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BBC, Guardian, Play Cricket With Facts: The Real Tendulkar-Taliban Story

Screenshot of Pakistani Taliban Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid in an interview with a local reporter, from Vimeo, uploaded by "TalibanMediaWatch"

Screenshot of Pakistani Taliban Spokesman Shahidullah Shahid speaking about Tendulkar to a reporter, from Vimeo uploaded by user “TalibanMediaWatch”

Record-breaking batsman Tendulkar recently played his last cricket game ending a legendary 24-year career. The “news” about his retirement and flood of tributes across South Asia, UK and Australia were soon trumped by an alleged “warning” from the Pakistani Taliban.

Stop praising Indian Cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, Taliban warn Pakistani media“: variations of this sensational headline were circulated by dozens of reputed international news sites. The “news” also went viral on social media and made its way to credible Pakistani newspapers.

But the Taliban say they gave no such warning and are very upset that they were misquoted so far and wide since November 28, 2013. Pakistani Twitter users and independent journalists @desmukh and @hyzaidi, debunked the “source” of the news as a quote taken out of context almost immediately, but the false headlines continue to make its way across the world without corrections.

Independent Pakistani journalist Fahad Desmukh (@desmukh) tweeted:

The wrong story has been “reported” by the BBC, the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald, Gulf News; in India by Times of India, NDTV, IBNLive and in Pakistan by Daily Times, Nation and Dawn. Only Pakistani publications Dawn and The News published “revised” versions of the real story.

A spokesman for the banned organization Pakistani Taliban did speak about the cricket legend, but his words were completely taken out of context – first by the international news wire AFP, but also by credible news outlets across the UK and many former British colonies, where the game continues to be popular.

The Real Tendulkar-Taliban story

The Taliban warning in media outlets is sourced to a 50-second video clip uploaded to Daily Motion and other sites, in which Pakistani Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid talks about the cricket legend and seems to be urging the Pakistani media to stop praising Sachin Tendulkar. But watching 30 seconds before and after the clip reveal a much different story.

The clip originates from the 17-minute long video linked in Desmukh's tweet above, uploaded to Vimeo by an account called Taliban Media Watch, and is actually a “Q and A” session with a spokesman from the banned Pakistani Taliban Shahidullah Shahid during which he talks to a “local reporter”, with two imposing gun-carrying masked soldiers behind him. He replies to questions about peace talks with Pakistan, US drone strikes, and politics in Pakistan.

Six minutes into the video, the Taliban spokesman is asked about a controversial comment made by Pakistani Islamist politician Munawar Hassan that enraged people across Pakistan.

The Islamist politician called former Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike month ago, an Islamic martyr. His comment was highly criticized across Pakistani media because the Taliban leader was an “enemy of the state”, and thus an “enemy of Islam” too, so he couldn't possibly be an Islamic martyr. (See more about this in an earlier Global Voices report. )

The spokesman gives a rather convoluted philosophical reply in the next five minutes using Tendulkar as an example, and at one point essentially says that if someone were to say don't praise him because praising him is unpatriotic, it doesn't take away from the reality that he is a great cricketer.

Here is a translation by Global Voices Urdu translator Rai Azlan of the clip from 9:15-11:30. (Media outlets that wrongly reported the news only quoted the second paragraph in bold below, which does send the wrong message, if reported out of context):

I would like to say something, especially to the media, that all those people who criticize Mr Munawar Hassan are doing exactly like…[for example] the cricketer from India named Tendulkar – recently Pakistani media has praised him a lot, in fact  many Pakistanis have admired and praised him. On the other hand, they criticized Misbah-ul-Haq [Pakistani cricketer player].
 
Now if someone should come up and tell the media that Tendulkar might be the greatest player but he should not be praised because it is totally against Pakistani nationalistic and patriotic sentiments. Or [should say] that even if Misbah is a substandard cricketer he must be praised simply because he is Pakistani.
…People who are criticizing Munawar Hassan are essentially using this logic.
That if a soldier of Pakistan's armed forces dies while fighting for American Interests, for a law given by the West or to protect  [Western] democracy, he has the right to be called a shaheed (Islamic martyr). But the rest of the people, like the Taliban or our leader Hakimullah Mehsud or other mujahideen [fighters], even if they are fighting for Islam but are also against the current Government of Pakistan, and against the State of Pakistan, it doesn't matter that in reality they are (shaheed) and confirmed to go to heaven, [these people say] they have no right to be called shaheed (martyr).
 
This logic certainly opposes reality, just like the example of cricketers I just gave, everyone knows how much it is opposite of reality to not admire the greatest cricketer [Tendulkar].

False news spreads far and wide

Independent Pakistani journalist Fahad Desmukh (@desmukh) tweeted:

An Indian journalist working in Pakistan for the Press Trust of India, Snehesh Alex Philip (@sneheshphilip), also tweeted about the story and said:

Fahad Desmukh explained:

Pakistani filmmaker, journalist and media critic Hasan Zaidi (@hyzaidi), who had been tweeting and tagging @AFP on Twitter about the real story, felt surprised when Dawn, a leading English daily in Pakistan, published the wrong story:

Dawn's Corrected Version of the Tendulkar-Taliban Story (29-11-2013)

Dawn published a revised story on the back pages of its November 29 edition based on the complete video.

AFP clearly got hold of the wrong video and took the spokesman's original quote out of context. But others followed the newswire without checking the authenticity of the source, quote or video.

Feature image used on homepage is a mashup of the screenshot of the Taliban spokesman video linked in this post and a Flickr image of Tendulkar by junaidrao, CC By-NC-ND 2.0

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