In the times of coronavirus crisis, the lines between India’s leftist “news portals” and WhatsApp forwards is blurring.
Yesterday NDTV carried an article which caused many to sit up and take notice. “Coronavirus: India may see 25 Crore COVID-19 Cases In Next 3 Months,” the article was titled. It quoted a report from Johns Hopkins University, which claimed that the cases in India would spike alarmingly in April and May.
The article received a fair bit of attention — 25 crore Corona cases would mean that India’s healthcare system would likely be swamped in the coming months, which would likely lead to a large number of deaths. The report that the article was based upon was already going viral on WhatsApp, and NDTV carrying an article it gave the report legitimacy, and created some panic.
But at this point, a Twitter user decided to check with Johns Hopkins Univeristy to ask if they were really behind the report. They were surprised by what they learnt — Johns Hopkins University washed their hands off the report, saying that the use of their logo wasn’t authorised.
At this point, Johns Hopkis’ rebuttal went viral, and NDTV was forced to delete its article. “Based on a Johns Hopkins update, we have deleted the IANS story on this report,” NDTV tweeted, and took the article down.
But what’s crucial to note here is that NDTV didn’t bother verifying the sensational claim of 25 crore cases with Johns Hopkins University before publishing it on their site and letting their millions of readers read it — it was only when an alert Twitter user contacted Johns Hopkins university did people learn that the report was fake, and NDTV then retracted it. With decades-old news outlets willing to publish fake sensational claims in times of a national crisis, media companies shouldn’t be surprised when people don’t trust the mainstream media any more.