Top Pakistani TV channels carry parody account’s tweet as news

They attributed a fake tweet to Finance Ministry spokesperson Muzzammil Aslam

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Claim: Finance Ministry spokesperson Muzzammil Aslam has said that following the hike in petrol prices in Pakistan, he did not see a decline in the number of vehicles on the roads and people absorbed the [oil] shock because of the country’s high per capita income. Aslam also said that those calling the hike in prices a ‘petrol bomb’ should be ashamed.

Fact: Aslam did not say that the petrol price hike did not affect the number of vehicles on the roads or that people have absorbed the [oil] shock. In fact, the tweet being alluded to in media reports and viral posts was shared by a parody account on Twitter. 

On 16 February 2022, Facebook user Munaim Tahir shared a tweet claiming that Muzzammil Aslam said he did not see fewer vehicles on the roads after the government announced a PKR 10 to PKR 12 per litre increase in the price of all petroleum products. 

The claim was then picked up by a handful of accounts such as here, here and here

On the same date, Geo News Urdu in its 5 PM news bulletin at the 6:07 mark carried the same claim.

The claim was also picked up by DAWN News TV and mentioned during its 6 PM news bulletin at the 3:28 mark on the same date. 

Fact or Fiction?

Soch Fact Check found the claim to be misleading because the TV channels carried a tweet by a parody account as real news. They appeared to base their reports on the following tweet by user Muzammil Aslam (@chickenomist) who describes his page as a parody account:

“Despite PKR 12/liter increase in the Petrol price, I’ve not seen any less number of vehicles on the roads today. This shows high level of per capita income after rebasing of GDP has absorbed all impact. Shame on those who call it a petrol bomb. #PetrolPriceHike”

Soch Fact Check ascertained that the parody account (@chickenomist) was created in February 2022 and has 320 followers whereas Aslam’s real Twitter account (@MuzzammilAslam3) was created in January 2017 and has 65,000 followers. 

After the misleading story went viral, Aslam criticised both Geo News Urdu and Dawn News TV for cherry picking and reporting on a tweet by a parody account.

Later, Geo News Urdu clarified on-air that the statement they broadcast in their bulletin was not taken from Aslam’s real account but from a parody account. However, they did not issue a clarification in the caption of the news bulletin shared on Facebook.

On 17 February 2022, the Dawn newspaper also carried the claim in a report. The body of that article states, “Contrary to the comments of Muzamil Aslam, the federal Finance Ministry spokesperson, who found ‘the same number of vehicles plying on roads and people absorbing the (oil) shock because of high per capita income due to rebasing of economy’, the common man believes the situation is dire.”

A correction was issued by the Dawn newspaper the following day clarifying that “a comment about fuel prices was mistakenly attributed to Finance Ministry spokesperson Muzzammil Aslam. The comment came from a fake Twitter ID. The error is regretted”. 

Aslam criticised the newspaper for not giving the correction the same prominence as the original story by publishing the correction on inside pages instead of on the front page.

Virality

The video on Geo News Urdu’  Facebook page, titled “شام 5 بجے کی ہیڈلائنز – 16 فروری 2022”, was viewed by more than 515,000 people and shared close to 500 times; it also received 19,000 reactions. The clip posted to Geo News channel on YouTube, titled “Geo News Headlines 05 PM | FIA | Mohsin Baig | 16th February 2022”, was watched by over 41,500 people.

Dawn News TV only shared its news bulletin on YouTube, where the video titled, “Dawn News Headlines | 6PM | Tehreek e Adam Aitemad Kay Liye Back Door Raabty Taiz | 16th Feb 2022,” garnered 112 views. 

Dawn News went on to print the story with the parody account’s tweet in its 17 February 2022 edition despite the channel’s programme, Zara Hat Kay, clarifying in its 16 February 2022 episode that the parody account successfully fooled media houses. Dawn.com, on the other hand, issued a rectification although Soch Fact Check archived the original report that included the tweet by the parody account.

Conclusion: The Geo News Urdu and Dawn News TV channels picked up and ran news stories in their hourly bulletins about a tweet posted by an account parodying Finance Minister’s spokesperson Muzzammil Aslam. 

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