New Delhi: Since the abrogation of Article 370 on the 5th of August 2019, India has been at the receiving end of a relentless campaign of fake news. This does not mean India is without fault or has not committed its own boo-boos (outright denying the Saura riots, for example), but this isn’t an equivalence game. This is why the role of the BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters and The Indian Express need to be scanned more closely. One common thread is that they certainly don’t lie outright but it is in the subtle manipulation of words the innuendo and the “fakery” lies. Sometimes this becomes outright and in some cases blatantly unprofessional.
Let us start with the first piece that came out: a BBC video, sourced from locals, which was either fed to them spliced or spliced together by them. Note what the BBC editor who tweeted it said:
“marched, police fired”. This, of course, is the insidious part. It implies that all the protesters were doing was marching. This is the modus operandi that will be established in all these outlets: word your tweets carefully, it doesn’t actually say “peaceful” but avoids attributing any violence to them. In many ways this would be like saying “1939, Germany marched, Poland fired”. Not that it makes any difference to Ms Careem or the BBC that the video she herself was quoting had clear evidence of (1) The security forces allowing protests as long as they were peaceful
(2) The firing when it happened was specifically in response to violence. The images from the New York Times and in the BBC’s own video attest to this heavy stone-pelting and protesters clearly armed with rods … clearly these weren’t conductors’ batons for a marching band and clearly you can’t just pick up straight rods from the street side; they have to be brought along, indicating planning.
Factually, how the BBC was able to ascertain “thousands” marched remains unclear but equally clear in their footage and missing from their reportage was what exactly the protesters were carrying and chanting: flags of Jaish-e-Mohammad, a terrorist organisation committed to violence and image of Sayar Ahmad, an ISIS terrorist killed earlier this year; and the recitation of the name Zakir Musa, an Al Qaeda terrorist.
But yes, protesters just “marched” and according to Ms Careem this is “No mischief, no agenda, no bias, no position, just journalism”
Sickeningly, the BBC was also using the strife in Kashmir to peddle viewership and advertisements. What it says for their journalistic “ethics” is left to the reader.
Now if one looks at The New York times India chief Jeffrey Gettleman, we know he’s clearly seen the BBC video. Yet inexplicably, in his reportage there is no cross-checking, contradiction or challenging of what are clearly lies about “peaceful”, “flags” or “slogans” he is either being fed or concocting himself. Though his stint in Africa seems to suggest a white hunter/civiliser mentality quite clueless to ground reality as captured by this wonderful satire handle @GemsGettle
The second example comes from Al Jazeera:
First, they mischievously put up a video from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in a report on Jammu & Kashmir, without labelling. Obviously, they don’t see any moral dilemmas in that.
When challenged their Pakistani editor Ms Alia Chugtai’s response was that this was perfectly legitimate; but her retweets reveal that she also believed in playing down any reports of violence on part of Kashmiris—retweeting another AJ editor Sana Saeed with endorsement.
Now watch this gem of blatant unprofessionalism and religious stereotyping. Ms Saeed asked not to treat this as law and order problem (obviously because then the violence of protesters comes into play); claims Kashmir has the biggest military presence in the world ( a blatant falsehood that could have been rectified with a little bit of detective work https://www.opindia.com/2019/08/half-a-million-or-1-million-while-media-peddles-fantastical-claims-here-are-the-actual-number-of-troops-deployed-in-jammu-and-kashmir/) and then the classic blood libel against Jews, fresh from the perverted mind of bigot who clearly still believes in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The lady in question is a “senior producer” in an allegedly “respectable” TV channel.
Meanwhile, the fact that active incitement to kill Hindus was going on (https://twitter.com/arunarum/status/1160456454723137536?s=20) on Pakistan TV and the person asking for Hindus to be killed was also a regular and valued guest at Al Jazeera.
Evidently, Al Jazeera has no qualms calling people on their show who openly call for murder.
While this covers the foreign press at the time immediately following the abrogation of Article 370, what do we make of the Indian Press coverage thereafter? For long, I & several policy analysts have been warning of the particularly insidious and deliberately mischievous reporting of The Indian Express and its Kashmir Editor Muzamil Jaleel. During the Major Leetul Gogoi episode, he had been caught peddling half truths on several occasions. This too follows the insidious pattern of Ms Nicola Careem and is infinitely more subtle than the clumsiness of Al Jazeera and Jeffrey Gettleman.
Muzamil has in the past tried to normalise violent criminals on the basis of age. He doesn’t argue for their release but he does try to evoke pity, cleverly side-stepping the enormity of their crimes as can be seen here: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/the-new-hardline-in-kashmir-valley-overnight-lock-up-5-days-in-custody-for-this-10-year-old-4685176/
However the icing on the cake was this piece that clearly showed all the marks of Muzamil’s editing (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kashmir-lockdown-article-370-35a-bjp-congress-amit-shah-medicine-shortage-5942564/) where a careful impression is sought to be created of a crime of omission. Predictably, a pliable Reuters correspondent converted it into a crime of commission.
What is remarkable in this report is extraordinarily careful wording, clearly attempting to create blame while carefully avoiding doing so directly. (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/kashmir-lockdown-article-370-35a-bjp-congress-amit-shah-medicine-shortage-5942564/ )
Missing from the report of course were the pertinent questions that any good reporter who did not have an agenda would have asked.
Quaint the author never bothered asking:
1) why the hospital didn’t have a senior doctor resident given communications blackout was already weeks old and redundancy measures should have been implemented
2) the Lal Ded hospitals atrocious record of infant mortality, including one where the doctors were on strike and refused to attend work (https://kashmirlife.net/new-born-dies-protests-in-lal-ded-hospital-179475/ ) or the shockingly unhygienic or unsanitary conditions of the hospital (https://t.co/LwOnZS0tpo?amp=1)
The question is what do we classify this as? Agenda-driven journalism as AJ engages in blatantly as per its own senior producer? Deliberate distortion as in the case of The Indian Express? Half lies as in the case of the BBC and NYT? The surprising thing is technically none of these would count as “fake news” as they are not active lies but what they do show is a deliberate pattern of distortion, one that a French lady journalist had taught me how to spot during the Kanhaiya Kumar-JNU protests where she felt “peer pressured into towing a line, else they’ll accuse me of disloyalty and throwing them under the bus”. There is literally no way of combating this and so far both the civil and military PR people have been found wanting in dealing with this challenge. It is high time these weaknesses are identified and corrected because the myth of an open-minded foreign press stands exposed; all one can do is make oneself immune.