On Saturday, 22 security personnel were killed in action while fighting Maoists during a in Chhattisgarh. The gunfight took place near Tekalgudam village on the Sukma-Bijapur border, and was as one of the biggest attacks on security forces in recent times.
What is the media’s job during such an event? To report responsibly and accurately, for starters. Yet this is precisely where Dainik Bhaskar went wrong.
On Monday, April 5, the Hindi daily published photographs and cited videos on its website that purportedly showed scenes from the attack. The report called them “pictures and videos from Bijapur encounter”, stating: “In photos, Naxals could be seen making victory signs...Women Naxals carry food material and can be seen cooking.”
These photos included purported Maoists with weapons, while the video footage had, bizarrely, animated rocket launchers and “Naxalite women”. Dainik Bhaskar helpfully noted that it could not “verify the pictures”.
A screenshot of the story, which has since been deleted.
What Dainik Bhaskar failed to verify was that these weren’t photographs from last week’s gunfight at all. These were photos taken during a film shooting in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar of an unnamed film on Maoism.
Bhaskar deleted its report at around 8 pm on the same day.
The film in question was helmed by Jagdalpur-based filmmaker Sampath Jha. An executive associated with the production told Newslaundry, on the condition of anonymity: “These pictures were from the film shot by us in Bastar. The film was about Naxalism and the pictures were taken during the time of shooting. It’s sad that without verifying the pictures, such a big organisation has published them as photos of Naxalites.”
The “Maoists” in the photos were actors, the executive added. “Spreading false news in such times is totally irresponsible,” he said.
Ashu Tiwari, a local journalist who was present during the shoot, told Newslaundry: “All these pictures were taken during the film shoot which took place about three months ago in the jungles of Jagdalpur. The police were aware of the shooting, and district reserve guard jawans participated too. Now suddenly, after this Naxal attack, these photos have gone viral and newspapers like Dainik Bhaskar, which has an extremely wide reach, have published them without verifying.”
“It’s dangerous,” Tiwari added, “and tags normal people as Naxalites.”
The report also referenced videos attributed to Saturday’s attack. The reality is these videos have nothing to do with the attack. One video is from March 2020 and shows a funeral of Maoists who were killed in Sukma’s Minpa village. The other is even older and includes animations.
Newslaundry contacted Prasoon Mishra, the head of Dainik Bhaskar’s digital operations, to ask him about their report. Mishra said: “The matter has been brought to my notice. It may have happened in a hurry. I have been on leave for the last few days but I will definitely look into the matter.”
This reporter also reached out to the paper’s national editor, Navneet Gurjar, who said: “The photos must have been verified. But I cannot comment on the issue as I am not aware of it.”
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