After being repeatedly called out for sharing blatant untruths, India’s leftist media is now resorting to more subtle forms of fake news.
NDTV today shared a tweet which read: “CBSE removes chapters on citizenship, secularism from political science syllabus.” Attached to the tweet was a picture of a political science book, and a link to an NDTV article.
The tweet immediately gathered a lot of attention — India’s leftist extremists have been trying to create the narrative that the Modi government has been attacking India’s secularism and citizenship laws through the Citizenship Amendment Act, and information that chapters on citizenship and secularism being removed from the syllabus appeared like another move by the Modi government to change the status quo. But the most cursory examination of the news shows why NDTV’s headline is misleading — and possibly malicious.
What the news really is
CBSE has decided to remove certain sections from the syllabus to reduce the burden on students amid the coronavirus crisis. Yesterday, CBSE had said that the syllabus for 2020-21 would be reduced by a third because of the “extraordinary situation” as the world fights the coronavirus pandemic.
This reduction is across classes and chapters. For instance, for Class 11, the chapters removed from the Political Science syllabus include Federalism, Citizenship, Nationalism, and Secularism. For Class 12, topics have been deleted from every subject, including English, Hindi, Accountancy, and Physics.
How NDTV twisted the news to fit its narrative
Even though chapters have been deleted across subjects, NDTV chose to mention only citizenship and secularism in its tweet.
- No mention of why the step had been taken: The move had been taken because of the coronavirus crisis, but NDTV chose to omit this information from its tweet. Twitter now has a limit of 280 characters, but NDTV chose to end its tweet only at the removing the citizenship and secularism chapters. NDTV’s own article goes on to say that the chapters were removed “in a bid to reduce the academic burden on students this year.” By not giving the reason behind the removal in the tweet, NDTV made CBSE’s move look arbitrary and possibly politically motivated.
- Chapters chosen selectively to create a false impression: Chapters on nationalism — which NDTV ostensibly is against — were also removed, but NDTV chose to put secularism and citizenship in its tweet to suit its agenda. In fact, a host of chapters were deleted from other subjects — in physics, chapters on Electromagnets and fields was deleted, in Chemistry the chapters on Solid state and Chemical kinetics were deleted, and in Biology the chapter on chapter on living beings was deleted. But NDTV chose to highlight two topics that would cause the most outrage.
- No mention that the move was temporary: The move is only for this academic session, but NDTV chose to not mention this in its tweet.
NDTV’s tweet subsequently went viral. Only a tiny fraction of people who see a headline actually click to read the news, and hundreds of thousands of people were perhaps left with the impression that the Modi govt had arbitrarily cancelled the chapters on secularism and citizenship from the Class 11 syllabus. Soon enough, prominent Congress politicians were choosing the selectively fake news.
The Youth Congress shared the news too with some faux outrage, claiming it was a “cheap tactic to keep the younger generation unaware and silenced.”
CPI’s Sitaram Yechury shared the “news” too.
And the fake news spread to Instagram, where people began making propaganda videos attacking CBSE’s move.
This deluge of fake information could’ve been avoided if only NDTV and other outlets had chosen to write a more clear tweet — they could’ve said that 30% of the syllabus was being removed, and the dropped chapters were from all subjects, and the deleted chapters also included things the BJP supports, such as nationalism. But by cleverly putting out selective information in their tweet, NDTV managed to create a controversy out of virtually nothing.