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OpIndia’s response to International Fact Checking Network’s rejection of its application for accreditation

When the entire mainstream media was busy regurgitating the fake claims made by the BBC based on their fake research, it was OpIndia.com which debunked their lies. Rest assured, our work will continue to rattle many more feathers in the days to come.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

OpIndia.com’s tryst with the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) began during the course of our investigation into BBC’s Fake News research on Nationalism. BBC had initially claimed that Nationalism was behind the rise of Fake News based on their research, a claim they were forced to backtrack from after we debunked their preposterous ‘research’ in our series of articles.

The BBC had relied on accreditation by the IFCN for their selection of fact-checkers for their research. We had proceeded to demonstrate how their research was destined to fail due to their reliance on biased sources of Fake News.

Soon after, we had applied for accreditation by IFCN ourselves to check if the institution itself was biased. We can now report that our application was rejected mainly on the basis of our alleged violation of their ‘non-partisanship’ policy.

In its response to our application, the IFCN states, “Though the fact checks cover a variety of subjects, they do concentrate on a certain political organization or organizations with a certain ideology. Of the ten fact-checks given as examples, nearly all are focused on trying to disprove information put out by a certain political party or by organizations that are seemingly inclined toward that political party.”

To begin with, here’s the list of the ten fact-checks which we had submitted in our application:

1. https://www.opindia.com/2016/01/is-nehrus-bose-is-a-war-criminal-letter-fake-what-the-declassified-documents-say/

2. https://www.opindia.com/2018/09/correct-data-wrong-visualisation-bjps-graph-on-fuel-prices-bharat-bandh/

3. https://www.opindia.com/2018/09/fact-check-journalist-furthers-lie-about-mukesh-ambani-being-mystery-owner-of-talcher-fertilizer-ltd/

4. https://www.opindia.com/2018/10/who-are-these-goons-jumping-on-tanushrees-car-from-this-2008-viral-video/

5. https://www.opindia.com/2018/10/india-today-publishes-misleading-report-about-the-s-400-missile-deal-inked-between-india-and-russia/

6. https://www.opindia.com/2018/10/fact-check-this-viral-image-is-not-from-the-recent-farmers-protests/

7. https://www.opindia.com/2018/10/former-ndtv-journalist-and-advisor-to-manmohan-singh-lies-about-indias-rank-in-hunger-index/

8. https://www.opindia.com/2018/11/media-falsely-claims-that-2-out-of-3-chartered-accountants-dont-pay-income-tax-here-is-the-truth/

9. https://www.opindia.com/2018/11/media-peddles-fake-news-about-bjp-becoming-the-top-advertiser-on-television/

10. https://www.opindia.com/2018/12/reuters-farm-loan-waiver-modi-centre/

First and foremost, that OpIndia.com focuses its fact-checks on exposing the lies peddled by people of a certain political dispensation does not take anything away from the authenticity of our fact-checks. If the IFCN is only concerned with the authenticity of Fact-Checks, nature political entities mentioned therein should be irrelevant as fact-checking is all they should be concerned with.

An institution can only fact-check what’s in front of it. On principle, we have focused our efforts on fact-checking claims which are regarded as Vedic truth by certain sections of the media and political fraternity. Time is a limited resource and hence, we strive to use it as fruitfully as humanly possible. Therefore, we try to expose lies that have been ignored by the rest.

Are we to be blamed for the fact that the mainstream media repeatedly lies in a manner that could only benefit a certain political party? Are we to be blamed for the fact that the ‘fact-checkers’ ignore lies peddled by people when it appears to dent the electoral prospects of a certain political party?

For instance, none of the ‘fact-checkers’ accredited by IFCN itself has bothered to expose Rahul Gandhi’s numerous lies on the Rafale deal. Is it our fault then that we attempt to present our readers with the truth that they could not find anywhere else? For IFCN, it appears it is.

The IFCN further alleged that our articles “have writing that indicates that an opposition party is either behind it or is taking advantage of it. Its method in reaching or presenting its conclusions presents evidence of potential bias.” Well, since our fact-checks often revolve around political issues, it is only natural that an opposition party is either responsible for spreading Fake News against the government or is taking advantage of it.

For instance, when Congress President Rahul Gandhi lies about the Rafale deal, then it’s obvious that the Opposition party is lying for political gains. There is no bias here for stating the obvious. It’s to be noted here that at this point, the IFCN only alleges ‘potential’ bias on our part, therein lies an admission that there is no evidence of actual bias on our part with regards to our fact-checks. The IFCN appears to concern itself more with the political entities our fact-checks appear to benefit or harm instead of the quality of our Fact-Checks.

That the IFCN does not bother itself with the quality of the Fact-Checkers it has accredited is revealed by one Fact-Checker it has certified: Fact Crescendo.  Despite the legal head of Twitter India apologizing profusely for the anti-Brahmin placard that was held by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey while posing for a photograph, Fact Crescendo calls it Fake News. In the entire article, it wasn’t even mentioned what was the Fake News in the story. Perhaps, if the IFCN was concerned more with the quality of our Fact-Checks rather than the political entities affected by them, we would have made the cut.

The IFCN states further, “Though the applicant has not officially endorsed any political group and has a stated non-partisanship policy, a quick look at their work indicates otherwise. Also, on the page where the website invites contributions from readers, it clearly indicates its bias. I quote from the website: “We won’t entertain the usual left-liberal narrative.”

It further exposes the inherent bias of the IFCN itself. “A quick look at their work indicates otherwise,” it says. However, they don’t see any bias in the work of factchecker.in which runs a dubious a ‘hate crime’ database the sole objective of which is to portray Hindus as aggressors and Muslims as victims all the time. Time and again, and again, and again, we have exposed how factchecker.in indulges in the most rabid form of fake news peddling.

We have demonstrated comprehensively that factchecker.in through its factually incorrect database strives to paint Muslims as victims of hate crimes even when the crime is not religiously motivated and conversely, claims Hindus are not victims of hate crimes even when the crime is motivated by religion. It is very easy to see how IFCN’s malicious database impacts the current political climate. However, IFCN does not see any bias in that. Of course not.

The IFCN construes our disdain towards the ‘left-liberal narrative’ as evidence of bias. It appears that they do not realize that these are our ontological positions on the basis of which we operate. For instance, we do not believe gender is a social construct. We do not believe a man can transform into a woman or vice versa through medical procedures. We do not believe secularism as it is practised in India is ideal for the social fabric of the country. We believe illegal immigration is a threat to the sovereignty of the Indian state. We do believe Hindus suffer institutional discrimination in this country. We do not believe Hindutva is a genocidal ideology. We believe in the multiplicity of the Divine. These are our ontological positions which place us at odds with the left-liberal narrative. As is clear, this is not evidence of partisanship, these are evidence of a difference of opinion about the nature of our reality.

Let us return to the list of ‘fact-checker’ accredited by IFCN. One of them is PolitiFact. PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times (TBT), a media outlet which endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Presidency of the United States of America in 2016. Not merely that, in their endorsement, they said, “Donald Trump is stunningly unprepared and temperamentally unfit for the presidency.” Thus, here we have a situation where the news outlet which runs one of the fact-checkers certified by the IFCN had endorsed a Presidential candidate but the IFCN does not see any partisanship in that.

PolitiFact was later acquired by the Poynter Institute in 2018, the same organization whose initiative is the IFCN. However, when the first certification was done in 2017, the Poynter Institute had nothing to do with it presumably. Therefore, merely months after TBT’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton and calling her opposition “stunningly unprepared and temperamentally unfit”, the IFCN could not find any evidence of partisanship. But OpIndia.com violates IFCN’s non-partisanship policy due to our ontological positions. We are not joking.

It’s not just PolitiFact among IFCN accredited ‘fact-checkers’ which has a clear bias. Even The Washington Post Fact-Checker has been certified by the IFCN. The Washington Post in the recently held US Midterm elections endorsed numerous candidates. Conspicuously, barring one, all others either Democrats or Independents. They even endorsed Tim Kaine for the post of Senator from Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s Vice-Presidential nominee. Of course, it is common practice for media organizations in the US to endorse a political candidate. However, the fact that the overwhelming majority of them were Democrats is evidence of partisanship on their part. Despite that, the IFCN does not consider that as evidence of partisanship but our ontological positions are enough to label us as partisan.

Even India Today’s fact-check initiative and The Quint’s initiative has been certified by the IFCN. Time and again, we have exposed the bias in their work and the manner in which they peddle Fake News which always benefit a certain political party and harm its primary opposition. But the IFCN does not see any evidence of partisanship there. Coincidence? I think not.

There is another fact-checker certified by the IFCN, Factly, which has an entire section dedicated to claims made by the Narendra Modi government. Considering the fact that they don’t have a separate section for lies peddled by the Opposition parties, especially Congress President Rahul Gandhi who spreads more lies than we can fact-check, is it not a sign of ‘potential bias’ and political partisanship?

The IFCN then proceeds to tell us, “The applicant (OpIndia.com) links to the sources of the claim it is fact-checking and evidence it uses to fact check it. However, more often than not, the evidence that is used is usually from speeches made by political parties or the government, which are merely countering the claims. Data is rarely used, and then only to counter data claims made by political or other organizations.”

Firstly, if Fake News is being spread about the speeches a politician made, we will have to use speeches as evidence for Fact-Check. Secondly, the argument about ‘data’ is bizarre. If the Fake News is being spread about data and statistics about a certain thing, only then can we use official data to prove that it is ‘Fake News’. How do we insert ‘data’ where it is not relevant?

Then, amusingly enough, IFCN objects to the kind of language we use in our articles. It says, “Additionally, most claims are countered by making disparaging comments (for instance, calling the portals ‘habitual offender and regularly publishes fake stories’) about the organizations that published the claim, or by quoting someone with little credibility who generally agrees with their point of view.”

Well, it appears that the IFCN is also interested in moral policing apart from fact-checking. But on a more serious note, ‘habitual offenders’ and ‘regularly publishes fake stories’ are factually correct observations made in the fact-checks about the source of the Fake News under consideration. Are we to desist from making factual remarks about those who have made a business out of peddling false narratives?

About the remark regarding quoting people with ‘little credibility’, we can say with certainty that the people we quote in our fact-checks, if we even quoted any, have much more credibility than factchecker.in’s hate crime database. And they are certainly fine with that.

The IFCN also says, “it does make it clear that it will accept only one point of view. I quote: “We won’t entertain the usual left-liberal narrative. We are for free speech, but we are not obliged to carry such articles. The Internet is a free space and you will get lot many platforms to voice your opinion. The mainstream media in India love the left-liberal narrative, and we don’t want to mirror the mainstream media. We will stick to a right-liberal narrative.””

It appears that the IFCN is far more concerned about our ontological positions on politics more than it is about the quality of our fact-checks. Facts do not have a ‘narrative’, facts are just that, facts. They are true regardless of our political positions and inclinations. They are just facts. It is indeed a testament to our integrity that we do not hide behind the cloak of neutrality like many of the ‘fact-checkers’ certified by the IFCN and even the IFCN itself. We state our ideology upfront so that readers are aware of our political positions. Our ideology itself has nothing to do with the falsity of the Fake News we fact-check.

It is also pertinent to mention that OpIndia.com was not deemed ‘non-compliant’ on any criterion of the IFCN. We were marked ‘fully compliant’ on some and ‘partially compliant’ on others.

OpIndia.com’s rejection by IFCN further confirms that the organization of fact-checkers is merely another liberal echo-chamber. It also shows that IFCN is concerned less about the quality of fact-checking and more about the political inclinations of the applicant. That is why PolitiFact whose mother-organization endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Presidency and called Donald Trump ‘temperamentally unfit’ is considered non-partisan by IFCN but OpIndia.com is labelled partisan due to our ideological inclinations.

That IFCN has little regard for Fact-Checks is further evidenced by the fact that fact-checkers certified by them regularly peddle Fake News and they even call true events as Fake News as it goes against their political inclinations.

The entire exercise further undermines BBC’s already debunked ‘research’ on Fake News, as was the objective from the very beginning. The BBC is yet to issue a clarification on why they relied on IFCN’s accreditation, which as an organization in itself is extremely ideologically motivated, for a ‘research’ on an issue as ideologically polarized as Fake News and Nationalism. As we had asked before, what academic standards did the IFCN meet that inspired the researchers at BBC to hold their accreditation in such high regard?

Our series on the BBC’s Fake News research and our tryst with IFCN that followed only goes on to show how ideological inclinations of the researchers have undermined academia and its rigour. It is a point that has been raised by many and over time, it is becoming clear, that research, especially in the field of social science, has become just another tool in the hands of ideologically motivated individuals to cloak their dubious opinions under the garb of academic credibility.

When the entire mainstream media was busy regurgitating the fake claims made by the BBC based on their fake research, it was OpIndia.com which debunked their lies. Rest assured, our work will continue to rattle many more feathers in the days to come.

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K Bhattacharjee
Black Coffee Enthusiast. Post Graduate in Psychology. Bengali.

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