On June 20, 2020, Kantipur – Nepal’s biggest daily Nepali-language newspaper – published news on the frontpage with title: ‘Seven districts encroached on Chinese side also’. The news quoted unnamed government officials, Survey Department officials and government reports to claim that China had encroached lands in seven districts of Nepal. The news named districts, provided detailed encroached land areas and history of Nepal-China border talks.
The news report’s major source of information was named as a report by Ministry of Agriculture stating that the Ministry annually prepare report on arable land stating whether the total land was decreased or increased in the country. The news claimed the report stated a total of 35 hectares of arable land encroached by China. It said the report also stated there was problem with border earmarking in 11 points.
The news report also quoted a member of the National Human Rights suggesting government to urgently talk with China if Nepali land was found to be encroached; and former Director-General informing about Nepal-China border talks. The news was shared 52,700 times on social media.
The news created quite a stir as this was the first time that a major media had talked about Chinese encroachment. The social media users questioned the report pointing out that the Ministry of Agriculture was not relevant authority to report on border encroachment. Within next few days, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock issued a statement refuting existence of any such report published by the Ministry; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issuing a statement refuting the news and asking media ‘to verify information for relevant authorities before commenting on sensitive matters which may adversely affect the relations between two friendly nations.’ Kantipur also published news report on the statements.
Kantipur published an apology a few days after on the second page stating that ‘serious factual error as a government source made available a fake report stating it was report by Nepal Government’s Ministry of Agriculture’.
ABCDE Framework Analysis
|Prime actors:Kantipur – Nepal’s top selling newspaper.||Transparency: The actor is transparent.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests no aspersive intent.
Dependency: Printed newspaper.
|A news story with unverified information.|
Harm: The content was published at the time of tough diplomatic time on relations with Nepal’s neighbour thereby could’ve changed the public discourse on Nepal’s relationship with China.
Synthetic: The content was unverified and based on faked document.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Nepali population|
|Misguided the public discourse on Nepal’s relationship with two big neighbouring states.|
Actor: The actor was Kantipur – the biggest national daily newspaper published in Nepal with daily circulation 4,53,000 and estimated print readership of 3.2 million and digital readership of 1.5 million.
Behaviour: The actor was transparent in identifying themselves and was using lawful and registered means of communication, the newspaper, to publish the news report. The actor didn’t seem to have an aspersive intent and as they claimed were misguided by their sources. They however failed to verify the document based on which the news report was written and published.
Content: The content was the text news published in the newspaper and their online portal, shared through their social media pages. It was a misinformation regarding China encroaching land of Nepal as the border, based on the fake report. The report, although identified as the Ministry of Agriculture’s report, was not verified with the relevant agency and presented as it was received thereby creating misinformation based on unverified facts. The unverified facts were mixed with historical facts, tertiary quotes from respectful experts and people so when the people received it, audience were misled to believe in the deceptive content.
Degree: The content was targeted to Nepali citizens as it was published in the Nepali-language newspaper. Kantipur was the biggest daily newspaper with close to five million combined readerships thereby having a wide impact across the country.
Effect: The news report was one of the widely discussed topic in the public sphere and digital public sphere when it was published. It came at the time when there were widespread concerns among public about India’s encroachment in Nepal’s territory; and when there was comparison between two big neighbours – India and China. The report therefore misguided the public discourse on Nepal’s relationship with China as many believed in the news report.
The case has been identified as an incident of misinformation. Although the newspaper later claimed that they were fed the report by credible government sources thereby indicating that there could be an influence operation to divert the public discussion, it was a weakness in the part of the media on publish news based on the report without verifying it. However, their public apology indicated that they had no malicious intention.
Nepal’s relationship with India and China is often compared and discussed, particularly during the time when there are feelings of one of them not behaving with Nepal in a friendly manner. Unsolved issue of border with India is often a matter of resentment towards India and looking towards China as friendlier neighbour, often described by Indian media as Nepal’s China card. The news claiming China encroaching in seven districts of Nepal was published at the time when Nepal’s relationship with India was at the poor level due of Nepal’s publication of map including disputed region of Lipulekh in west Nepal bordering India and China. The timing of the publication of the news derailed the public discourse and although seemed to be not intention by the media, they failed to verify the report therefore becoming an actor of the misinformation.
Link to the news: https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/06/24/159295784663236593.html
Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement: https://mofa.gov.np/press-statement-on-news-reports-about-nepal-china-boundary/
Corporate page about Kantipur: http://www.kmg.com.np/kantipur