Misleading Dawn headline fuels confusion around ECP statement on early elections

Media reports say not possible for ECP to hold elections within 3 months

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Claim: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has said it will not be able to conduct general elections within three months due to  procedural and legal challenges.

Fact: The ECP clarified on 5 April 2022 that it did not issue any statement concerning early elections in Pakistan. 

Fact or Fiction?

On 5 April 2022, Hello Pakistan shared a post on Instagram with the headline, “General elections not possible in three months, says ECP.”

A number of verified pages also shared the claim, including Geo News English, Aaj News, The Daily Star, News Karnataka, The Economic Times, Deccan Chronicle, MiD DAY, Zee News English, National Herald, Deccan Herald, The Tribune and ABP Live.  

It was also carried by other accounts and pages, including here, here, here, here and here.

Soch Fact Check traced the original source of the claim to Dawn.com after coming across its Facebook post attributing a statement about general elections to the ECP. The media outlet carried the story with the headline, “General elections not possible in three months, says ECP.”

The report appears on Dawn’s website as well, the headline of which reads, “General elections not possible in three months, says ECP”. Dawn News also carried the story with the same headline in its 5 April 2022 e-paper edition.

Soch Fact Check found the claim to be misleading. Although the body of Dawn News’ article quotes an unnamed senior ECP official as their source, the article’s headline suggests that ECP’s official position is that fresh elections cannot be held in Pakistan within three months. As has been stated above, this is not in fact the case. 

In response to the news concerning early elections, the ECP clarified on 5 April 2022 that it had not issued a statement regarding elections. 

The Commission stated in a tweet, “It is necessary to clarify that the Election Commission of Pakistan has not issued any statement regarding the election.”

After the misleading claim went viral, many people, including former ministers, Shireen Mazari and Fawad Chaudhry, criticised Dawn. 

Later, Dawn.com revised its headline on the website to, “General elections not possible in three months, say ECP sources” although Soch Fact Check took screenshots of the original report. The outlet did not, however, revise the caption or headline of their post on Facebook.

Geo News, which quoted Dawn’s report in their story, changed the headline of the report on their website from “ECP says general elections not possible in three months: report” to “ECP official says general elections not possible in three months: report.” However, no revisions have been made to the headline of Geo News English’s Facebook post.

The proliferation of the claim appears linked to Imran Khan’s call for fresh elections to be held in 90 days after the no-confidence vote against him was thrown out on 3 April 2022. President Dr Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly on Khan’s advice, following which Khan was de-notified as the prime minister of Pakistan. However, Khan will continue as acting premier until the establishment of a caretaker set-up. The legality of the dismissal of the no confidence motion is currently sub judice. 

Virality

According to a CrowdTangle analysis conducted by Soch Fact Check, the search term “ECP not ready to conduct elections” turned up 56 posts on Facebook which received a total of 4,798 interactions over the seven days leading up to 6 April 2022.

The report became fairly popular and was shared by multiple Facebook pages, many of which carried the story in question with the same or very similar headlines and/or captions:

  • General elections not possible in three months, says ECP
  • ECP official says general elections not possible in three months: report
  • Not possible to hold general elections in three months, says Pakistan Election Commission
  • Pak general elections not possible in 3 months: Poll body

The analysis revealed that Dawn.com’s story is performing 2.82x better than other similar posts on Facebook with 1,800 likes and 110 shares. 

Soch Fact Check used Facebook’s search feature to check the virality of the claim with the search term “general elections not possible in three months”, and found at least 16 posts carrying the viral claim.

On Instagram, the search term received 12,679 interactions across 21 posts during the same period. Posts with the claim can be found here, here and here.

Dawn.today’s story is performing 2.23x better than other similar posts on Instagram with 2,800 likes and 133 comments, followed by Hello Pakistan’s post which received 4,200 likes and 72 comments.

Conclusion: Contrary to misleading claims that the Election Commission of Pakistan has said it cannot hold fresh elections within three months, the ECP has clarified that it did not issue a statement regarding the elections.

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