Earlier this week, Scroll.in found itself accused of twisting and hiding facts.

This was about the story it broke on March 23 on the closure (for a day as it turned out) of Tunday Kababi, one of Lucknow’s best known eateries, because of a shortage of buffalo meat. The closure had followed the decision of the new government of Uttar Pradesh to shut down a number of slaughterhouses in the city (and elsewhere) which were said to be operating without a licence.

A site called OpIndia.com, which also has a section called “Media Lies”, ran two stories on March 23 and March 24 accusing Scroll.in in strong terms of “lies”, “mischief”, “chicanery”, and “surreptitious” modification in reporting the Tunday Kababi story.

What are the facts?

There are two Tunday Kababi outlets in Lucknow. One in the Akbari Gate area which dates back to 1905 and seems to be the better known; and the other in Aminabad.

On Wednesday March 22, Tunday Kababi in Akbari Gate was shut because, following the government’s state-wide drive against illegal slaughter houses, the eatery found it could not source buffalo meat.

Scroll.in was the first to report this story the next day, on Thursday, March 23, that the Akbari Gate outlet of Tunday Kababi had not opened on March 22 because it could not source buffalo meat, which was the only meat it served until then. The report also said the Aminabad outlet which serves chicken and mutton was open on March 22.

The headline said “UP: Lucknow’s legendary Tunday Kababi downs its shutters as meat crackdown intensifies”

The Scroll.in story also had an opening paragraph which said that the context was the drive against “illegal slaughter houses” in the state by the new government of Uttar Pradesh.

Later in the day, when Tunday Kabab re-opened but served only mutton and chicken (for the first time ever), the Scroll.in story was updated to report the re-opening and the new menu. That the story had been updated and the time of updating were both clearly mentioned. The headline in the updated story said “Lucknow’s Legendary Tunday Kababi reopens but serves chicken and mutton kababs for the first time.”

The charges

Where is the “mischief” in all this?

For OpIndia, there were many things wrong with Scroll.in’s reporting.

In its first report on the nature of reporting by Scroll.in, OpIndia said, one, that the headline did not say the crackdown was against “illegal” slaughter houses. Two, that the headline suggested that the establishment was closed permanently.

Neither criticism is valid.

First, the very first sentence of the Scroll.in article said “crackdown on illegal meat shops and slaughterhouses”. There was no hiding this fact of a drive against “illegal” establishments or reducing the importance of this fact by pushing it down the story and suggesting a ban on meat consumption.

If “illegal” had to figure in the headline, we would have needed a much longer headline with “crackdown on illegal slaughter houses” instead of “meat crackdown”. So the error, if any, was trivial; there was no mischief here.

Second, the use of the phrase “downs its shutters” does not mean closed permanently as OpIndia accuses Scroll.in of twisting the day’s closure of Tunday Kabab. The dictionary meaning is “cease trading for the day or permanently”. Note the order: “for the day or permanently”.

No error here either.

(Interestingly, there is an error here – of both Scroll.in and OpIndia. The expression according to the dictionary is to “put up the shutters” not “down”. The common usage in the Indian media seems to be “down the shutters”.)

If there is some mischief, it is something OpIndia can be accused of. Because in its first report it claims at one point that the eatery was never closed and reproduces a tweet and photos to show customers at Tunday Kababi – except that the tweet itself says, it is referring to the Aminabad outlet and not the Akbari Gate one. Then to confuse things further in the very next paragraph, OpIndia says Tunday Kababi was closed (only) for the day.

OpIndia in its second media watch on Scroll.in’s reporting, published the next day, March 24, goes further. After claiming that because of its “exposé” Scroll.in corrected its story, it accuses this site of “surreptitiously” modifying the story and changing the headline.

Any developing story is updated and Scroll.in explicitly says so and gives the time of updating as well. Here on March 23, when Tunday Kababi re-opened, Scroll.in updated the story later in the day and also said it had re-opened but was serving, for the first time, chicken and mutton.

Standard practice

There was nothing surreptitious about the modification. This is standard practice in any developing story and Scroll.in regularly does this on almost every day when a story is developing, whether on election results or an accident/terrorist act.

In this case, the Scroll.in article had been changed on the day of publication to reflect new events, and the publication had explicitly noted the updating.

So on the whole it seems to me that OpIndia has been more enthusiastic about using strong epithets against Scroll.in than in identifying errors.

We need the media to be responsible and check its facts carefully, and we need independent fact checkers to keep a watch. But the independent fact checkers too have to be responsible when performing their role as a watchdog.

This is not likely to be the end of the larger story of meat in Uttar Pradesh. The meat crackdown in the state seems likely to have many ramifications. Now sellers of chicken have decided to pull up (!) their shutters because they fear being sealed by the municipal authorities. So the story is developing and one can expect more reporting by Scroll.in on this issue.

As an article in Swarajya, a news site from the same stable as OpIndia, has argued, if this drive against buffalo slaughter houses continues, it can cause trouble for jobs and livelihoods in the state.

Write to the Readers’ Editor at readerseditor@scroll.in.