IndiaSpend’s factcheck website : A classic case of how fact-checkers peddle an agenda

Recently, a site called ‘factchecker.in’ took up a noble initiative of tracking ‘cow-related hate crimes’. They claim that since National Crime Records Bureau does not collect data on cow-related hate crimes, they have collected the data of over eight years. To build their database their team ‘collected, analysed and verified print and online news reports in the English media, which tend to have the widest nationwide coverage’.

The catch here is, that vernacular, local media reports which have a far wider reach and circulation, many of which are not covered by mainstream English media, are not included in this database. They also have an option where the readers could report incidents, which their team would ‘verify’ before adding to the database. Except, we tried to find the submit option on the page, but couldn’t find one.

They claim that readers could submit reports of cow-related hate crimes, but there is no such option on their page where one could make such submissions.

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While they claim that their data is collected from 2010, their database in 2010 shows zero ‘cow-related hate crimes’.

9-year collage of lynchings where data before 2014 show hardly any incidents.

As one can see, in 2010 and 2011, no cow-related hate crimes were found by ‘fact checker’, and in 2012 and 2013, 1 incident each. All these 4 years were under the UPA. But could it be possible that no such incident took place in these years?

In March 2011, Times of India had reported how the roads linking to Bihar border are proving ‘silk routes’ for cattle smugglers. An article published in The Hindu published on 13th February 2010 speaks of how one Nasir was beaten with an iron rod when he was trying to purchase an old cow from Hindu farmers in Karnataka. The same report talks about how a father and son were brutally assaulted, stripped for several hours and paraded near Udipi by a mob for the same ‘crime’. Meaning, these incidents did happen in 2010 and 2011 and covered in English papers, but were not covered.

Hindi papers and vernacular papers have been late in digitizing their archives and there is a possibility that these incidents of cow-related violence are stashed in the paper archive. In spite of that, a little bit of research led to the revelation that crimes related to cows indeed took place between 2010 and 2013.

On 13th April 2012, it was reported in Jagran that two men who were illegally transporting cows were apprehended by police and arrested in Jammu. On 29th November 2002, Jagran reported three men were arrested in Bihar for not only illegally transporting cattle but even beating them up. Bhaskar had reported on 17th October 2013 that villagers had attacked police in Vadodara when the police team tried to stop cow slaughter on Bakri Eid. Perhaps mob of villagers and cow smugglers attacking police is not crime enough for ‘factchecker.in’.

These were examples before the Modi government was formed in 2014. Starting with the latest in 2018. ‘Factchecker.in’ claims that there have been 12 incidents of cow-related crimes in the year till August 2018. Since they claim that the database is dynamic and is updated regularly, one would assume that at least in 2018 when penetration of digital media is even deeper than 2010, they would have more crimes to report. However, the bias in reporting is evident from the stories which, despite being covered by English media (because it seems vernacular and Hindi media is not relevant and glamorous enough in the elitist, English speaking media circles)

For example, last week, two sadhus were killed in Auraiya, Uttar Pradesh, because they opposed cow slaughter. This was widely covered in Hindi as well as in English national media. However, the same is absent from the ‘interactive’ map of ‘factchecker’. Perhaps opposing cow slaughter is not ‘cow’ enough.

Discounting that since it is a BJP-run state, the killing of few Hindu sadhus who oppose cow slaughter is not worth making it to news, moving down south, in Karnataka, a Muslim mob running illegal cow slaughterhouse attacked an India Today journalist (English news channel) in Ramnagar district. This, too, was covered by English media but fails to make it to the list here. So, not only did the Editors Guild remain silent on the attack on a journalist by the mob, the ‘factchecker’ which also has many senior journalists in the team, fails to mention it even if it out of solidarity with their fraternity.

Earlier this month, in Madhya Pradesh, a cow was reportedly raped by one Chhotu Khan. The news, too, failed to make it to the coveted list of ‘cow-related crimes’. Perhaps raping a cow is not crime enough. These three incidents are all from August. You could read more incidents, many of which were not covered by the ‘factchecker’ here.

This biased reporting of ‘facts’ which are twisted as per convenience and narrative is not new. Earlier we had reported how Hindustan Times had started a similarly biased ‘hate tracker’ which focussed only on identity-based crime reporting of Dalits and Muslims. Their hate tracker also conveniently ignored hate crimes against people belonging to certain political or religious inclination are conveniently ignored, and so are crimes perpetrated by people belonging to certain political or religious ideology. The ‘hate tracker’ was supposedly tracking hate crime from September 2015 onward, but had conveniently missed out on reporting hate crimes when the victim was a Hindu or the one time when one Farooq, who identified himself as an atheist and a free thinker was killed by a radical Muslim group.

But the mainstream media has been actively promoting how the ‘cow-related’ violence has increased in India after Modi came to power. Sujoy Ghosh, a columnist with OpIndia, had written about how IndiaSpend (the same people who run the ‘factchecker’) have regularly indulged in peddling this narrative. They had earlier filed a report how 87 people had died in cow-related violence since 2010, of which 97% of the crimes happened after Modi came to power. The above ‘interactive fact-check’ map is an extension of the same report’. As can be seen even then that their ‘research’ was based on ‘Google search’ with particular keywords.

So, a ‘fact-checker’ instead of reaching out to police to find out details of crimes committed, relies only on English media and only Google search with a particular set of keywords because why try finding out facts if you can outsource it on readers. This is not the first time ‘factchecker.in’ has been caught on the wrong side, peddling half-baked truth. Earlier too they had engaged in sensationalising an opinion masquerading as factsheet on Power Ministry. Last year in April, factchecker.in got it all wrong and ‘fact-checked’ a misreported news on passport rules.

Perhaps it is time ‘factchecker’ starts taking its name a little seriously.


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