Times of India, issue front page apology for fake news about missing student Najeeb

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On 21st March, 2017 the Times of India- India's largest English daily- carried a front page report about a missing student Najeeb Ahmed, insinuating that he was an ISIS (Islamic State) sympathizer. Not only was the story splashed right across the front page, it was continued on Page 3 and was picked up by numerous other media outlets, such as Zee News, Aaj Tak, Times Now, etc. The basis of the story, as claimed by the reporter, Raj Shekhar Jha, was Najeeb Ahmed's Google search history, obtained by the Delhi Police which is investigating the matter. Raj Shekhar Jha, in the front page story, claimed that Najeeb searched for "ways to join ISIS", and cited an anonymous "highly placed source" to say that "most YouTube videos he watched on his laptop were related to IS" and even went to the extent of saying that the proof of the same has been "submitted to the Delhi High Court".

All of this made for a great story, except it wasn't! The Delhi Police promptly responded to this story by holding a press conference in which Mr. Dependra Pathak, Chief Spokesperson of the Delhi Police, clarified three things:

1) Delhi Police has not received any such report from Google or YouTube about Najeeb Ahmed's search history.

2) There has been no submission of any such proof in the High Court, as claimed by the story.

3) There is nothing in the Delhi Police investigation that could suggest any link of the missing student to IS or ISIS.

On 22nd March, 2017 the Times of India carried a rejoinder written by DCP Madhur Verma who is also the PRO of Delhi Police. This rejoinder was carried on page number 5 in a tiny column under the name of Mr. Madhur Verma. The rejoinder further clarifies that the Delhi Police never asked Google or YouTube to provide the search history of Najeeb Ahmed!

Please note that this is a rejoinder written by the Delhi Police, not a clarification or apology made by the Times of India or by the reporter himself. After being so thoroughly exposed for publishing fake news, TOI hasn't deemed it important to say anything about the issue in its own words. The Delhi Police rejoinder has been carried in such an insignificant manner, as if it were a corrigendum for a spelling mistake!

It must be made clear that Najeeb is a victim of violence by ABVP members and ensuing negligence on part of Delhi Police, not the perpetrator, not the aggressor, not the terrorist. Instead, he was terrorized. Attempts to malign his character and portray him as an ISIS terrorist are part of a larger project of negative depiction of Muslims in mainstream media. Even if the news were true, even if Najeeb had searched for ISIS, the logical question for the media to ask should have been: "So, what?" Media is supposed to be the conscience keeper of the government, not to fall for sensationalism. Don't all journalists today look up ISIS? The best selling books today are about ISIS, everyone is curious to know about ISIS. But, the (fake) TOI news that Najeeb had looked up ISIS prompted every other media house to publish frenzied stories about "self-radicalization" and "ISIS recruitment"! Many Muslims have become victims of media trial in the past where sweeping accusations are made without proof or substance. The truth never comes out because it is not carried by mainstream media.

Based on the TOI report, Zee News carried the following headline: "Missing JNU student Najeeb Ahmed wanted to join ISIS? Here's what Delhi Police said", which reeks of sensationalism and is loaded with insinuations. A common tendency on social media, these days, is to overlook the body and focus on the headline. Also, the mind of the general audience associates keywords (Najeeb, ISIS) while filtering out the details. Stories such as these stay on the Internet for a very long time and are likely to come up in search results, with or without manipulation. Social media accounts funded and patronized by the BJP have circulated the fake news published by Times of India and Zee News, far and wide, while TOI has not taken any aggressive or proactive steps to counter the misinformation.

Times Now perhaps felt embarrassed that they "lagged behind" in picking up on the story and, therefore, invented their own imaginary, unnamed "sources" to carry the Newsflash, "Najeeb an ISIS sympathizer?", whereas their only "source" was the fake TOI front page report!

How does Times of India's fake news become a "source"? How does looking up ISIS make someone an "ISIS sympathizer?" By this logic, anyone in the world who may have looked up "ISIS recruitment" or any other info on ISIS would be an ISIS sympathizer! But no, this distinction is restricted to Muslims, who make for good soup!

The Times of India story went on to claim that "Najeeb was caught on CCTV leaving the campus in an auto", whereas the reality is that there is no such CCTV footage! Najeeb was never caught in any CCTV camera, going anywhere! But the TOI story deliberately put out such misinformation, so that the possibility of Najeeb having been abducted by ABVP members is ruled out in the public mind!

Such kind of yellow journalism cannot be tolerated. And TOI's lazy attitude on the matter is extremely disgusting. TOI must not hesitate in taking the initiative to counter the misinformation campaign which passed through their editorial team! TOI's ego cannot be larger than the reputation of a missing student who is a victim of ruling party violence.

We, the undersigned, therefore, demand that:

1) Times of India must carry a generously worded, front page apology and clarification of the entire matter as soon as possible.

2) Times of India must sack Raj Shekhar Jha, and any other people involved, for using the names of Delhi Police and Times of India for false propaganda.

3) All the media outlets which have reported the matter based on TOI's report must immediately clarify the matter, without ambiguity and sensationalism, and give prominent space to the Delhi Police's clarification in the matter.

4) Times of India must adequately compensate the family of Najeeb Ahmed for the mental trauma, stigma and loss of reputation that they have suffered in the process.