The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) has long been accused of observing dual standards in granting its “code of principles” to the applicants. Their prejudiced practices were exposed yet again when they rejected FactHunt’s application on the grounds of violation of its non-partisanship policy by its founders.
IFCN’s external assessor Kanchan Kaur initially responded with approbatory remarks for FactHunt, suggesting that IFCN would soon accredit it with its “code of principles”. In her preliminary assessment, Kaur hailed the website which has been publishing fact-checks regularly. She added that there is no ambiguity about the source of the funding of the website and all the authors who contribute to the website have their profiles manifestly listed with their biographies and roles. She recommended that the application may be accepted with certain edits.
However, a few days later, Kaur backpedalled and rejected the application citing violation of the non-partisanship policy of IFCN by directors of Fact Hunt. She cited a 2-year old tweet by one of the co-founders of the Fact Hunt in justifying her decision to dismiss their application.
Neel Kumar, the co-founder of Fact Hunt, had simply tweeted Congratulatory message for BJP’s victory in Karnataka elections.
Congratulations Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the victory. In our celebration we must not forget the party workers who were killed by political rivals. Next target Bengal 🙂 #KarnatakaElections
— Neel kamal (@neelkamal0666) May 15, 2018
Kumar issued a clarification that his tweet was meant to express victory for a party which he voted in the elections, adding that he had never been a part of any political apparatus in the country. However, he was given a cold shoulder by Kaur who had, perhaps, chalked him up as a BJP volunteer.
This was not enough, she also referred to a few tweets wishing to meet PM as proof of Shashank Singh’s (Another co-founder of Fact Hunt) allegiance to the BJP.
In her response, Kaur stated that the application of Fact Hunt should be rejected because the directors of the Fact Hunt were supporters of the BJP and they continued to support the saffron party.
Kaur’s stance altered after a co-founder of Altnews accused Shashank Singh of being a member of a political party. Fact Hunt has cast aspersions on a possible connection between Kaur and the Altnews cofounder. In their article, Fact Hunt has asserted that IFCN application remains private until it is verified and accepted but Altnews co-founder’s allegations against Singh suggest that they were privy to the fact that Fact Hunt had applied to be a part of IFCN. Fact Hunt has also raised doubts if Altnews co-founder had attempted to influence Kaur’s decision.
The criterion 2B of the IFCN prohibits the applicants or the employees working with them to have any direct involvement with the political parties and advocacy groups.
Fact Hunt founders openly stated they had no political connection with any of the political parties but their application was still rejected based on the past tweets by its founders. Kaur, in her response, said that the old tweets of the directors of the Fact Hunt was the sole reason for the rejection of their application.
In their clarification, directors of Fact Hunt responded that as citizens of the country, they have voted for a particular political party and expressed their political predilections but it has in no way influenced their work. They also argued that they haven’t tweeted in favour of any political since the inception of Fact Hunt.
They further mentioned that they were ready to adhere to the guidelines stated by IFCN and if need be Shashank Singh would step down if required. However, Kaur’s stand on the rejection of Fact Hunt from IFCN remained firm.
It is, however, important to note the duplicity of IFCN in granting recognition to the fact-checking websites. Altnews, which is known for peddling slanted and more often fake news, has been dubiously acknowledged by the IFCN as compliant to non-partisanship policy.
Md Zubair, one of the co-founders of the Altnews, nurses perennial hatred for the BJP and is frequently seen supporting the Aam Aadmi Party. He runs a Facebook page “Unofficial: Subramanian Swamy” where he mocks/insults the BJP while toeing the AAP line. He also ran a Twitter account by the same name which was revealed by his colleague Sam Jawed and admitted by Zubair himself.
Another co-founder of Altnews, Pratik Sinha, has a chequered history of running a fake news website “TruthofGujarat” and mislead people by peddling lies and propaganda against PM Modi. There have been umpteen instances when Pratik has used his website- “TruthofGujarat” to brazenly lie about PM Modi. Here’s a link that conclusively debunks his lies.
Altnews too has a colourful history of lying and peddling propaganda. There have been innumerable instances when Altnews had used its platform to propagate falsehoods. In one such instance, the Facebook page owned by Zubair, “Unofficial: Subramanian Swamy”, was caught spreading lies about the Modi government approving 100 per cent FDI in retail. Before that, Altnews was exposed for lying about the protests in Delhi. Recently, Altnews fabricated a police quote to downplay the brutality heaped on the Aligarh child victim.
Besides, AltNews founder Pratik Sinha and directors Nirjhari Sinha and Murlidhar Deomurari are members of the Jan Sangharsh Manch which is a civil rights organizations with obviously political objectives. The organization was founded by Mukul Sinha and Nirjhari Sinha, the parents of Pratik Sinha. The leadership of the Jan Sangharsh Manch also founded the New Socialist Movement which was registered as a political party with the Election Commission in 2007. Mukul Sinha had also contested elections in the past and lost horribly.
By virtue of being associated with an advocacy group and a political party, the founder of Altnews, Pratik Sinha, clearly seems to have violated the criterion 2B of the IFCN which restricts applicants and their employees to have any connection with the political parties or advocacy groups. But despite this flagrant violation, Baybars Orsek, director of IFCN, announced that they had asked AltNews a set of questions and after being satisfied with their response which was replete with lies, they concluded that there was no ground for any action against Altnews.
It is thus a profound irony that a website who ran a factory of lies, deceit and distortions, whose founders unapologetically expressed their political leanings, one of them ostensibly associated with a political party and advocacy group, is hailed by IFCN as fact-checker and accorded their Indian partnership, but Fact Hunt’s application is rejected based on merely a couple of tweets. IFCN’s double standards stand exposed as it has shown differing yardsticks in assessing Altnews and Fact Hunt. IFCN had no qualms in granting recognition to habitual fake-news peddler Altnews, whose founders had brazenly displayed their bias against the BJP but have a problem in approving Fact Hunt’s application despite its director offering to step down to get the accreditation.