Pranab Mukherjee, Nishikant Kamat… How Many Celebs Will News Channels Prematurely Declare Dead?

Social Commentary

Pranab Mukherjee, Nishikant Kamat… How Many Celebs Will News Channels Prematurely Declare Dead?

Illustration: Mitesh Parmar

The race to always be the “first” to break a news story has often brought out the worst among TV anchors and channels in India. This addiction to be the “fastest” and “first” has led to truth becoming a casualty on many occasions. A new low was achieved by the Indian media today when acclaimed director Nishikant Kamat was falsely declared dead by multiple news channels. At the time, he was still on ventilator support and fighting for his life.

Reputed and verified handles like ABP News and News18 tweeted about him passing away. ABP Majha already ran a segment on their channel as well, about the director’s death. Once a news source declares a death, it doesn’t take long for ordinary people and influencers to trust their word and post condolence messages. It turned out to be the case in this instance too, as Bollywood critic Taran Adarsh and actress Swara Bhasker posted their “rest in peace” messages.

It took Bollywood actor Riteish Deshmukh to point out the facts, that Kamat was on ventilator support. “He is well alive and fighting. Let’s pray for him. Requesting all the respected media houses who reported on #NishikantKamat to put out a clarification please,” he tweeted. With channels putting out false information, do we have to now depend on actors and ordinary people to state the facts?

The confusion had to be put to rest by AIG Hospitals itself, where he has been admitted. They issued a statement saying, “Mr Nishikant Kumar is currently on ventilator support and continues to be in a critical condition.”

Riteish Deshmukh took to Twitter to inform about the director’s passing away later. “I will miss you my friend. #NishikantKamat Rest In Peace,” he tweeted. The filmmaker, aged 50, died in a Hyderabad hospital. Mr Kamat was believed to have been suffering from chronic liver disease.

But long before his actual death, the damage had already been done. Even his Wikipedia entry had been changed. Where do people then get the truth from?

Some who had fallen for the wrong information, tweeted out an apology, like actress Renuka Shahane.

As per Ritiesh Deshmukh’s request, some publications who had put out the fake news were quick to put up a “correction”. “In contrast to reports about his death, it is now being said that #NishikantKamat is on life support,” tweeted the Pune Times.

Last week, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai had falsely declared former President Pranab Mukherjee dead through a tweet. He later issued an apology, and was criticised by his peers for jumping the gun in an attempt to be the first one to break the news.

The son of the former President had to take to Twitter, to clarify the news. “Speculations & fake news being circulated by reputed journalists on social media clearly reflects that media in India has become a factory of fake news,” he said.

If there’s one cliche about the Internet that is true, it is that once something is put out, it is difficult to take it back. While some publications issued a correction, it already made it to WhatsApp groups and many social media users are still tweeting out condolence messages, unaware of the fact that it was “fake news”. After all, it had been posted by “verified” news handles and influencers. If the media wants to regain trust of its viewers, a good start would be to not put out information that is simply untrue. It isn’t a big ask.