Faking it for Propaganda!

18 Jan,2019

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

I’m going to pay Mynation.com, a website owned by Asianet, a big compliment here. I’m going to assume that it’s an authentic news website, run by journalists. That is, it is not like Postcard News or even OpIndia, the first of which is a BJP fan site and the other is full of bile and bitterness against the mainstream media for not being BJP fans. Asianet is a large respected group, even if it does also own Republic TV which is a sort of publicity arrangement for the BJP, organised by former NDTV and Times Now star anchor Arnab Goswami and Rajeev Chandrashekhar, businessman and BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha.

Mynation, part of the digital wing of Asianet, is edited by Abhijit Majumder. He is former editor of Mid-Day and Mail Today amidst several prestigious assignments. I have worked with him a couple of times, once when he was very junior and a few years later as well. But it is astounding to see how far he appears to have veered from journalism ever since the Narendra Modi government has come to power.It is in fact painful to see him fall to the same level as Postcard News and OpIndia, almost as remarkable as it is to see a senior editor of R Jagannathan’s calibre endorse and promote OpIndia, which was under his charge as editor of Swarajya.com. OpIndia has only recently become independent again.

There is a huge anger amongst BJP supporters that most journalists are “dynasty hacks” or Congress stooges. This is an exaggeration beyond any reasonable thought but even at their worst, “dynasty hacks” have not been as toxic or told as many lies as BJP and Modi supporters. The latest from Majumder’s stable is a “story” about Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Dubai. A “story” emerged that Gandhi was “stumped” by questions asked of him by a 14-year-old girl on social media and was then authenticated by Mynation.

Soon after, glaring loopholes emerged. A picture of a minor girl used was from YouTube three years earlier, no permission was taken from her, she was not the girl in Dubai, a cursory effort was made to check facts and then, having broken all rules of journalism, Mynation carried the story.

Fact-checking website Alt News and media website Newslaundry were on the fakery immediately:

https://www.altnews.in/my-nation-spreads-fake-news-about-rahul-gandhi-stumped-by-a-14-year-old-girl-in-dubai/

https://www.newslaundry.com/shorts/my-nation-fake-news-rahul-gandhi-dubai-trip

https://www.altnews.in/young-girl-who-asked-rahul-gandhi-questions-in-dubai-calls-out-fake-news-of-him-being-stumped/?fbclid=IwAR2PX6eDvTukdIHtYHzXScurj1yljYBaCTQNwEZRoDee_QGVorZ1VwA0CLY

https://www.newslaundry.com/2019/01/16/my-nation-false-news-rahul-gandhi-dubai

So, if these two websites could check the authenticity of this “story” so easily, why couldn’t Mynation? Because, of course, the intent was never to put out a journalistic exercise. I have to take back that early “compliment” here. The point was clearly to try and discredit a political opponent. This is the kind of juicy stuff that gets Whatsapp and other sharing platforms excited and it is believed as true, regardless of how many times the lie gets corrected. The idea is to make sure these lies are embedded in people’s minds, in time for the next election. Modi’s campaign did it in 2013-14, Donald Trump did it every effectively in 2016 and the “leavers” did it for Brexit in 2016.

This is not Majumder’s first such transgression. Here are a couple from Mail Today, before he became digital head of Asianet.

Trying to spread communal disharmony are two accusations made here, when he was at Mail Today, the first about the murder of Ankit Saxena, the second about violence at Kasganj:

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/apologise-to-nation-sack-managing-editor-abhijit-majumder-delhi-cms-office-asks-/308319

https://www.altnews.in/mail-today-editor-abhijit-majumder-spreads-fake-news-kasganj-violence/

It is Majumder’s “bad luck” that these stories possibly ended his almost successful lobbying to become head of Prasar Bharati. The proposal was made by then I&B minister Smriti Irani and then taken back:

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/prasar-bharati-shortlists-two-journalists-for-top-edit-jobs-5063097/

Given Majumder’s response to the fact-checkers, quoted in the links above, one would assume that he will continue to brazen it out. That after all seems to be his mandate: spread as much muck as possible so that BJP and Modi supporters, at the very least, remain on the “right” side. The last three election results in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have definitely spooked the BJP and they have to up the ante, ratchet up the fake news and continue with spreading lies about the opposition to ensure that they keep their herd of sheep lulled into perpetual faith.

Like Republic TV, Times Now, Swarajya, one supposes that Mynation also now falls into the Postcard News, OpIndia category of publicity machines for the BJP. Dynasty hacks must be crying that they could neither be as vicious or as clever!

What this does for journalism itself is another story. It will be interesting to see how many of these “journalists” who push these lies are actually just opportunists or true believers. Don’t worry, we will know sooner rather than later. Rats are jumping off ships even as we speak.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Edior, MxMIndia. The views here are personal

 

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