Skip to main content

Fake news is dirty politics, not journalism: PM used it against Manmohan Singh during Gujarat polls

By Anand K Sahay

Fake news” (FN), much heard about lately, is not news at all and is not part of any form of journalism. Typically, it is a part of the dirty tricks aspect of right-wing politics in many countries, as well as of intelligence outfits. The CIA has practised this dark art with consummate skill across the globe to outflank America’s opponents.
Journalism casts light. It seeks to spread credible information, analysis and views without which we will flounder in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. FN, on the other hand, spreads darkness. Its purpose is to confuse, spread falsehood and manipulate the unsuspecting minds of newspaper readers, television viewers and radio listeners, in order to disrupt the tempo and ethos of democratic politics.
In fact, the word “news” in its name is misleading. It should plainly be called what it is — “false information”.
“False information” is related to the pursuit of retaining power or making a lunge for power in deceitful ways — by designing supposed information in a way that creates the impression of truth, and then inserting it into the mass media stream. An important aspect of FN is to show the ideological and political cohorts patronising it in favourable light.
Both aspects have been on view from the Gujarat days of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — as seen in the fixing of opponents within the BJP-RSS parivar, the clever handling of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom which is politely called the “riots”, or the subject of fake encounter — and have stretching into the present.
In the Gujarat Assembly poll campaign last year, the PM himself practised FN when he publicly accused his predecessor Manmohan Singh, former vice-president Hamid Ansari, and a retired Army Chief, of conspiring with Pakistan to have him defeated. The Donald Trump election campaign for the US presidency practised FN successfully with the aid of a network of far-right and white supremacist interest groups and websites.
Since Hitler, fake news has been shown to be the mainstay of rightist plots to deflect criticism and to discredit and confuse opponents. The genius of Goebbels, the Fuehrer’s minister for propaganda and a vile man, is well known. The recipe he advanced was simply to cook up “facts” and then getting these repeated a hundred times so that people may believe them.
Once that comes to pass, to correct the situation and bring about disbelief in the false information — by now flowing freely in the mass media — becomes an uphill task. In our present day, such dangerous false stuff circulates wildly through the social media, such as WhatsApp, and is virtually impossible to roll back.
It is a pity our television stations do what they can to put a cloak over reality. Typically they catch someone from the Congress (or any Opposition party) and a person each from the RSS as well as the BJP (misleading us into believing they are different things) to be on the same debate panel on FN, but discuss good journalism versus dishonest journalism — failing to point out that fake news is not dishonest journalism but no journalism. It is an altogether different species.
Smriti Irani, the information and broadcasting minister, has expressed her desire to fight fake news. All power to her elbow. But the way she is speaking, it appears she’d go after news and views on the Web, 80 per cent of which is created by established media houses (who follow the rules and procedures of good journalism) or by thorough professionals.
She doesn’t speak of cleaning up the cesspool of the social media. But she could make a refreshing new start by telling us about Shilpi Tewari in the context of the scandal about doctored videos to bring into disrepute JNU student leaders in February-March of 2016, when Ms Irani was I&B minister.
According to a report in an English daily in March 2016 (such news items also appeared elsewhere), Ms Tewari’s Twitter account hosted some of these videos which were uploaded on YouTube. These purported to show that then JNU president Kanhaiya Kumar was “caught shouting anti-national slogans”.
A forensic report commissioned by the Delhi government showed that the videos were manipulated to create a certain effect. Ms Tewari dropped out of sight. The English daily quoted an I&B ministry spokesman to say that Ms Tewari may be “assisting” Ms Irani on a “private basis”, and that she had been offered an official position but had not taken it.
A volume was published last year, which detailed how the BJP produced propaganda on an industrial scale against political opponents and ideological antagonists. Its most prominent target was Rahul Gandhi. The book, written by a participant in the exercise whose conscience began to prick and she defected, speaks of the massive effort that went into making the whole country believe for a long time that Mr Gandhi was a “pappu” — a duffer.
This was sophisticated FN meant to degrade a key opponent before battle is joined, in the spirit of the teachings of Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategist who taught that the enemy should be defeated before it takes the field. The book was practically ignored in the Indian media — no doubt out of fear of the ruling establishment — but was reported at length in the Guardian, a famous British newspaper.
Mr Modi romped home victorious in May 2014. But his campaign for Delhi had begun well before that — with FN. In August 2011 then Congress chief Sonia Gandhi went to the US for a surgery. She was again in America in the first week of September 2012 for treatment. Shortly afterward, the future Prime Minister was already attacking the Congress Party and asking questions of then PM Manmohan Singh. He claimed (without credible basis) that the Government of India had spent Rs 1,880 crores of public money on Mrs Gandhi’s medical treatment, Firstpost.com reported on October 3, 2012.
The basis of the astounding claim was apparently a newspaper report which had relied on a RTI application. It was plain to see that a convenient news item had been “planted” in a shoddy publication so that the BJP leader may later be enabled to allude to it in order to paint his chief opponent as corrupt.
The air was cleared when then chief information commissioner Satyanand Mishra officially replied to a RTI query by one Naveen Kumar from Moradabad that the GoI had not paid for the Congress president’s treatment abroad. In four years as PM, Mr Modi has been unable to substantiate his sensational claim.
In 2012, the present PM sought to use FN to tarnish his Congress adversary. After he became the PM, his party mounted an extensive FN campaign to portray Mr Gandhi as foolish and unfit for politics, and now FN sites are being used to discredit top quality news that’s critical of the Modi government.
At least one of these, "The True Picture", has reportedly been endorsed by 13 of Mr Modi’s ministers. This is a clear sign of desperation at a time when five dalit BJP MPs from Uttar Pradesh have written to the PM complaining of the BJP’s attitude towards dalits. The political space is opening up.
---
This article was first published in The Asian Age

Comments

TRENDING

#MeToo moment in Hyderabad Urdu varsity? Two girl students seek action against authorities

Counterview Desk
Has the #MeToo movement reached Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MAANU)? It would seem so if a recent letter by newly-appointed chancellor Firoz Bakht Ahmed to MAANU vice-chancellor Dr Aslam Parvaiz is any indication. Seeking reinstatement of two girl victims of “sexual harassment and humiliation”, the letter specifically names head of the department of the Media Centre for Journalism, suspecting, the problem could be much deeper.
Text of the letter: It is a matter of utmost perturbation for me to receive the two representations from the girls studying in the MCJ (Media Center for Journalism) regarding their sexual and subsequently, mental and social harassment at the hands of Prof Ehtesham Ahmad Khan, the HOD, MCJ.
We do not know, how many girls have been exploited by him and preferred to be silent for saving their family’s honour; however, there are two brave girls who stood to the depraved advances and misuse by Prof Ehtesham and came up with written complai…

"Ineligible" funding of Sardar Statue in Gujarat: CAG tells Central PSUs, it's not a heritage CSR activity

By Our Representative
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, in its recent report on Central Public Sector Enterprises (CPSE), has qualified public sector undertakings’ (PSUs') funding the 182-metre world’s highest Sardar Statue, currently being constructed in the Narmada river downstream of the Sardar Sarovar dam as an “ineligible” corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity.

Gujarat BJP MLAs, youth leader "incited" attack on North Indians: Cong releases video

Counterview Desk
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil, currently in charge of Bihar and national spokesperson, All-India Congress Committee, has sent a legal notice to chief minister Vijay Rupani threatening criminal case and civil defamation suit for accusing him with "baseless statement" that he was responsible for attacks on north Indians in Gujarat.

29th "NRC-related" suicide in Assam, as Nirod Baran Das takes his life by hanging on a fan

By Our Representative
Reporting 29th case of National Register of Citizens (NRC)-driven suicide in Assam, one of India’s human rights campaign sites has said that, on October 20, tragedy struck Kharupetia town in Darrang district of Assam, when a retired school teacher and advocate Nirod Baran Das “took his life by hanging himself to a fan in his home.” The report adds, “The NRC process has so far claimed over two dozen such lives in the past four months alone.”

"Highly irregular" for PSUs to fund Sardar Statue under Corporate Social Responsibility

Counterview Desk
In a letter to I Srinivas, secretary, Ministry of Corporate Affairs, Government of India, former secretary (economic affairs), Ministry of Finance, EAS Sarma, has raised questions on the funding of the Sardar Patel statue in South Gujarat by Central Public Sector Undertaking (CPSUs) relying on the Comptroller and Auditor General report (No 18/2018).

Murder of Tamil Nadu teenage Dalit girl: "Stoic silence" despite #MeToo movement

Counterview Desk
Brinelle D'souza, who is with the Centre for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, has prepared a strong statement to protest the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rajalakshmi. "Other than a few media reports, this gruesome killing has not caught national attention despite a very vibrant #MeToo campaign currently underway", regrets D'souza.

Post-MJ Akbar resignation: #MeToo movement and fears of backlash

By Sheshu Babu*
For the last few days, #MeToo movement has picked up momentum and many women are coming out with horrific tales of severe harassment in their past lives. They are not afraid anymore to expose famous persons including those at ministerial levels. As a senior journalist Neeraja Chowdhury opined (“An exit, a beginning”, October 18, 2018, indianexpress.com), "The #MeToo revelations are like the eruption of a volcano which was imminent, given the journey working women have covered. It was not easy to make public what they had gone through,and take on powerful men.”

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Bank account frozen, raid on Amnesty office: Govt of India "treating" human rights NGOs like criminal enterprises

By Abhirr VP*
Amnesty India’s bank accounts have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate, effectively stopping its work. Amnesty India is thus the latest target of the government’s assault on civil society in the country. The accounts of Greenpeace India were frozen earlier this month.

60 ex-civil servants seek release of CAG reports on Rafale, demonetisation before 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
As many as 60 retired civil servants have asked President Ram Nath Kovind to expedite the release of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) reports on demonetisation and the Rafale deal. The letter, signed mainly by former Indian Administrative Service, Indian Foreign Service and Indian Police Service officers, regrets that the status of the audit is "unclear”. According to them, “An impression is gaining ground that CAG is deliberately delaying its audit reports on demonetisation and Rafale deal till after the May 2019 elections so as not to embarrass the present government”.