As media goes into a frenzy reporting stories of inconvenience faced by people across the nation due to the demonetization of Rs. 500 & 1000 notes, we are seeing distressing evidence that many media groups and journalists are using the situation to further their editorial/political agendas.
Times Group has run two reports in recent days which are a blatant distortion of events on the ground. One would imagine a more measured, restrained approach at such a critical moment for the nation, but such sensitivity is sadly lacking in this kind of mainstream media reporting.
In a front-page report in yesterday’s Times of India (TOI) Mumbai edition titled ‘Servers crash, so do customers’, the paper claimed two instances where people had died due to difficulties created by demonetization –
“In the Mumbai suburb of Mulund, Vishwanath Vartak, 73, died of a heart attack outside HSBC Bank while a housewife jumped to her death in Howrah after returning empty-handed from an ATM.”
Fake Story#1 – Senior Citizen Dies Outside Bank Due While ‘Waiting in Line’
Today, TOI has published a correction buried on the 7th page about the senior citizen dying outside the HSBC Mulund Bank – the bank pointed out that they don’t have a branch or ATM in Mulund.
Buried on page 7, TOI – apology for fake news of senior citizen dying outside HSBC Mulund. HSBC doesn't even have a branch or ATM in Mulund. pic.twitter.com/14tVpTrSxV
— Amit Thadhani (@amitsurg) November 13, 2016
And this is what really happened, as another media report shows –
“The incident took place at Hari Om Nagar in Mulund (east) outside the SBI branch around 11.30 am. Senior Inspector of Navghar police station Madhav More said the bank branch was hardly 100 metres away from where Vartak lived with his wife. “Vartak had been suffering from high blood pressure for the past 20 years. As he reached the SBI bank branch and was climbing the stairs leading to the bank, he started feeling giddy and his hands and legs started to shiver,” More said. He added, “There was no crowd outside the bank when he started feeling uneasy.
A relative of the deceased said, “The family is upset that the media is linking his death to the demonetisation issue. He had been having health issues for a while and his death has nothing to do with him being in the bank.”
Fake Story#2 – Housewife jumps to death after returning empty-handed from ATM
Economic Times ran a detailed story titled ‘Housewife ‘jumps to death’ after futile ATM visit‘. The contrast between the sensational headline and the content of the story could not be starker. The woman’s husband says he doesn’t know reason behind alleged suicide, while the family insists that the woman accidentally fell from the balcony. Police suspect she jumped off the balcony after a spat with her husband.
No one – the husband, family, or police have blamed the closed ATM as the reason behind the death. The lady was a realtor’s wife living in a posh apartment complex – could a futile ATM visit really cause someone like her to commit suicide?
An alert twitter user caught Times of India columnist Sagarika Ghose spreading the falsehood –
Headline: "after futile ATM visit"
Sagarika: "due to lack of cash" pic.twitter.com/WYmrRMxQzz
— Ketan C Bhate (@BhateKetan) November 13, 2016
Public should be warned to take any news which appears in MSM related to demonetization with a pinch of salt. A new narrative, similar to the ‘Church Under Attack’ or ‘Dalits under attack’ is now being framed and will reverberate for the coming weeks and months. Common citizens should support one another, and support bank officials as the country makes this difficult, but important, transition. It is true that citizens are facing severe difficulties, but spreading such false sensational stories only adds to the panic.