Tuesday, March 31, 2020
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Institutionalising fake news: The Congress Doctrine for 2019

While the pliant media may like to continue in such an institutionalized manner as it hopes to improve the public image of Rahul Gandhi, the rise of fake-news is actually an existential threat to the media industry as a whole.

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Several commentators have rightly predicted that the frequency of fake-news will increase as and when the election season comes near. The BJP has been a victim of such fake news ever since we assumed office as many commentators claimed that we made certain promises while those promises were never made by either the BJP or Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji.

While earlier the fake news was limited to select occasions, proximity to elections indicate that perhaps there’s an attempt at using fake news as a tool to mislead the people in order to improve the performance of the Congress. This prompted me to evaluate the entire mechanism through which fake news is being spread by certain opposition parties.

The first instance that comes to my mind is when Rahul Gandhi stated on the floor of the house that Prime Minister Modi promised to create 2 crore jobs every year. There is evidence that categorically states that the Prime Minister never made such a promise during the 2014 campaign, however, that didn’t stop Rahul Gandhi from making such an irresponsible statement.

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What’s worse is that after he made that statement, certain digital news blogs that tend to be left-leaning and pro congress started to write lengthy op-eds and commentaries on how Prime Minister Modi had promised to create 2 crore jobs per annum. None of them thought about the need to verify this piece of information and they published multiple articles on the subject.

This was followed by articles in mainstream media that quoted these reports on their digital editions as a source of their information. For weeks, this continued until people realized the need to debunk this myth by doing a comprehensive fact check. Clearly, whenever a news platform publishes something, it tends to get picked up by others and this makes it impossible to prevent the spread of fake-news without having a proper process of verification of information.

But there have been instances of selective reading of data by news platforms online and deliberate attempts to push a narrative using fake news to target our Prime Minister’s image. Recently, The Hindu carried a story that stated that over 1000 trees were cut to make a helipad for PM’s rally. In reality, no tree was cut, and this turned out to be yet another case of fake news. But what’s worrisome is the fact that it came in The Hindu which is widely read across India. Immediately, other platforms also picked up this story and raked it up without doing their due diligence and later it was found that this was yet another instance of fake news.

The disturbing trend is the rise of such fake news on digital media platforms: some of which are often used by Rahul Gandhi and senior leaders of the Congress to target the BJP. For example, OpIndia had preemptively busted an impending hitjob by The Wire against Arun Jaitley. After the OpIndia expose, The Wire had responded saying that the story had been dropped because there was no impropriety by Arun Jaitley or his family. Incidentally, Rahul Gandhi plugged the very article which admitted that there was no wrongdoing on the part of Arun Jaitley to insinuate this non-existing wrongdoing. This begs an important question. If Rahul Gandhi had read The Wire article before plugging it on Twitter, he would have known that the article admits that their story was dropped because they did not find any impropriety on the part of Arun Jaitley. Since he used this article to attack the Finance Minister, should one assume that he had prior knowledge of this hit job which eventually, never did take off? And if he did, can we assume collusion on the part of Congress and such digital media platforms that masquerade as neutral news agencies?

In fact, there have been cases where news has been designed to further the cause of spreading a narrative on WhatsApp using dodgy websites. Some of the new digital media platforms have then relied on these dodgy websites while mainstream media has relied upon these new digital media platforms as a source for their story. All of this indicates an ugly side of how the media operates: without any mechanism for curtailing fake news and without any mechanism of checking facts.

Surprisingly, this entire process is tilted to favour the Congress as Rahul Gandhi conveniently uses the reports published in these digital media platforms in his tweets. In fact, recently Rahul Gandhi used a report on the Beti Bachao Beti Padhao program while the report was in itself a terrible attempt at understanding what the scheme was all about. By pushing such reports, Rahul Gandhi is mainstreaming the fringe while he’s also not just legitimizing fake news and fraud analysis but also institutionalizing the same. It’s similar to what he tried in the Rafale deal where he ensured that he kept beating around the bush while reporters continued to refer to his speeches and provided them as citations in their articles. The points in such articles were then used by Rahul Gandhi’s team for his speeches. Thus, he created an entire web of information that was not based on any facts and got away with it.

While the pliant media may like to continue in such an institutionalized manner as it hopes to improve the public image of Rahul Gandhi, the rise of fake-news is actually an existential threat to the media industry as a whole. By pushing such stories, the media is denting its own reputation and credibility and once whatever’s left of their reputation is lost, perhaps people may move towards newer forms of sourcing information. We’re at a turning point for the news industry and I deliberately chose to publish this article in OpIndia- for it has a very solid record in terms of not retracting an article. In fact, in a couple of instances where they erred inadvertently, they were prompt in issuing an apology and rectifying themselves. They do it, using a good fact verification process; I’m hoping other digital media platforms learn from them and implement them too.

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