A regional newspaper that has confused itself as a national tabloid called the “The Telegraph” has recently come into the limelight. No, not for daring investigative journalism, but for Anti-Government opinionated puns written in super-bold on the front page. Yes, now opinion pages reserved for the middle section of a newspaper are splashed on the front page using cartoons.
The point of discussion today though is not the above “reports”, but a “Fact-Check” published by The Telegraph and then re-shared by its sister concern ABP News, on HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s powerful speech yesterday. This speech which blew many in the opposition away got the goat of this publication so much that they couldn’t even stop themselves from pushing a sexist headline.
Coming back to the “Fact-Check”, on closer observation it seems to be a Fact-free, opinionated, deliberately contorted piece. We will examine in detail.
The first two points raised are similar in nature:
The HRD minister had said that the security staff which reported the anti-national slogan and the internal committee of JNU, which temporarily suspended the students were free from any Government control or intervention.
The Telegraph admits that the security guards are from a private company and have been recruited by the JNU administration. Still The Telegraph implies that since the administration it self is “facing charges” of ceding autonomy to the Central Government, the HRD minister is wrong. The argument put forth for the JNU committee is the same, the committee is “facing criticism” hence proved HRD minister is wrong.
Are we told who are levelling these charges? Who are the critics? Are most of these people, the same people who defend the JNU students involved? How is this a fair & objective criticism? Secondly does the Telegraph now want to claim that employees of private companies are also Government controlled by some tenuous link? Thirdly, allegations of being Government stooges are just that, allegations, not “facts”. This is a unique trick employed where opinions are being masqueraded as facts.
The Telegraph says that Irani referred to celebrations of Mahishasura and wondered if they would be tolerated in Calcutta. The Minister did mention the celebrations but The Telegraph deliberately omits the crux of the whole issue, which the minister spelt out. As she referred to the celebrations, she quoted from a pamphlet found in JNU. The entire portion is reproduced here:
What is Mahishasur matrydom day? And I miss today Sugata Roy and Sugata Bose in this house, champions of free speech, because I want to know whether they will discuss this particular topic which I am about to enunciate in this house, on the streets of Kolkata, I dare them this. Posted on 4/10/14, a statement by the SC ST OBC and minority students of JNU, and what do they condemn? An attempt, like I said madam speaker this very pamphlet on 10th of February highlights, what the communist leaders call Mahishasur martyrdom day and may my god forgive me for reading this:
Durga pooja is the most controversial n racial festival, where a fair skinned beautiful goddess Durga is depicted brutally killing a dark skinned native called Mahishasur. Mahishasur a brave self respecting leader, tricked into marriage by Aryans, they hired a sex worked called Durga who enticed him into marriage and killed him after 9 nights of honeymooning, during sleep.
Freedom of speech ladies and gentlemen, Who wants to have this discussion on the streets of Kolkata, I want to know.
Clearly, the discussion in Kolkata was to be of more than just celebration of Mahishasur. She wanted to see if Kolkata could be tolerant to discuss the possibility of their most revered Goddess Durga, being a “sex-worker”.
The Telegraph very sneakily omits this entire reference and spins it in the direction of demon worship and shows some examples of demons being worshipped. This, is not a “fact-check”, this is an attempt to obfuscate facts.
The last “fact-check” borders on the hilarious:
Firstly, the ministers statement is once again truncated. She did say that 1984 riots and Hindu-Christian riots in Kanyakumari, and topics like “how the propaganda of Hindu organisations, targets Christian Minorities” were taught. But she immediately followed up with her objection, that this was taught to impressionable minds in the fourth standard.
Once this statement giving the context is removed, The Telegraph finds it easier to “fact-check”. Hence the defence is divided into two parts:
One: This is a nuanced form of history, so no harm in teaching it. Again, an opinion masquerading as a fact. And even if it nuanced, the objection was whether children in the fourth standard can grasps nuances.
Two: A statement from Teesta Setalvad, the very same person who had authored the books which Irani objected to. Does a counter-statement without any proof against another statement with proof, serve as a fact check?
Further, The Telegraph again omitted the part where Irani highlighted that even the then NCERT had objected to these books. It would have been a better “fact-check” if we could know whether the NCERT had indeed objected or not.