Fake News In India: Systematic Not Anarchic

The epidemic of fake news in India is not because of the so-called unaccountable nature of “social media.” It is not because of “anarchy”. Fake news is systematically produced in the Sangh’s fake news and photoshop industry, and disseminated using the same political machinery that got Modi elected Prime Minister. This machinery involves political leaders including Modi himself; as well as television channels and anchors, and the BJP IT Cell on social media.

Politicians have famously always lied about their achievements, about history, about facts. Political forces have often, in the past, used fake news in print media and word-of-mouth to generate communal violence. But the Modi Government is India’s first Government to use fake news as a permanent tool of governance on such a massive scale. Social media technology has of course enabled the exponential increase in the scale of fake news – as has the news-as-entertainment led television ‘news’ shows that rely on anchor’s performances rather than investigative journalism. But the driving force behind the fake news epidemic in India today is the Modi Government and the BJP IT Cell.  

In this feature, we will alert readers to the major categories of fake news in India.

Fake, Feku and Photoshopped Claims of Government Achievements

Modi leads the way here. In the run-up to the 2014 Parliamentary polls, he made tall, exaggerated boasts about the “Gujarat Model” – all of which were repeatedly busted by fact-checkers but still, repeated in Modi’s speeches, as well as TV anchors and BJP social media “warriors”.

After becoming PM Modi and his Government has just gone right on with the fakery.

To take just one example: At a rally Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh in February 2017, PM Modi claimed, “We started such a crop insurance scheme–named Prime Ministers’ Crop Insurance Scheme – where, even if natural reasons affect the crop at sowing, the farmer will be insured. Has anybody seen such a scheme before?” AltNews found that “PM Modi’s claim was misleading. As reported by Hindustan Times, the earlier insurance scheme for farmers had a sub-scheme named Weather-Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS).”

Modi’s Ministers have repeatedly tweeted photos of other countries as proof of the Modi Government’s achievements. One ‘shining’ example: Piyush Goyal, as MoS for Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy and Mines in 2017, tweeted a photo from Russia to back a claim that “Govt. has illuminated 50,000 KM of Indian roads by retrofitting 30 lakh conventional street lights with LED lights.” Piyush Goyal also used a photograph showing a landscape destroyed by collieries to promote coal mining and brag about his ministry’s achievements.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) annual report is using a picture of Spain-Morocco border to show Indian border floodlighting,

Union Minister Babul Supriyo in 2017 tweeted a ‘representational photo’ of an ideal bus stand, to claim it was a new bus stand in Rajkot: ‘This is not an Airport? It’s not in London or New York either? It’s the New Bus Stand inaugrated in Rajkot, Gujarat ??????’     

In 2015, the Press Information Bureau tweeted a photoshopped image of Modi visiting flood-hit areas of Chennai.

Fake News About Opponents, Critics, Historical Figures

Modi, again, leads the way here, serially spreading fake news about opponents, critics, and even historical figures and former PMs.   

During Gujarat election he made a provably false allegation that former PM Manmohan Singh met with a Pakistani diplomat at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house to collude to ensure BJP lost Gujarat! Former Chief of Army Staff General Deepak Kapoor who was also present at the meeting had said that the Gujarat election was not discussed in the meeting. But Modi never apologized for his lie.

In an election speech in Karnataka, Modi claimed that “In 1948, we won the war against Pakistan under the leadership of General Thimayya. But soon after the war, the then Prime Minister (Jawaharlal) Nehru and then Defence Minister Krishna Menon repeatedly insulted General Thimayya.” The facts? Thimayya was not the army chief in 1948, he became the army chief nine years later in 1957; and Krishna Menon was not the defence minister of India in 1948 either. Again, no apology or correction from Modi’s side.

Sexist Fake News

The BJP IT Cell has repeatedly circulated fake images with sexist messages to suggest that Nehru and Sonia Gandhi are of “loose” sexual morals. BJP’s IT cell head Amit Malviya tweeted a collage of images of Nehru with women to suggest Nehru was a womanizer. The photos showed Nehru embracing his sister and niece, giving a hug to dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai who was the daughter of his colleague, freedom fighter Ammu Swaminathan, applying a ceremonial “tilak” to American First lady Jacqueline Kennedy, bidding goodbye to Mountbatten’s youngest daughter Pamela, and exchanging a laugh with Edwina Mountbatten. Likewise, social media pages supporting Modi and Yogi shared images of actresses Ursula Andress, Reese Witherspoon, and Marilyn Monroe claiming these were pictures of Sonia Gandhi displaying lack of respect for “Indian cultural norms.” These pages also carried a photoshopped image of a meeting between Sonia Gandhi and former President of Maldives Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, showing Ms Gandhi sitting in his lap.    

Morphed porn videos were used by online Sanghis to defame journalist Rana Ayyub, while Sanghi sites (which incidentally earn money from porn) ran sexualised fake news to defame CPI(ML) leader Kavita Krishnan.

BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde had tweeted out a photo of JNU student leader Kanhaiya with a woman friend, claiming he was being inappropriately intimate with a woman teacher. He was made the Minister of State for Skill Development!

Hate-mongering Fakery

Of course, the worst damage is done by fake news targeting minorities, since such fake news fuels violence and lynching. Right-wing propaganda website Postcard News, cited often by Modi Ministers and BJP leaders is one of the serial offenders. Its founder Mahesh Hegde was once arrested for tweeting an image of a Jain monk injured in a bike accident, claiming he was attacked by Muslim youth in Congress-ruled Karnataka. BJP MP Pratap Simha and Modi Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde tweeted demanding Mahesh Hegde’s release. Interestingly Mahesh Hegde is invited onto Godi Media shows on Fake News!

Of course Minister Anantkumar Hegde also has a history of spreading communal fake news. He has tweeted that Islam needs to be held by its horn; that the Church is just a commercially operated religious conversion platform; and that if not for Buddhism, Akhand Bharat could have been realised. In his tweets he refers to Indira Gandhi as Maimuna Begum and Mamata Banerjee as Mumtaz – these are names that PostCard News often uses for these women leaders to claim they are ‘secretly Muslim’.

In 2015, a Twitter handle followed by the Prime Minister - @AmiteshSinghBJP – used the hashtag #GodhraAgain, portraying a rail roko protest in the town of Shamli as a Muslim mob attacking a passenger train. When an old, dud mortar shell was found by ragpickers in Delhi, one Twitter handle followed by the prime minister shared the news as a “plan to attack PM Modi” who was “addressing just 200mts away”.

Delhi advocate Prashant Patel Umrao, a serial purveyor of fake news and hateful propaganda calling for violence and lynching, was one of the select “social media warriors” who attended a BJP social media meet convened by BJP President on June 21 2018 in Delhi. On July 9, 2018 Delhi High Court lawyer Prashant Patel Umrao falsely claimed in a tweet that “280 orphan minor girls were made pregnant in Teresa missionary and their babies sent abroad for trafficking.” On July 6, 2018 Umrao falsely claimed that the “Muslim community filed a petition in the Supreme Court against holding ‘Mata ki Chowki’ and other Hindu rituals at public spaces”. In a tweet dated July 28, 2012, Umrao attributed a fake quote to senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, claiming that he called for the killing of a thousand Hindus; Sardesai filed a police complaint against Umrao.

Godi media has also repeatedly spread fake news without retraction or apology. Republic TV ran fake news generated by PostCard News about Jama Masjid being in the dark due to non-payment of electricity bills. Aaj Tak ran a fake story about a “Fatwa in Saudi Arabia that men can eat their wives if hungry”, based on a satire piece. Times Now ran a fake news story about a “Conversion rate card” by Christian missionaries in Kerala.

Fakers Claiming to Bust Fake News!

Fake-mongering channels like Republic and Times Now invite fake news site PostCard News founder Mahesh Hegde as an expert on a show against fake news! And there’s more.

In April 2018 At least 13 Union Ministers tweeted a link to a website which claimed to have busted “four major fake news stories.” Seven of the ministers added the same comment: “Raise your voice against the fake news.” The website shares its landline telephone number with BlueKraft Digital Foundation, which is the “technology and knowledge” partner to Exam Warriors, the latest book authored by Prime Minister Modi to help children fight exam stress.  

According to this website, an Indian Express story from Gujarat about a Dalit man murdered for owning a horse, quoting the FIR filed in the case was “fake news” because it was not a “Dalit versus upper caste issue”!

So fake news purveyors are projected as fake-checkers by the Modi Government and its propagandists! Meanwhile, in name of curbing fake news, the Modi Government framed rules to blacklist journalists. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry amended guidelines for journalists’ accreditation stating that if a journalist is found to have “created and/or propagated” fake news, the journalist’s accreditation will be suspended or permanently cancelled. It said that the Press Council of India and News Broadcasters Association (NBA), the two regulatory bodies for print and television media respectively, will determine whether the news is fake or not. It is well known that the BJP and its Government have repeatedly declared news stories exposing corruption by BJP leaders to be ‘fake news’ and have even filed defamation cases against journalists.         

Liberation will periodically publish updates on the fake news epidemic in India.

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