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Bengali bloggers debunk credulous AFP story about Taj Mahal “replica”

It’s a story too strange to be true: a wealthy Bangladeshi film-maker is building a life-sized replica of the Taj Mahal near Dhaka so that Bangladeshis can see the famous building without making the expensive trip to India. At least, that’s what AFP is reporting:

He hired specialist architects, sending them to India to measure the dimensions of the real Taj Mahal, and brought six Indian technicians to his building site across the border… Moni imported marble and granite from Italy, diamonds from Belgium and used 160 kilogrammes (353 pounds) of bronze for the dome.

As reports have come in about the “$58 million structure”, there’s been speculation on a diplomatic “fracas” between India and Bangladesh and questions about whether a building can be copyrighted.

It would be nice if someone actually went and visited the building site.

Several Bangladeshi bloggers did just that this past weekend. They reported paying unusually high fees for motorized rickshaws to the site, and an admission charge that was high by local standards. The building itself was underwhelming:

Local tiles on a plain and simple brick structure… even the tiling work is that of an amateur… the structure is still incomplete. Even if after all this they want to put Italian marble where will they put it? All the visitors were upset and were feeling cheated. …After 10minutes we realised that there was nothing to see inside. We left. On the way back we spoke to other visitors and there was only one word going around — “what a scam!”
From Bibortonbadi, translated by Aparna Ray for Global Voices

Bloggers noted that the filmmaker in question is notorious for making cheap Bollywood knockoffs, and consider this the architectural equivalent of such chicanery. The fact that the newspaper story ran during Eid has increased the traffic, as families decided to take Eid trips to visit the “attraction”.

Video from the underwhelming replica.

Bloggers are particularly incensed at local media’s role in the scam. Bibortonbadi called one local paper to complain and was told that the paper had simply published an AFP story without any verification:

I was surprised to note that the leading dailies of the country did not do any verification before writing about these false claims such as 400crores BD Taka (58mn USD), 172 diamonds, Italian marble etc. Is 400crores a child’s play? When someone claimed to have spent that kind of money, did they (the MSM) not find the time to verify these tall claims before publishing them as is? At best they would have had to travel for about 1.5hours to do this verification. Is there such dearth of news in this country (that there is no need to verify – anything will do) or can money power get anything published these days? At best only 3/4 crores were spent.

It’s pretty common for professional journalists to complain about poor factchecking in blogs, and the possibility that bloggers will hype stories that professional journalists would have quickly and easily debunked. Here’s a classic counter-example: an international press agency hyped a story which helped rip off Bangladeshis, who used blogs to debunk the story. Here’s hoping the international outlets hyping the story will pick up on the corrections as quickly as they seized on the story.

Thorough coverage of the fake Taj scam on Global Voices.

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  1. Pingback: AFP defends its hyped up story!!!!? | OntoreBangladesh

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