Till a few years ago, it was quite a fun to “spot the difference” between two almost identical images. The challenge was irresistible with the taunt that the two images differed on at least 10 counts. You scratched your head, forgot the world, and strained your eyes and crowned yourself genius once the task was accomplished.
Reading Indian Express these days is an exercise of a similar order. You have to match the headlines, the text and the photo and then pour over inverted commas and quotes to understand where the mischief has been planted. It’s not an easy order for most such Fake News are spread over two pages and are 1000-plus words, relying on time-tested tactics that readers would give up after headline or a few first paragraphs. It costs me hours but I have worked out a way to get through this maze. My strike rate is 99 out of 100 which is good enough and satiates my “spot-the-difference” urge.
First, of course are the stories on Front Page. Indian Express these days have reserved it to Modi-Centre-BJP bashing. (Now Yogi Adityanath is inching up the charts). Even on Front Page, the bigger decks accorded to a headline, the more reasons to suspect a mischief hiding in the text-matter. Most importantly, I make it a point to read the final two paras. It’s almost guaranteed that the saner, and the essential truth of the story, is in these two paras. After you read it, you go through the story backwards and spot the Fake News It’s a science folks! You got to give the devil his due. (Oh, I am sorry. Leftists don’t believe in Gods or Devils).
There are a few other Fake News spotters in Indian Express. If there is any Front Page news on Dalits, you got to really flush your lens and go through it. Most likely, such stories appear in profusion before an Assembly elections. Many a times these stories are discredited—as you would find in this link of my aggregated stories in NewsBred. Either Indian Express doesn’t carry an apology—like the fake moustache story on Dalits in Gujarat recently—or the Fake-News-buster true account is buried in inside pages.
You could also be sure that the anniversaries of all unfortunate victims of Muslim community, Akhlaq and Pehlu etc, would deserve a Front-Page mega spread, most likely as anchor story. (Never mind, Hindu victims never get such a privilege, some would say not even our soldier martyrs). Now, you must watch out for June 23, 2018 when it would be a year to Junaid Khan’s unfortunate killing in Ballabhgarh. I am second-guessing, you would have an Indian Express anchor on Junaid Khan, come June 23 next year.
I am not even coming to JNU’s Kanhaiyas and Umar Khalids of our world. I am also not mentioning how the coverage of grieving parents and relatives of minority victims—mind you never a Hindu victim–sitting at Jantar Mantar or taking out a demonstration on Capital streets has half-a-page reserved for it. How BHU girls agitation is a news and not that of AMU protesting girl students. For these are subjective matters and is the prerogative of a newspaper. To push the agenda, our mainstream English media-the Lutyens’ Media—let’s its editorial spread of two pages to do the dirty job.
Our attention is Fake News and so we must return to the subject. The second lead of Indian Express today is: “Slowdown concern, need to push growth jobs: PM’s advisors”
Quite a few things in this headline and the positioning of the story got my antennas up. I could smell Fake News in the use of “concern” and “PM’s advisors” in the headline. Would PM’s advisors really go public with their “concern” on the state of the economy? And the use of “PM’s advisors” and not the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) was a giveaway on who is meant to be a fall guy. All the economic ills of the country, by inference, must be put at the door of the Prime Minister. His own advisors are expressing concern at their own authoritarian ruler, that’s the inference.
The fake use of “concern” was easy to spot. The Express quoted part-time member Ashima Goyal that EAC would “work as a sounding board of ideas.” But Express cleverly preceded this quote with an inserted view of their own of “concern.” Read this particular para and make up your own mind:
There is a lot of concern about the economy today and the Council will “work as a sounding board of ideas”, EAC member Ashima Goyal said.
(The Express cleverly held back the full designation of Ashima Goyal. She is a part-time and not full-time EAC member).
That being so, I poured over the rest of the lengthy story. Then I read the same story in Times of India and Hindustan Times. I was intrigued that the Times of India prominently put in a front-page lead box the view of another EAC part-time member Rathin Roy that “IMF’s growth projections are 80% wrong…World Bank’s growth projections are 65% wrong. The government’s estimates are right more than 90% of the time.” However, the front page 1000-plus wordathon of Indian Express has no mention of it at all!
It is such selective and distorted coverage which has made Indian Express lose all its respect in the eyes of the discerning readers. It is morally wrong, agenda-driven, and worse a case of cheating against its paying-consumers. When the readers are seeking true coverage and information, they are getting blighted and manipulated coverage. Indian Express must be having its own compulsion, their hands could be forced but the newspaper would do well to heed this opinion of one of its readers: “I haven’t seen any story which favours a Hindu viewpoint in Indian Express for ages, at least on front page).” The worst thing a newspaper could do to its reputation is to appear biased and agenda-driven.
Facebook has set out 10 tools to check Fake News. A few give-aways are headlines, source, evidence and photos. Indian Express on Thursday’s edition has been found out in peddling a Fake News).