On April 10, 2020, Indian TV channels – especially TV9 Bharatvarsh and TV24 – started broadcasting what they claimed to be a ‘big news’. The report claimed that Jalim Mukhiya, a Nepali citizen of Islam religion and a ‘weapon dealer and counterfeit Indian banknotes dealer’ who acting on the direction of the ISI of Pakistan was conspiring to send more than 200 coronavirus infected people across border to spread Covid pandemic in India. The TV channels based their report on a letter by Indian armed border force SSB that allegedly stated that Jalim Mukhiya of Jagannathpur of Parsa was attempting to send corona infected Muslim Indian from working in various countries across border from Nepal.
Although DGP Gupteshwor Pandaya of Bihar, India refuted the letter – to Nepal’s media and to India’s media – saying that the letter was unverified and that the border was sealed, for next few days, the Indian TV channels continued broadcasting news reports about him repeating the same claims and naming him the biggest corona conspirator.
Jalim Miya, also known as Jalim Mukhiya for his previous and the-then role as head of the village, was a 61-year-old elected representative. Previously in 1980s, he was found to be guilty of timber smuggling and was imprisoned for two months. He was a politician who was also a central advisor to the Maoist party. As a Jamati, he visited India often and on April 1, 2020, he assisted Nepal Police to move 15 Nepali Muslim residing in a mosque at his village to a quarantine facility where all of them were tested negative for coronavirus infection.
Examples of the news reports
|1||TV9||Coronavirus: Conspiracy to spread corona in India; Nepali citizen Jalim Mukhiya||2020/04/10||24k|
|2||TV24||Conspiracy to spread corona in India, corona infected can enter Bihar from Nepal||2020/04/10||10K|
|3||TV9||3 gang-members of Jalim Mukhiya tested corona positive; planned conspiracy in Nepal||2020/04/12||9K|
|4||TV24||Zalim Mukhiya’s 24 men taken into custody in Nepal||2020/04/12||15K|
|5||TV9||Jalim Mukhiya gives interview on TV9 Bharatvarsh; See exclusive||2020/04/13||9K|
|6||TV9||Coronavirus: Corona conspirator against India Jalim Mukhiya arrested||2020/04/13||6.8K|
|7||TV24||Mastermind Jalim Mukhiya of corona conspiracy arrested||2020/04/13||10K|
ABCDE Framework Analysis
|Prime actors:Two mainstream news TV channels of India||Transparency: The actors are transparent.|
Intent: The behaviour suggests aspersive intent.
Dependency: The television was used to reach wide population and later contents were also shared on social media platforms.
|Series of news videos falsely claiming a Nepali citizen ‘the biggest corona consipirator’.|
Harm: The content was harmful to the individual identified and probably also eroded trust between people to two countries. It also hit the religious sentiments between Hindus and Muslims.
Synthetic: The content was unverified and false.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation narrative.
|Target audience:Indian population|
Platforms:Television channels and social media
|Defamed the person identified; created problems for him leading to his arrest; misuse of state resources; and potentially also impacted harmony between Hindus and Muslims.|
Actor: The actors were two Indian television channels headquarter in Noida and Uttar Pradesh – TV9 Bharatvarsh and TV24. TV9 Bharatvarsh, launched in 2019, is an Indian Hindi-language news channel owned by TV9 Network and claimed to be second most popular Hindi language news channel in India. TV9 Bharatvarsh’s YouTube channel had more than 11 million subscribers.
TV24 is a free-to-air 24-hour national Hindi news television channel owned by A-One NewsTime Broadcasting Pvt. Ltd. Its YouTube channel had more than 15 million subscribers.
Behaviour: The actors were transparent in identifying themselves and were using lawful and registered means of communication, the television channels and their social media pages, to publish the news report. The actors seemed to have an aspersive intent as they continued accusing him and standby their misinformation despite failing to verify them from authentic sources; and despite that fact that Mukhiya himself and Indian security agency claimed the reports were not correct.
Content: The content was the news report in video format broadcast over television channels and shared in social media pages, especially YouTube. It was a misinformation regarding an elected representative of Nepal conspiring spreading coronavirus in India by sending infected people across sealed border on direction of ISI of Pakistan. The tone and language of the report were aggressive, alleging, one-sided and claiming him to be a criminal without any verified facts. Quoting an unverified internal circular of security agency, the television first named him to be a conspirator and then falsely claimed that the was arrested by Nepal Police.
The content constantly and repeatedly used words as expose, or big news, or exclusive, or biggest criminal, or corona conspiracy to establish unverified points.
Degree: The content was targeted to Indian citizens as it was broadcast in the Hindi-language television news channels. The televisions have big impact on Indian population thereby the report reached millions of people though the channels as well as their YouTube channels.
Effect: The report created quite a stir in Nepali public sphere, with many querying about Jalim Miya whereas some of the social media users took up the issue to blame Muslims of the wrong deeds. The comments in India were also similar, people expressing hatred towards Muslim people on religious grounds. Nepal Police went to question Miya and took the people in his village mosque in quarantine facility (who all were found to be negative).
Miya was forced to repeatedly and frantically refute the news reports and had to bear a greater psychological impact whereas the Muslim people were also subjected of insults and allegations.
The case has been identified as an incident of disinformation with some elements of influence operation. It seems to be an organized attempts to achieve advantage in viewership over competitive media among a target audience. The reports contained deceptive materials creating confusion and adversely affecting religious sentiments. The accusations and sensualisation of the report continued for four days (April 10 – 13, 2020) broadcast multiple times a day in news bulletins while also brining in ‘experts’ to talk about the topic although the contents were not verifiable and denial from both the accused and security agency.
During the early days of coronavirus pandemic in South Asia when covid cases were sporadically identified in countries, there were a fear among public. When some participants of an Islamic convention in New Delhi were found to be positive, Indian media alleged Muslims of ignoring public health warning and conspiring to spread coronavirus. Jalim Miya, being a Muslim who had attended the convention with his background in timber smuggling, and as a head of a village who volunteered to transfer people from his village mosque to quarantine facility in Birgunj, near Indian border, Indian media found a person who could be accused and continued spreading disinformation for a few days until he sensational elements in the reports died out. This is a case of how mainstream media spread disinformation without verification of the documents for the influence operation to gain viewership edge in the competitive television news market.