It’s not just far-left propaganda outlets that are spreading fake news during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic — even business outlets are joining in.
Yesterday, Moneycontrol had published what it tried to pass off as a big expose. “EXCLUSIVE: India exported nearly 9,300 metric tonnes of oxygen in FY21 as pandemic rolled on.” The articles was published amidst a nationwide shortage of oxygen as coronavirus cases had spiked, and attempted to insinuate that the government had mismanaged the supply of oxygen by exporting it when it was needed at home. For good measure, the article added an image of a man receiving oxygen from a cylinder in a hospital.
The news quickly spread. It was picked up by far-left propaganda outlets like NDTV, and also used by Congress leaders to attack the government. Priyanka Gandhi, who regularly shares fake news and has even been censured by Facebook for doing so, picked up the story.
But as it turned out, the entire fracas was based off a bit of fake news. “Malicious propaganda is being spread that India had exported scarce medical oxygen during the pandemic year of 2020-21. This is absolutely false and industrial oxygen exports are being mistaken as medical oxygen,” ANI reported government sources as saying. “There are 2 categories of exports of liquid oxygen, Medical & others (industrial). During April-Feb’20-21 India exported 9884 MT of Industrial Oxygen while only 12 MT of Medical Oxygen.This annual export is less than 0.4% of total annual production capacity in India,” it added.
At this point, Moneycontrol quietly edited its article. It removed the giant EXCLUSIVE in capital letters, and changed its headline to reflect the fact that the exported oxygen was industrial, and not medical. But a while later, the article was no longer available on Moneycontrol site, and had been deleted. On clicking on the link, users are met with a message. “Corrigendum: This article has been deleted because it portrayed a misleading picture of industrial oxygen exports from India and was causing unnecessary panic. The export of oxygen for largely industrial purposes from April 2020 to January 2021 was to the extent of 9,294 metric tonnes. This represented a little more than one day’s production capacity in the country. The article should not have been published in the first place. The error is regretted,” the message says.
While Moneycontrol has now deleted the article and issued an apology, the news has already spread to Facebook and WhatsApp groups, and has created undue panic at what is already a difficult time. But what this also highlights is the gross incompetence of India’s journalists while dealing with technical issues — just this week, NDTV’s Gargi Rawat had thought that the government couldn’t produce oxygen at 110% capacity, and now a Moneycontrol journalist has written a whole expose mistaking industrial oxygen with medial oxygen. With journalists of such caliber operating at mainstream publications, it’s no surprise that India’s faith in the mainstream media is at its lowest ever.