Qadaruddin Shishir

Guest Writer
Inefficient fact checking by Bangladeshi news outlets during football world cup
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Inefficient fact checking by Bangladeshi news outlets during football world cup

Qadaruddin Shishir

Guest Writer

An exciting football world cup has come to an end with some of the minnows going home with something to brag about while some of the giants returned disappointed. The organisers are delighted for having held a successful tournament. Even the Argentine football fans of Bangladesh are ecstatic for having been able to bring the cup home after 36 years. However, Bangladeshi news consumers have genuine reasons to be disappointed. Fact checkers have found that through the world cup tournament, there were 12 instances when fake news spread through the mainstream news outlets. Unfortunately, even the most reliable outlets have been fooled into spreading fake news at least once!

Let us begin with an example from a top Bangladeshi newspaper. On November 26, the newspaper headlined a report in its online edition, “Saudi footballers get Rolls Royce cars after defeating Argentina”.

The report reads: “According to the Daily Mail, a British news outlet, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud has announced that every player on the national team will be given a Rolls-Royce Phantom.”

Routine verification steps of factchecking warrant that the source is checked, which in this case was the Daily Mail. The UK-based news outlet Daily Mail’s report, however, cited one Malaysia-based ‘Malay Mail’ as its original source.

The Malay Mail report claimed to have found this information from two other websites named My Weekend Plan and Harian Metro both of which are based in Malaysia and neither even claim to be ‘news outlets’. My Weekend Plan, in turn, refers to a Ghanian news website as the source of the information.

The reports of these three websites cited tweets of an Indian businessman named Suhel Seth and a Pakistani dentist named Awab Alvi as the main sources of information.

In other words, although it appears that the Bangladesh reports are citing British news outfit Daily Mail as the source, in reality it is not.

The first confusion here is the attribution (by the Bangladeshi news outlets) to Daily Mail, for which it does not take responsibility. In this case, it was necessary to mention that the main source were two tweets and that no reliable news outlet has verified this independently.

The question that arises at this stage is whether the Bangladeshi news outlets are unaware or unskilled in online verification? If the answer is ‘no’, then one would have to presume that the outlets publish fake and misleading news stories knowing it full well. The Daily Mail is essentially a clickbait newspaper. It is befitting such a news outlet to get a few extra clicks and shifting the responsibility to another outlet without mentioning the original source or whether the original source is reliable at all. Then the question is whether the top news outlets of Bangladesh also see themselves as clickbait tabloids.

And if the answer to that is ‘yes’ then it is unfortunate. In this day and age of the internet, open source information may have to be used in news reports. This is why online verification has become a fundamental journalistic skill. That the mainstream news establishment, on the whole, lacks such skills and thus presents false and misleading information to the audience as ‘news’ is a matter of grave misfortune.

As discussed here, it is possible to find the original source of a news report or information with just a few clicks. And upon finding the ‘original source’, meaning the tweets, it would have been routine journalistic exercise for the news managers to determine whether they were reliable sources of information. But that was not the case.

The Saudi team dismissed the reports as fake at a press conference two days after the news broke. But fact checkers had found that out by then and had already debunked the claim.

During the Qatar World Cup, at least 12 such fake stories were published in the Bangladeshi news outlets that originated from fake Facebook pages, unreliable Twitter handles, fake websites, etc. In some cases, misleading photos or videos were published too.

This trend of spreading fake news in the Bangladeshi news industry has been prevalent for quite some time. Fact checkers have been relentlessly debunking fake news spread by the news media establishment for the last few years. The initial period of the Covid pandemic coincided with an epidemic of fake news. Sensitive issues like politics, science or health often see reports based on fake information in news outlets.

In light of the experience of a fact checker monitoring mainstream news outlets, this epidemic of false news stems basically from two factors — lack of skills in online verification and an unhealthy competition to be the first with the news.

At a time when the public’s lack of trust in the media is becoming a matter of serious concern, the spread of fake news by journalists will further undermine that trust and drive readers to unreliable sources. At the end of the day, that is simply ominous for journalism.

Qadaruddin Shishir

Qadruddin Shishir is a renowned factchecker in Bangladesh. He’s currently working as Bangladesh editor for AFP Factcheck.