India is battling a global pandemic, but several outlets aren’t verifying sensitive news stories before publishing them on their platforms.
Yesterday, several mainstream publications carried a story that seemed fairly shocking: that a woman in Uttar Pradesh had drowned five of her children into the Ganga because she was unable to feed them during the lockdown. The source of the news appeared to be IANS — Outlook first carried a story with the headline “With no food to eat during lockdown, mother in UP throws 5 children into the Ganga,” and credited IANS. Indiatimes too published a similar story — incidentally published by “journalist” Shweta Sengar, who in the past has been accused of making up stories to show the Modi government in poor light — with a similar headline, and again cited IANS as a source. “With No Food During Lockdown, Mother Throws Five Children Into River Ganga In Uttar Pradesh,” the Indiatimes story said.
For starters, something was off about both stories. Both the Outlook story and the Indiatimes story mentioned that the woman in question appeared to be mentally unsound, but neither publication chose to put this in the headline. Both instead focused on how the woman had thrown her kids into the river because of the supposed lack of food. Outlook only quoted unnamed “sources” as saying that the woman had said that she and her children were not getting food in the lockdown, and money inflow had stopped because she was a daily wage earner.
But a little while later, other outlets too did the same story, but with a crucial difference: the woman had indeed thrown 5 children into the river, but it wasn’t because she couldn’t feed them — it was because she had had an argument with her husband, and appeared to be mentally unsound. This was the India Today headline:
This was the headline from New Indian Express:
Even NDTV, which usually tries to make the Modi government look bad on most issues, to its credit, said that the woman had thrown her children into the river after a fight with her husband.
A little while later, an interview of the woman appeared, where she said that she clearly said that she hadn’t thrown her kids into a river because of a lack of food, but because she’d fought with her husband.
And to put speculation to rest, when the UP police reached the woman’s house, they saw it was well stocked with food. These pictures were tweeted by the Bhadohi Police.
As it soon became abundantly clear that lack of food wasn’t the reason the woman had drowned her children, Outlook changed its headline, removing the reference to how the woman had no food. Its headline now doesn’t mention the reason, but only specifies that the woman drowned five children.
Indiatimes, however, as of 2 am on 13th April, still hasn’t changed its headline, and continues to spread the fake news that the woman drowned her children because of lack of food during the lockdown. Coupled with the author’s previous articles, and Indiatimes’ general anti-government stance, one wonders if this is a mistake, or a deliberate attempt to create panic in these sensitive times.