In January 2021, the politics in Nepal was highly charged and volatile situation. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had dissolved the Parliament announcing a new election in the wake of intra-party conflict. The intra-party conflict within the ruling CPN-UML was heightening (that later resulted in split), and the Supreme Court was hearing the constitutionality of the dissolvement with the public discourse deeply divided whether the PM’s move was right or not. The opposing political leaders were taking public forums and mass gathering to accuse each other of wrongdoing – some of the leaders used very demeaning and humiliating words for others.
Amidst the situation, on January 23, 2021, ekantipur.com – the online news portal of Nepal’s biggest daily Kantipur, published a news report with title: “We are digging filed colleting dusts in the CIAA (Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority): Foreign Minister Gyawalai”. The report from Gulmi district in west Nepal went on: “Foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali has said the government has started opening files collecting dusts in CIAA and court. He said this had brought new wave in the party. Minister Gyawali said no one should be spared as corrupt people have no party, caste or color. ‘Files collecting dusts for years will eb dug out, corrupts are scared,’ Minister Gyawali said while speaking to cadres of Oli faction in Resunga municipality of Gulmi.”
Ekantipur.com shared the news in social media – both Facebook and Twitter – that was re-shared by many including two well-known and influential editors of other online news portals. They included a comment that largely indicated that the government was thinking of interfering with constitutional body (CIAA). The posts went viral and soon became an issue of public discourse and many harshly criticized minister Gyawali for the statement.
However, it emerged that Minister Gyawali was not quoted correctly. He while speaking to BBC News Nepali refuted the news and claimed that he didn’t talk about CIAA. And the video published by BBC News Nepali showed that he hadn’t uttered CIAA during the short-clip.
On January 27, 2021, NepalFactCheck.org published a fact-check classifying the news report as misleading. It included in the fact-check a Facebook live video by a participant where minister Gywali talked about the corruption and corruption control policy of government but hadn’t named CIAA or court. It concluded that the title of the news report and direct quote in second paragraph were not said during the program therefore it was a misinformation.
After fact-check, ekantipur.com corrected the news removing the word CIAA and court and the apology stated: “Earlier news where headline and Foreign Minister Gyawali’s quote was printed differently has been corrected with an apology. In the quote by Minister Gyawali, it should have been ‘we started digging out files of corruptions’, but words ‘CIAA and court’ was mistakenly added thereby corrected. – editor”.
ABCDE Framework Analysis
|Prime actors:Kantipur – the largest national daily newspaper.||Transparency: The actor is transparent on statement and Facebook page.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests no aspersive intent.
Dependency: News website and social media.
|A news with fabricated statement.|
Harm: Defamed the Minister; impacted public perception of him; and led to a false discourse.
Synthetic: The content was fabricated statement.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the misinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Nepali population|
|Defamation of a minister and false public discourse hampering politics – government and the ruling political party.|
Actor: The actor was ekantipur.com – the online news portal of privately-owned Kantipur Media Group that carried the masthead of Kantipur daily – the largest newspaper in Nepal. Media conglomerate Kantipur Media Group claimed to have 1.5 million digital readerships. Its Facebook page had 4 million followers and Twitter account was followed by nearly 1.4 million people.
Behaviour: The actor was transparent in identifying themselves and is using lawful and registered means of communication – the online news portal of the daily, and its social media pages to publish and promote news. The actor didn’t seem to have an aspersive intent, but it sensualised the headline and the lead to attract more audience to the news.
Content: The content was the text news report published in news portal and shared in social media. It wrongly quoted the Foreign Minister to mislead the audience. Adding a word (CIAA – a constitutional body) made his legitimate statement illegitimate because the constitutional bodies were independent and not controlled by the government.
Degree: The content was targeted to Nepali citizens as it was published in Nepali by a local news portal. The news portal is influential and trusted by many since it carries the masthead of Nepal’s largest newspaper. The news was shared to Facebook (4 million followers) and Twitter (nearly 1.4 million followers).
Effect: The report created quite a stir in Nepali public sphere at the time when it was deeply divided over the political action and groups. Many took Minister Gyawali’s statement targeted towards the senior leaders threatening to break away from the ruling political party. Minister Gyawali was considered to be one of the diplomatically correct and logical leaders, and the misinformation tarnished his gentle politician image, and impacted for a while the political discourse. The report also impacted the fundamental freedoms by misguiding public deliberations and Minsiter’s freedom of express his opinions freely.
The case has been identified as an incident of misinformation. Although the media made an ethical error by not quoting the Foreign Affairs Minister correctly and exactly, there seemed to be no malicious intent in publishing the news. The media also corrected the news with a clear apology once there were proofs that that was a misleading content and misinformation.
At the time of politically charged situation when Nepal’s political course had gone any direction with the uncertainty over the decision of the Prime Minister to dissolve the Parliament, and legal challenge to it, and people as well as leaders had bitter opinions about the politics and opposing leaders, such politically dividing misinformation could’ve played a pivotal role. The news report of a minister, considered by many as a logical and gentle politician, where he was wrongly quoted for saying illegitimate statement seemingly as an anger to politicians opposing position that he was part of, not only tarnished the image of the politician himself but also misguided the political discourse on public sphere. The misinformation by the trusted media outlet has greater impact among the population and their political opinions hampering their freedom of choice and freedom of opinion and expressions.
BBC news with short video clip: https://www.bbc.com/nepali/news-55784721
Fact-check by Nepal Fact Check: https://nepalfactcheck.org/2021/01/minister-gyawali-quote/