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Malala Yousafzai being interviewed by CBC. (Credit: YouTube, "CBCTheNational," screenshot)

Last week, Iran’s government-owned TV station Press TV was hoaxed by a satire story claiming that teenage education advocate Malala Yousafzai is really a Hungarian Christian not a Pakistani Muslim and that her 2012 attack by the Taliban was staged.

Pakistan’s Dawn.com published the satire story that included several unbelievable claims, such as that Malala’s doctor found out she was Hungarian after he analyzed her earwax, which he had saved from a visit to his office when Malala was younger.

iMediaEthics has heard back from Dawn.com editor Musadiq Sanwal with more information about its post and why it decided to add a disclaimer that the post was satire.

Sanwal told iMediaEthics by email that the blogger “regularly writes satire based on popular conspiracy theories,” and likened his satire posts to The Colbert Report.

According to Sanwal, the satire pieces are to highlight and call out conspiracy theories that plague Pakistan. “Pakistan remains a highly politicized society, where opinions remain sharply divided, and where people love to indulge in conspiracy theories, whether they are about bin Laden raid, or the Taliban and their real motives,” Sanwal wrote. “We have done huge number of serious pieces on such issues, but have at times indulged in satire to make fun of such claims. This piece too was an attempt to make fun of the conspiracy theorists.”

Originally, Dawn.com didn’t post a disclaimer that the story was satire, but decided to add it after seeing that “some readers…completely mistook it for a serious story,” Sanwal said.

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“The majority of our readers were able to make out, and appreciate, the humour,” but others couldn’t. Based on reactions online, Dawn.com attached the disclaimer.
“Some of them used parts of it for discussion on the social media, and people started to form opinion on the basis of their comments on Twitter and Facebook. It was at that point that the need was felt to put in a disclaimer.”

Sanwal said he didn’t know how Press TV found Dawn’s story or why “they thought it was a serious news story,” but suggested Press TV should have just reached out to Dawn beforehand.

“We wish they had contacted us before doing the story,” he wrote. “All we expect from Press TV is to acknowledge that it was a satire.”

Sanwal added: “I personally feel that the problem is bigger and requires a rethink by media internationally. This trend has been increasing where such satire pieces have been taken quite literally. A recent satirical rape vide made after a Mumbai photographer’s gang rape case  ‘Its Your Fault’ went viral.”

iMediaEthics asked if any news outlets were hoaxed by either the “It’s Your Fault” video or Dawn’s previous piece claiming to interview Osama bin Laden from his grave via a medium. Sanwal said he wasn’t sure if any news outlets fell for the satirical stories as fact, but that “audience responses at times did suggest confusion, deliberate or otherwise.” iMediaEthics hasn’t seen any news outlets that fell for either the “It’s your Fault” video or the Osama bin laden grave interview

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Pakistan’s Dawn wanted to ‘make fun of conspiracy theorists’ with Malala Satire Story

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