Wednesday, March 3, 2021
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How neutral is “fake-news buster” AltNews

There is a new kid on the block of fake-news busting, and it is named altnews.in. It is run by one Pratik Sinha. Pratik happens to be the son of Mukul Sinha, lawyer and activist from Gujarat, who was staunchly anti-Modi and anti-BJP his whole life.

Further, Sinha senior, with the help of his son, ran a website called TruthOfGujarat.com. It so happened that the website was prone to spreading lies were were then often debunked. So prima-facie it is quite interesting when someone (Pratik Sinha) with such a colourful past, starts a fact-checking site.

Nevertheless, everyone is allowed a fresh start, from scratch. But Altnews did not need to build itself from ground zero. It has received support from a wide variety of left-leaning celebrity journalists from liars like Rana Ayyub to controversial journalists like Sagarika Ghose. Ironic again.

Now coming to subject proper, even though Altnews carries the above baggage, is it still a “neutral” portal? Can it be trusted to not take sides?

The editor, Pratik Sinha, was recently called out on social media, when he chose to besmirch a person followed by Modi for tweeting alleged “fake news”. The person in question had tweeted news from multiple media sources, and eventually, the news was proven to be true. Sinha of course brazened it out. So does his site fair better?

This can be easily gauged by comparing how the site comments on similar topics, but with people from different political leanings being on the receiving end of them. Take for example, the common issue of false/misleading/fake images or videos being circulated on social media. This is an issue which is plaguing social media across the political spectrum. Some people do it with malafide intent, while others genuinely fall for the propaganda. See how Altnews reacts to such cases:

Case 1: Fake images during Basirhat riots

In the course of this news break, many false images propped up on social media. Many of them were posted by users who were Right leaning. Altnews called them out for using the misleading images. See the editorial comments in that particular article on the site (emphasis added):

The situation with fake news and photoshopped images is clearly getting out of hand. There is an urgent need for a multi pronged approach with efforts from online platforms and the government to control this epidemic of fake news. Morphed images are a dangerous tool in the hands of those who have a single-minded agenda to polarise and incite violence. It is not just irresponsible, it is criminal.

Case 2: Viral images of beef protest by Congress

Some spurious images were once again circulated, again from some right-leaning social media users. Altnews busted the hoax. Again, read the editorial comments (emphasis added):

The Indian right-wing has yet again duped the people of India with their photo-shopping skills. Alt News requests its readers to always re-examine and re-analyze videos and images that are too shocking to be true, often they are actually fake.

Case 3: Video on communal events in Bengal

This time, the fake video was shared by BJP’s Asansol IT chief, and some other Right Wing sites. Read the editorial comments (emphasis added):

We at Alt News believe that these fake videos which do the rounds on social media and WhatsApp are being created in an organised and pre-planned manner. This is yet another proof that people officially in BJP are also a part of this dangerous propaganda of injecting communal poison in the society.

Summary so far: The slant is pretty clear: If someone from the Right Wing is caught spreading fake pictures, then the person is “photoshopping” images, doing it “deliberately, in an organised and pre-planned manner”, to “inject communal poison”, to “incite violence”, and it is “a criminal act”.

Case 4: Leftists caught spreading fake images

Now come to the recent occurrence where journalists and politicians from the Left site of the political spectrum were caught spreading fake pictures. Picture of a girl beaten up in a separate incident, was used to portray as if the girl was victim of police excesses at a BHU protest.

This fits the narrative of the Left since BJP is in power in UP. AAP leader Sanjay Singh, former AAP leader and activist Prashant Bhushan, Congress party’s national general secretary Ashok Gehlot, journalist Mrinal Pande, the abusive troll who doubles up as journalist Swati Chaturvedi were some of the prominent people sharing this fake image.

Now see the editorial comments for this story by Altnews (emphasis added):

At a time when one is outraged about an incident, it is easy to fall prey to fake images. In this case, it is a fact that there were injuries to students due to a police lathicharge. This was perhaps used by someone to share an unrelated image of a more serious injury to whip up passions. We have seen this happen frequently on social media when someone shares an image or video of an unrelated incident to whip up passions and many people inadvertently believe it to be true. It is therefore it is important to verify that the source of the image is reliable before sharing it further, particularly if the image is violent or gruesome in nature. If you find yourself unknowingly sharing an image that is a fake, there is nothing wrong in admitting it. We are glad to see that in this case, many have regretted their mistake and tweeted about it.

Summary: Thus, when anti-BJP voices spread fake news, Altnews steps in to justify the same. Suddenly, it becomes “easy to fall prey to fake images” as “one is outraged about an incident”. Even fake news gets a “context” now. It is deemed that these people had “unknowingly” shared a fake image. Worse, these people are made heroes for “admitting” that they lied. And Altnews cannot hide its happiness and is “glad” that the fellow communists have “regretted their mistakes”.

For the record, Sanjay Singh of AAP, Ashok Gehlot of Congress and journalist Chatuvedi, have neither expressly accepted that they spread fake images, and have obviously not apologised or expressed regret. But Altnews is “glad” for some imaginary regrets.

We now come back to the question: Is Altnews.in neutral? You have your answer now.

P.S. Since this article will appear in OpIndia.com, our friends from Altnews.in will indulge in whataboutery intelligent thoughts and ask “Is OpIndia.com neutral?”. The answer to this is simple: OpIndia.com has clearly stated its editorial stance in its About us section.

They have informed the reader that they are a right-of-centre portal. Full disclosure such as this is common in media houses in the US, where the reader knows upfront what he is reading. This helps the reader make a more analytical and critical judgement. Altnews on the other hand is silent and thus chooses to hide its biases. Thus, instead of being transparent, it is being deceitful and manipulative, tricking readers to believe that it is neutral, when the real position is all too clear.

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