In times of a national emergency, responsible media outlets take great care in verifying the information that they put out, and are doubly careful when publishing news that can cause panic. However not all Indian outlets are not being particularly responsible as the country deals with Covid-19.
Yesterday, The Quint published an article that caused quite a bit of a furore. “India Now In Stage 3: Doctor from COVID-19 Hospitals Tasks Force,” the article was titled, and quoted one Dr Girdhar Gyani as saying that India was already in Stage 3, or community transmission, of the coronavirus outbreak. The title that the Quint shared on Twitter was even more sensational: it said “India now is stage 3 — community transmission’, but the government is not making it official, a doctor from the #COVID19 Hospitals Task Force tells @poonamjouro,” it said.
The article immediately went viral: if India were already in Stage 3, the number of coroanvirus cases in India was expected to soon explode, which would clog up hospitals and cause a large number of fatalities. To make matters worse, the Quint quoted a doctor as saying that even though India was in Stage 3, the government wasn’t making it official, hinting that the government was covering up how bad the situation supposedly was.
But as soon as people began critically analyzing the article, they began discovering it had quite a few holes. For starters, the person quoted by the article, Doctor Girdhar Gyani, isn’t even a doctor at all. His LinkedIn profile said that he has a ME in Military Engineering and a PhD in Quality Management, which means that the Doctor appended before his name is thanks to his PhD degree. The Quint, however, called him a “Doctor” in its headline, misleading readers into believing that he was a medical doctor.
Much more seriously, it turns out that Dr. Giyani never said that India was in Stage 3. This was confirmed by ANI’s health reporter, who reached out to Dr Gyani who said that the “headline was blown out of proportion”. “Luckily till today the increase in number of cases is purely arithmetic, while in community spread it goes geometrically or exponentially,” Dr. Gyani said, indicating that India wasn’t yet in Stage 3.
And matters were further clarified by AHPI, where Dr. Gyani is a Director. “Misleading article from The Quint on COVID-19 referring Dr Girdhar Gyani Interview Dated 27.3.2020,” the organization posted on its Facebook. “There is #TheQuint news on social media, referring our DG, Dr Girdhar Gyani’s interview. The day this was recorded there were couple of cases which were not known to have link with foreign travel or direct contact of foreign travellers. If such cases come in large number then we take it as beginning of community spread. He did say that though in that sense we are not in stage 3 but it would be better that we do all our preparations as if we are in phase 3. Because headline tells only that we are in stage 3, it has sent confusing and panicky signal. Luckily till today the increase in number of cases is pure arithmetic while in community spread it goes geometrically or exponentially. Lock down is helping us in arresting any possible spread and government is on full preparedness to meet any level of crisis and private sector too is fully supportive,” the post said.
As soon as these bits of information began circulating on social media, The Quint quietly made changes to its article. Its headline now read: “India May be in Stage 3: COVID-19 Hospital Task Force Convener.” From having said that India was already in Stage 3, the headline now read that India “may” be in stage 3. Also, after having said “Doctor” in the previous headline, Quint now attributed the quote to Covid-19 Hospital Task Force Convener.
But the damage might already have been done — the article with the original headline had gone viral, and millions of Indians now presumably think that India is in Stage 3 of the Covid outbreak. Quint has now corrected the headline and edited the article, but it might have been a mistake for a major news portal to make such a major claim without being in possession of all facts.
The Quint, incidentally, is also a registered “fact-checker” for Facebook.