (India), Logically Facts

‘More Views, No SOP’: Why News Outlets Publish Reports on Leaders' Statements?

To understand why media organisations regularly publish reports based on statements given by prominent leaders even after being fact-checked, The Quint reached out to an editor of a regional channel.

The editor, on the condition of anonymity, listed out three reasons.

  • More viewership: When you run one sided arguments, your channel usually receives more engagement and views because the supports of the person who is making the statement watch it.

  • No SOP: The editor said that there are no standard operating procedure (SOP) that are given to content writers or sub-editors, which require statements to be fact-checked.

  • More pressure: They further mentioned that not a lot of media outlets want to call out leaders for spreading misinformation due to the pressure they face. Those outlets who are engaging in such a practice are taking great risks.

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When we asked the digital editor of a national media channel if newsrooms can have fact-checkers to verify news, they said, "There is a lack of infrastructure. Few people are doing the work of others. Those working as sub-editors or content writers are under pressure to produce a lot of news. There is so much haste that mistakes are made several times."

So, is it difficult for a fact-checker to tackle misinformation when shared by media outlets?: Goel said that she believes that it certainly is tough for fact-checkers to counter misinformation when shared by media outlets as news reports.

"There is a sense of credibility among people when you’re talking about the news organisations — newspaper, TV, or digital. They have a massive reach, making it very difficult to counter the narrative and also ensure that the fact-check reaches as many people as the misinformation would have. This is why when we talk about media literacy, our approach is to emphasise on verifying the information before sharing it.”
Kritika Goel, Head of Editorial Operations (India), Logically Facts

Is This ‘Election Fever’ or Something Normal?

These news reports based on a prominent personality are not completely strange. There have been multiple instances in the past where media organisations shared such misleading narratives, which, in turn, helped the narrative reach a much wider audience.

For example - Union Home Minister Amit Shah, while speaking at a media event, said that the BJP got Rs 6,000 crore worth of electoral bonds approximately, whereas the total amount of bonds encashed were Rs 20,000 crore.

  • The report was updated on 16 March.

    (Source: NDTV/Screenshot)

Several media organisations published news reports quoting Shah that the BJP received Rs 6,000 crores, which insinuated that the opposition received the rest of Rs 14,000 crores.

The problem here was that according to the then released data by the Election Commission of India (ECI), the total worth of electoral issued was approximately Rs 12,000 crore. This directly contradicted Shah's statements about opposition receiving about Rs 14,000 crore.
The lack of fact-checking units and the rush to publish all content led media organisations to publish false claims.

The report was last updated on 18 March.

(Source: The Quint)

Not only did the anchor at the media event, not cross-question Shah about the figures but also, these news reports did not mention the actual data released by the ECI at that point.

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A similar case happened in 2021, when Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that except Jammu and Kashmir, no 'major terrorist attacks' have happened since PM Modi assumed office in 2014.

Following his remarks, several news reports came out highlighting Singh's statements Sardar Patel Statue of Unity in Kevadia, Gujarat.

  • The report was published on 2 September 2021.

    (Source: Business Standard/Screenshot)

A simple perusal of the answer given by former Union Minister of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy in Parliament in 2021 showed that there have been six terrorists attacks in the hinterland.

Further, we found that the government doesn't clearly define any terror attack as 'major' or 'minor'.

The lack of fact-checking units and the rush to publish all content led media organisations to publish false claims.

The story was published on 8 September 2021.

(Source: The Quint)

Political Advertisements & Narrative Building Meet Social Media Platforms

While news channel played a significant role in furthering narratives of political parties, social media platforms did not lag far behind.

For example - Look at this video published on the official X channel of BJP Chhattisgarh, that indirectly targeted Congress party for trying to steal 'Mangalsutra'.

This was a repeated claim, which was fact-checked by different fact-checking organisations. The Quint's WebQoof had collated the list of fake claims that were repeated by prominent BJP leaders during election campaigns. Here are some examples:

  • Giving Muslims all the wealth and targeting Congress' manifesto.

  • BJP claimed that PM Modi had stopped the Russia-Ukraine war to evacuate Indian nationals from the conflicted zone.

  • None of the parties under the INDIA bloc are contesting on majority seats, i.e., 272 seats in the Lok Sabha Elections.

  • You can read the full story here.

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With the results of the Lok Sabha Elections going to be declared soon, one can expect more misleading claims being spread on social media platforms to suit a particular narrative. However, in this information overload, the responsibility falls on media outlets to convey facts to the readers.

(Not convinced of a post or information you came across online and want it verified? Send us the details on WhatsApp at 9540511818 , or e-mail it to us at webqoof@thequint.com and we'll fact-check it for you. You can also read all our fact-checked stories here.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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