This Diwali, India created history. By simultaneously lighting 5.51 lakh diyas in Ayodhya, India entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest display of oil lamps. The pictures of Ayodhya went viral, citizens toasted the creation of yet another world record, and the nation brought in its largest festival in style.
But not everyone was happy.
Several news outlets reported that the celebration had had cost Rs. 133 crore. “Deepotsav in UP now a state event, Rs. 133 Crore to be spent this year,” wrote NDTV. “UP: Ayodhya Deepotsava gets “State Fair” status with 133 crore budget,” wrote The Indian Express. The Quint’s Hindi edition also quoted the same figure.
The news spread quickly — spending Rs. 133 crore on a Diwali celebration felt extravagant for a state that’s been trying to improve its Human Development Indicators, and the story quickly took a life of its own. An image of a young child also went viral, with the caption that even though the state had blown Rs. 133 crore on the event, they still hadn’t managed to improve her life.
But as it turns out, the entire outrage was built on a staggering lie. The actual cost of the event was Rs. 1.33 crore, not Rs. 133 crore as the news outlets had claimed. This was made abundantly clear in the press release dated 22nd October released by the UP government, nearly a week before the erroneous news reports had begun to surface.
As the apparent mistake was pointed out, outlets began switching their headlines from 133 crore to Rs. 1.33 crore. NDTV silently changed its headline from Rs. 133 crore to Rs. 1.33 crore.
A Quint journalist who’d posted about the Rs. 133 crore figure even apologized.
And popular Facebook page Buddy Bits, which had created a post around the Rs. 133 crore figure, insinuating that the event reeked of a scam, created an apology post as well.
But several media outlets are still to issue clarifications about the error. The false posts were up for more than a day, and since then have made their way to WhatsApp, been turned into jokes and memes, and led to accusations of financial profligacy against the UP government. A a grand celebration, which had created a world record to boot, has been soured.
There were so many media houses that published the same fake news that it’s nearly impossible to tell who got it wrong first, but the fact remains that the Indian media, en masse, caused what might be irreparable damage to the public sentiment around the Ayodhya Deepotsav. The world over, trust in the media has been rapidly eroding, thanks to the propensity of some outlets to twist news, fabricate facts, and at times, outright lie. The latest Ayodhya Deepotsava blunder isn’t going to help the cause of India’s media’s credibility one bit.