FACT CHECK

A Year of Busting Fake News

True

The India Today article ‘What makes ‘The True Picture’ most Union Ministers’ favourite fact checker?’, published April 3, 2018, talks about The True Picture’s articles being retweeted by certain ministers. Isn’t it ironic that journalists who work for prominent mainstream media houses, such as India Today or The Indian Express, whose articles are shared and retweeted on a daily basis, would see it fit to brand someone else’s work being shared as a political or ideological act?

In any case, The True Picture has been working to expose and bust fake news and fake narratives based on half-truths and/ or even lies for a long time now, perhaps for long before India Today or The Indian Express noticed what we have been doing. Our exposés have covered several media outlets and their more questionable or even dubious work.

Below is a list of some of the major fake news stories and/ or fake narratives that we have busted in 2017 and in 2018 till date:

THE GLOBAL HUNGER INDEX STORY

When the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) released the latest GHI report for 2017, media outlets and several commentators ran stories with headlines like “India slips 3 notches to 100 on Global Hunger Index; trails N Korea, Iraq” (Business Standard) or “India 100th on Global Hunger Index: Rahul Takes a Jibe at Modi” (The Quint). Business Standard said: “Over three-year duration, the country has seen a slide of 45 positions from 55 in 2014”. Social media was also not far off. Opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi, P. Chidambaram and Sitaram Yechury were among politicians who criticised the government for this.

There were some basic facts most of these reports or tweets had missed or deliberately suppressed. Did India slip 45 ranks? In 2014, India was ranked 55 out of 76 countries. But there were 44 nations better than India not even listed. If these 44 countries were included, they would have been above India and India would have been ranked 99 in 2014 out of 120 countries. In 2017, IFPRI included 44 more countries. So, 44 nations were added above India, which found itself at 100 in 2017 — 100 out of 119 countries. So, India was effectively 99 out of 120 countries in 2014 and 100 out of 119 in 2017. As The True Picture had pointed out, in terms of absolute scores, India has improved its position relative to previous rounds. India’s overall score has improved in every round of the survey.

THE BULLET TRAIN STORY

On September 14, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe participated in the ground-breaking ceremony of India’s first High-Speed Rail project (HSR), or the Bullet Train project. Even before the ceremony, sections of the media and the commentariat had been propagating the narrative that the Bullet Train would be exorbitant and that India did not need it.

Later, in November, former Railway Minister and former Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad exploited the reply to an RTI inquiry stating that no MoU was signed between India and Japan during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in September 2017, when he and PM Narendra Modi participated in the ground-breaking ceremony.

Former PM Manmohan Singh too had criticised the bullet train project, reportedly calling it “an exercise in vanity.”

The MoU as well as MoC on railways between India and Japan had already been signed in December 2015 when PM Abe was also in India. Therefore, there was no question of signing any MoU again in September 2017 when PM Abe was once more in India. Again, it was found that Manmohan Singh had a completely different view of the Bullet Train/ HSR when he was PM than the opinion he seems to hold now. In fact, on Dr Singh’s 2013 visit to Tokyo, even a Joint Statement had been issued which mentioned the Bullet Train.

THE NORTHEAST FLOODS STORY

A string of news reports and political statements had claimed last year that the Centre had ignored the floods in the Northeast and that while Gujarat was given Rs 500 crore, Assam was left in the lurch. Some of these reports were: “PM Modi’s ‘largesse’ for Gujarat floods outrages ‘ignored’ Assam” (Hindustan Times), “Tale of two floods: Assam continues to wave for help while Gujarat gets Rs 500 crore” (India Today), etc. Hindustan Times quoted former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi’s tweet that said that PM Modi had visited Gujarat and announced interim relief of Rs 500 crore and ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh for flood victims and Rs 50,000 for the injured. The India Today report said: “Injured are entitled to compensation of Rs 50,000, while the kin of deceased will get Rs 2 lakh as relief- but only in Gujarat.”

We checked the claims made by these news reports in our piece: Did Central Govt Ignore The Flood in North-East

We found that while Gujarat got an announcement of interim flood relief package of Rs 500 crore, Assam too was given with Rs 500 crore via the State Disaster Response Force fund, apart from the earlier Rs 218 crore released by the DoNER Ministry.

THE DEMONETISATION STORY

After PM Modi’s Independence Day Speech on August 15, 2017, several media outlets ran stories claiming that the PM’s claims on how demonetisation helped curb black money or unearthing shell companies were mostly confusing or false. One of the more prominent stories published was by Scroll.in: “Fact check: What Modi said about demonetisation in his I-Day speech and what the data shows”.

The True Picture ran a fact-check on the publication’s fact-check and exposed how they selectively read the data, or read it wrong, and how in certain cases the Scroll.in story itself gave the lie to its own claims. Here is our original story: Fact Checking Scroll.In’s Fact Check on PM’s Demonetisation Claims

THE GUJARAT MODEL STORY

In the run-up to the Gujarat assembly election in December 2017, several media outlets, commentators and politicians appeared to contest with each other in dissing the so-called Gujarat model of development. While most of these stories selectively picked and deployed data, many of them made downright false claims. The Congress’s Deepender Hooda’s article in The Print ‘Gujarat model’ an average product, ‘Gujarat marketing model’ in another orbit was an exercise in this vein.

In our factcheck article Facts Prove Deepender Hooda is Completely Wrong About “Gujarat Model”, we countered Mr Hooda and exposed his incorrect claims with facts and data. For instance, on employment, we showed that Gujarat has the lowest unemployment rate among Indian states as per the data, thereby being India’s top-ranked state in providing employment. We had said: “…Gujarat scores 7 in Urban and 10 in Rural, which puts the per 1,000 unemployment for Gujarat at single digit: 9. If this is compared with Kerala – one of Mr Hooda’s preferred states — we see that Kerala stands at 126 urban and 125 rural, putting the state’s overall figure at 125.”

THE KHICHDI STORY

With the onset of winter came the rather absurd piece of news that “khichdi” was going to be declared India’s national dish at World Food India 2017.  Multiple media outlets and social media users circulated the news claiming it as fact:

We did a factcheck on these claims made in our piece: Khichdi is not about to be declared India’s ‘National Dish’

The effort at World Food India was aimed at cooking the dish to enter it in the Guinness Book of World Records. Over 800 kg khichdi was prepared on the spot, on November 4, at the World Food India event in a bid to create a world record and popularise it as Brand India food globally. Perhaps, the media outlets had confused a “Brand India” dish with a “national dish”.

UP GOVERNMENT’S EDUCATION BUDGET STORY

A PTI report on July 11, 2017 had said that the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh had cut the budgetary provisions for secondary education and higher education compared to that of the previous dispensation. The story claimed that there was a significant reduction in provisions of Rs 9,414 crore and Rs 2,469.73 crore in secondary and higher education respectively.

We ran our factcheck and found that PTI did not look at the whole Budget Estimate documents but only a few parts of it. Not only did they miss figures but they also misquoted them. Here is our original piece: Did PTI Deliberately Run False News on Yogi Govt’s Education Budget?

THE AYUSH STORY

In June last year, a fake piece of news had circulated in the mainstream as well as social media that the Ayush Ministry had prescribed a “no meat, no sex, no lust” lifestyle to pregnant women in a booklet. This lie had gone viral on social media and many stories had appeared in the mainstream too upholding the lie. This, in fact, persisted even after the Ministry had called out the lie and clarified. An example is the story “Is sex without lust and attachment okay, Minister?

In our factcheck: Why the Confusion After Ayush Clarification?, it was found that Media reports asserted that the booklet put forward the “prescription” that “pregnant women in India” should “say no to sex after conception”. This was far from the truth. The words “no sex” did not feature anywhere in the booklet. Also, the booklet has been in circulation through units of the erstwhile Department of AYUSH and Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) since 2013, before the current administration took office.

THE NCC CADET STORY

Saikat Datta, “South Asia Editor of Asia Times Online”, in a bid to paint the NCC cadet who recently posed a question to Rahul Gandhi as a political operative, tweeted the screenshot of a certain “Sanjana Singh” who seemed to be with NCC as well as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, complete with details of her college too.

In our story Saikat Datta Spread Fake News and Endangered The Safety of an Unsuspecting Student?, we found that Saikat Dutta had revealed the identity and details of a girl, perhaps jeopardising her security, who is not the same person at all as the Cadet who had questioned Mr Gandhi.

We also revealed that the Facebook profile that Saikat Datta posted a screenshot of, appeared have originated from a handle retweeted by Congress Social Media Cell Head Divya Spandana. Was Saikat Datta aiding the Congress in spreading fake news to divert attention from the NCC issue and protect Rahul Gandhi? Was this an example of ‘independent journalism’?

THE CARAVAN COAL STORY

On March 1, 2018, The Caravan had published an alleged exposé that claimed that the coal scam has been continuing despite the Supreme Court’s intervention and cancellation of earlier allotments.

In our factcheck The Caravan of Lies: Darker than Coal – Busted!, we showed how the questions that The Caravan’s ‘investigation’ had raised were based on calculations and comparisons that seemed to be incorrect since they were based on incorrect parameters. The Caravan had also got fundamental facts wrong, such as Adani Enterprises was merely a contractor and not the owner of the coal block in question but the government of Rajasthan.

REUTERS BULLET TRAIN STORY

The Reuters story ‘Make in India: Japanese firms in driver’s seat for bullet train project’, published Jannuary 19, 2018, carried by various media houses, gave the impression that no transfer of technology and knowledge-sharing was taking place on India’s first High Speed Rail (HSR) project (or the Bullet Train project) between Mumbai-Ahmedabad.

Technology transfer has, in fact, taken place, which The True Picture clearly substantiated in the story: Did Reuters Circulate a Misleading and Factually Incorrect Story on Bullet Train and Make in India?

THE RETAIL FDI POLICY STORY

On January 11, 2018, The Logical Indian website published a story, written by Bharat Nayak, with the headline “As Govt Allows 100% FDI In Single Brand Retail, What Were BJP’s Views On FDI Before It Came Into Power?”.

The True Picture did a factcheck on this story: How ‘The Logical Indian’ Did a Congress on Change in Retail FDI Policy.

It was found that ‘The logical Indian’ was criticising the government regarding the FDI policy without mentioning the kind of FDI concerned. As a matter of Fact, the Ministers and others were earlier talking about multi-brand retail FDI, which they had always opposed. Thus, unlike the allegations, there was no U-turn from the government. The policy that had changed pertained only to single-brand retail FDI.

CONCLUSION

The above news stories in question were examples of one or another or more of the following: fake news, fake narratives based on half-truths, partial truths which distorted the perspective. Such stories are also evidence of the fact that such stories persist in the media. As a fact-checking website primarily, it is The True Picture’s responsibility to point out the mistakes and the falsehoods, deliberate or otherwise. Nothing but the truth ought to be presented in the public domain.

  • Gulabkulfi

    Good job guys. Keep up the good work.