In a major blow to The Indian Express and Express group’s Marathi daily Loksatta, the Press Council of India has censured the above publications for publishing fake news about RSS Sarsanghchalak Dr. Mohan Bhagwat. Articles written by veteran journalist Karan Thapar and Editor of Loksatta, Girish Kuber included a quote which was wrongly attributed to the RSS chief.
On 21st September 2018, the Marathi daily Loksatta published an editorial stating, “In 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on suspicion of consumption and storing beef. There is a need to express reaction by the RSS chief. “The Vedas order the killing of the sinner who kills a cow”, this reaction was expressed by the RSS chief after three days of this tragic incident,” wrote Girish Kuber, who is the Editor of Loksatta. On the same day, The Indian Express published an article authored by Karan Thapar titled, “Has the RSS ground shifted?”. Karan Thapar wrote, “In fact, Bhagwat himself is not averse to making inflammatory statements. In 2015, when Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched on suspicion of consumption and storing beef, he’s reported to have said: “the Vedas order the killing of the sinner who kills a cow.”
These articles came after Dr. Mohan Bhagwat had interacted with the journalists and several prominent personalities in a three-day conference Bhavishaya Ka Bharat. The views expressed by Dr. Mohan Bhagwat were widely covered in national and international media. However, the words attributed to RSS chief in these articles were never said by him. In the conference, Dr. Mohan Bhagwat had strongly condemned the violence and mob lynching.
Taking note of this fake news, Shri Akshay Phatak, a resident of Dombivali, Maharashtra had lodged a complained in the Press Council of India, following which show cause notices were issued to editors of both the newspapers.
Poor Karan Thapar singed again. Now Press Council of India censures his article in Indian Express for lying about RSS Sarsanghachalak: https://t.co/T0cNw3urxl
— Sanjay Dixit ಸಂಜಯ್ ದೀಕ್ಷಿತ್ संजय दीक्षित (@Sanjay_Dixit) June 17, 2019
Following the proceedings, the Press Council of India in an Adjudication dated 29th May 2019 had noted, “a mistake has been committed by none other than the Editor of the newspaper himself.” The council accepted the report of the inquiry committee which noted:
“The Inquiry Committee is of the opinion that had the mistake been bonafide and committed by a junior correspondent could have been accepted and the proceedings dropped. Here such a mistake has been committed by none other than the Editor of the newspaper himself. In the facts of the present case, the Inquiry Committee is of the opinion that the mistake is not bonafide. This was a verifiable fact and while attributing the statement of such a magnitude to the head of an organization, the editor of the newspaper ought to have been more careful and taken due care. He has failed to do the same.”
Headline Politicians like Karan Thapar, who indulge in Fake News and verbal terrorism, taken to the cleaners. Bravo PCI.
Unless the media houses carry a front page bold headline apologising for their mistake unequivocally, nothing should suffice. https://t.co/M4R2523e2T
— Shubhrastha (@Shubhrastha) June 17, 2019
The respondent had even questioned the locus-standi of the complainant, however, the Press Council of India had maintained that “Even a reader has a right to approach the Council, if he finds some mistake in the newspaper.”
— $u₹€$h €n (@surnell) June 17, 2019
This is surely not the first time when a senior journalist has been found indulging in spreading misleading and fake news, However, it remains to be seen if this ‘censure’ by the Press Council of India will have any impact on this practice which has been mainstreamed in several media outlets.