It’s bigger than tourism: Twisting facts, half truths and reporting with misrepresentations 

In news writing, facts are sacred. The factual incidents also need a context, to place them in the right way, in which they happened. The editorial comes in here, where the reporters reporting hard facts from the ground, as and when they happen, are placed in the scenario in which they’re happening.

On April 3, a report in Times of India titled, ‘Stone-pelters attack tourists in J&K, 4 hurt’ by Journalist Saleem Pandith, generated a lot of response in Kashmir. Former Chief Minister and opposition leader Omar Abdullah, shared the news on his twitter, saying that those involved in the act ‘are no friends of Kashmir’.

Shortly after, journalist Nazir Masoodi pointed out that the local police had denied that such an incident happened. Understandably so, the first reaction of the police in a place like Kashmir is denial. The tourism department too countered the report by saying that no such incident took place.

Shortly after, Omar Abdullah deleted the tweet.

But the members of the party in power, the Peoples Democratic Party, hit out at him for sharing a ‘fake news’, and a war of words between the two party supporters ensued.

The big tourism players responded by filing a written complaint against the TOI journalist Saleem Pandith in the Kothibagh police station, citing “malicious intention to disrupt the peaceful tourist season” in Kashmir. A First Information Report (FIR) was registered.

The journalist came out with another piece proving that the incidents did take place and shared photos. But the incidents were different, and more in number, from the ones that were used in the earlier report, denied by the police.

The report mentioned, “two buses carrying tourists from Indonesia were pelted with stones near Dal Lake.”

At Dal Lake, the houseboat owners denied any knowledge. The tour operators told Free Press Kashmir that in view of the strike call, they had cancelled plans for day in advance, to keep their guests safe.

“We spoke to the service providers there as well. They said that they knew the situation wasn’t safe for anybody so they had cancelled all the plans for that day. The tourists were not out.”

The incident at Dal Gate, which was refuted by the police, was countered by Saleem Pandith in the new report, with more emphasis on the incident at Khanabal in Anantnag, where a tourist vehicle passing through an area where protests and demonstrations were taking place, was caught in the middle of protesters and armed forces.

The police though, in its denial had maintained that some tourists did infact get injured by being caught up in stone pelting incidents, but it was not a designed act of targeting tourists. The police maintained that “vehicles came in the middle of an area where pelting was going on”.

According to the police at Khanabal, as so with the police at Humahama, there were demonstrations where young men pelted stones. The protests were against killing of five civilians in the aftermath of the killing of 13 militants in a gunfight in South Kashmir.

The Joint Resistance Leadership, had given a call for a strike, usually followed by protests and demonstrations where youth hit the streets and confront the armed forces throwing stones at them.

Doctors in South Kashmir’s Shopian protested, alleging that the armed forces fired inside sub-district hospital, and the blood bank.

ALSO READ: An overworked war hospital: The blood and anger at SMHS

In the scenario, where angry youth had hit the streets, according to eyewitnesses and police officials, local cars, buses and tourist vehicles that passed though the areas, left with damage to their windows.

The report however, presents the fact that tourist vehicles were damaged, terming it as an ‘attack on tourists’.

But in the context of Kashmir, this not first such story.

In January, a Times of India report by journalist Anuja Jaiswal, titled “Roommate of AMU PhD student who joined Hizbul also missing.” turned out to be fake. A day after the news broke that PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Mannan Bashir Wani had allegedly joined militant group Hizbul Mujahideen the report claimed that his roommate from Baramulla was missing since July, 2017.

The same story was also carried by ABP NewsFirstpostNewsX and the web portal OpIndia quoting Times of India.

After a report appeared in Free Press Kashmir about the story of the missing roommate being fake, Baramulla police came out with a clarification. Shortly after, AMU also put out a statement on its website, refuting the story.

In the statement, Prof Abu Talib (Chairperson, Department of Geology, AMU) reiterated Baramulla police’s version.

There was neither an apology nor a clarification from the reporter, the editor or the organisation, for a report that put the life of a young professional in danger.

The sacred facts, in news, are followed by context. The 5Ws (Who, What, When, Where, Why) without the 1H (How) is asked to avoid in the first semester as one attends journalism school, or starts their training in the field without attending a school.

The ‘attack on tourists’ story, although maintains that it is clean on facts, twists them, strips bare the context, and presents a half truth.

This misrepresentation of the facts striping it of context, is dangerous. Circulation of such news, that presents criminal acts as ‘attacks against Hindus by Muslims‘, or ‘Mob attacks Hindus‘ has been used to further political agendas.

In the context of top indian media houses being paid to promote certain narratives, the news items twisting facts, stripped bare of context, must be scrutinised, especially in zones that are sensitive.

After an apparent crackdown on fake news, when the editor of Postcard News was arrested for spreading fake news about Muslims, Smriti Irani asked for suggestions on Twitter to fight the menace of ‘fake news’ to uphold ethical journalism. The government passed a order, that threatened to take away the accreditation of journalists found propagating fake news.

After widespread criticism, by journalists who described the guidelines as an attack on press freedom, Narendra Modi withdrew his government’s order saying that the matter should only be addressed in the Press Council.

In Kashmir, Press Club as of now is headed by Saleem Pandith.

For Times of India too, a newspaper infamous for its clickbait headlines, this is not new.

In 2014, TOI defended its piece titled ‘OMG! Deepika Padukone Cleavage show’ by calling the actress and those criticising it as hypocrites.


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