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How AltNews ‘fact-checked’ the pregnant elephant story to shield Muslim suspects, quietly changed copy but continued to peddle agenda

What makes this case even more interesting is that AltNews claims itself to be purely a 'fact-checking' website which does not report on current affairs. The fact that they felt the need to "fact-check" this developing story also proves that the only agenda of the portal is to shield the Muslim community and not really present facts or the truth.

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OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

The nation was shocked after news surfaced of a one-month pregnant elephant died in Palakkad on May 27, days after it injured its jaws due to explosives packed in pineapple that it had eaten. Soon, news surfaced that the perpetrators may have belonged to the Muslim community and it was then that the Islamic propaganda website AltNews published a ‘fact-check’ to discredit the story and shield the perpetrators, as they have done several times in the past.

There were two ‘Fact-checks’ that were done by AltNews in the matter. One was about the district of Kerala where this incident took place, and the other, fact-checking the names of the Muslim perpetrators that were circulated on Social Media. Both fact-checks were extremely problematic and dishonest and we will deal with each one separately.

Two fact-checks done by AltNews as shown by Google, in both, the ‘verdict’ is ‘false’

It is important to note that these two problematic ‘fact-checks’ are still on the website and are prominently displayed on their home page as their featured posts till the time this article was written.

Homepage of AltNews

The first fact-check by AltNews: District being misidentified as Mallapuram by NDTV led to anti-Muslim sentiment

The first attempt made by AltNews to shield the Muslim perpetrators surfaced after Maneka Gandhi tweeted a note asserting that Mallapuram, a Muslim majority district in Kerala, has seen cases of animal brutality and even after repeated requests, no action has been taken. AltNews ‘fact-checked’ this information to say that the incident actually took place in Pallakad and that the name of Mallapuram surfaced only to target the Muslim community.

The fact-check of AltNews started with how, “as with most other issues in India”, this incident “provoked wave of anti-Muslim sentiment”.

AltNews article

In the article, AltNews quoted the Kerala forest minister and the chief minister to say that the incident happened in Palakkad. While that information is correct, AltNews blatantly claimed that the district being misquoted led to an anti-Muslim wave.

AltNews article

This fact-check by AltNews was published on the 4th of June 2020 and till yesterday, one would find nothing wrong with it other than their force-fit narrative of Hindus hating Muslims. However, the problem surfaces when one realises that the article has not been updated till the time this article was written.

The perpetrator who was arrested on the 5th of June was one P Wilson and the other two who have been absconding were confirmed to be two Muslim individuals called Abdul Kareem and son Riyasudheen.

Since the AltNews fact-check clearly aims to say that the ‘anti-Muslim’ sentiment that was supposedly expressed by many was misplaced, one would have expected AltNews to add an update to the story clearly identifying the perpetrators, who, as it turns out, did eventually belong to the Muslim community. However, no such update was made by AltNews.

The second ‘fact-check’ by AltNews: The ‘fact-check’ and the shameless chicanery by AltNews

As the case progressed, on the 5th of June, several individuals tweeted information that two perpetrators who had been arrested for the heinous crime were two individuals called Amzath Ali and Thamim Shaikh. One of the first to tweet about this information was Amar Prasad Reddy, media advisor to the Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare.

AltNews jumped at the opportunity to “fact-check” this claim.

AltNews ‘fact-check’

In the ‘fact-check’, AltNews had started the article with this: They claimed that the news had turned into another issue “to target the Indian Muslim population”.

The lines now deleted from the AltNews fact-check

Interestingly, after 2 of the perpetrators turned out to be Muslims, this line has unceremoniously been deleted from their “fact-check”.

After an entire “fact-check” that claimed that there was no Muslim angle to the crime, AltNews quietly updated their report with this “update”.

AltNews story “updated”

They have retained the narrative that the “anti-Muslim” narrative and the “communal angle” that was given on social media was incorrect, insinuating that the crime was not committed by Muslim perpetrators. Retaining that angle, they quietly updated their story to say that their copy has been updated with the names of Abdul Kareem and his son Riyazaudiin who are ‘suspects’ in the case. Further, they say this is a “developing story”.

The glaring problems with the AltNews fact-check

Headlines

Even after the names of the perpetrators surfaced and two of whom turned out to be Muslims, the headlines of the AltNews articles have remained unchanged. In both the headlines, the insinuation is rather evident. AltNews aims to insinuate that no Muslim perpetrator was involved in the crime and any suggestion to the contrary is ‘fake news’. However, this is not true and it is evident that AltNews jumped the gun to shield the Muslim perpetrators.

The police statement mentioned

AltNews has a pathological habit of quoting the police selectively and as per convenience. For them, where in one case, the police claims are deemed unreliable, when it suits their agenda, it is considered sacrosanct. Similarly, where in one case, they deem the statement of the victim and their families fake prematurely, when it suits their agenda, they take the victim’s word over that of the police.

Recently, the AltNews had selectively quoted the police to exonerate a Muslim perpetrator who had deliberately discarded a contaminated current note in a petrol pump.

In this current story as well, that glaring bias of AltNews is rather evident.

In their earlier ‘fact-check’, AltNews had claimed that they spoke to Palakkad Superintendent of Police, Mr G Siva Vikram. AltNews then quotes him to give a sweeping statement that claims of the perpetrators being Muslim is ‘fake’ and that one P Wilson was arrested in the matter.

AltNews ‘fact-check’

However, after the news of the names of the suspects being Abdul Kareem and son Riyasudheen surfaced, AltNews, while retaining this paragraph, added another one:

AltNews added this para to their report

It was AFTER Mathrubhumi reported the names of the Muslim suspects, that AltNews claims that it was confirmed by the very same police officer they spoke to earlier.

It is entirely possible that when AltNews spoke to the police officer earlier, the police officer said that either he cannot confirm the names of even said that the specific names “Amzath Ali and Thamim Shaikh” had not come up in the case.

It is also possible, and far more plausible, that when asked about these names, the police officer may have said that the investigation is on-going and any names that have surfaced may be fake. Given the history of AltNews, it would not be far-fetched to assume that the officer was selectively quoted to present a completely different picture to shield the Muslim community.

Anyone journalist, through experience, knows that the first statement that the police generally gives is that the investigation is on-going and that the journalist could contact later for specifics.

In the case of the petrol pump, for example, the police had specifically said that they cannot claim that the Muslim perpetrator was either innocent or guilty and that the verdict could be given only by the court. AltNews in their report had, in turn, mentioned that the police had told them about the innocence of the perpetrator. The detailed report on that incident can be read here.

The likely AltNews defence

In all likelihood, the defence that would be mounted by AltNews would be to claim that in both their “fact-checks”, they got the basic premise right. In the first, that the incident took place in Palakkad and not Mallapuram and in the second, that the perpetrator’s names were indeed not Amzath Ali and Thamim Shaikh (but in fact Abdul Kareem and son Riyasudheen).

However, the fact remains that in both their so-called fact-checks they have attempted to insinuate that the Muslim community was not involved in the crime at all and any suggestion to the contrary can only be branded as an attempt to hound the Muslim community unfairly. This insinuation is evident from their headline and the excerpts quoted in this article.

The fact that they have not clearly removed all sentences that insinuate an unfair targeting of the Muslim community proves that they wish the keep their insinuations alive while defending themselves on the basis of technicalities. There are various techniques that AltNews employs to shield Islamists and Muslim perpetrators and this seems to be one of them.

What makes this case even more interesting is that AltNews claims itself to be purely a ‘fact-checking’ website which does not report on current affairs. The fact that they felt the need to “fact-check” this developing story also proves that the only agenda of the portal is to shield the Muslim community and not really present facts or the truth.

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OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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