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Disinformation in India

By Xu-Pan Yiru, Meng Zhe, Dai Jingrong | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-11-30 17:07

In October, CNN-News 18, an English news channel in India, falsely reported that the Taliban's supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, died in a suicide attack in Pakistan in 2020. The news channel has since received extensive attention.

CNN-News18 is owned by TV18 Broadcast Ltd, which licenses the CNN brand and has access to CNN content, training and services, according to CNN's website.

In fact, misinformation from India is not a singular mistake by some sloppy media outlet, but a coordinated disinformation campaign targeting countries like Pakistan and China.

The Indian disinformation often operates through ambiguous sources in media. For example, the fake news," 43 Chinese soldiers killed in stand-off", 10 times the actual figure which was four, did the rounds soon after the Indian side reported the death of 20 soldiers in the dispute. DD News credited the information to "agency reports". Following that, Hindi media outlets like India TV and ABP News, blindly claimed the same.

"The vast majority of the coverage in the Indian media today is collectively anti-China and present only the Indian government's side of the story", said media observer Maitreya Bhakal. He said that the Indian government often operates through unofficial leaks, and this is a common avenue of information dissemination in countries such as India and the US which are called "free media". "In fact, I often say that the Indian media is free, means it is free to lie,"said Bhakal.

Social media influencers also play a role in the disinformation campaign. Major Gaurav Arya, with 1.2 million followers, India TV anchor Rajat Sharma, and some others all tweeted the same completely incorrect information about the China-Indian 2020 border conflicts, distorting the true scale and impact of the event.

According to Maitreya, plenty of misinformation in Indian social media is about China. There are elements which are coordinated, and it is also a grassroots campaign, demonstrating how fake news gains momentum after being promoted by multiple channels.

The Indian government is believed to be behind the disinformation campaign. The ruling party Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) actively creates and spreads fake news.

Liu Zongyi, Associate Research Fellow at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, who has spent years researching disinformation from India, said," BJP and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) are well-organized political parties, or political groups. Both of them attach large importance to the propaganda".It is an open secret that BJP's IT cell pays money to PR companies who in turn use social media influencers to coordinate the timings and hashtags for their latest fake news targets.

The scale and intensity of the Indian disinformation campaign has raised concerns. "In the long run, India's behavior of making fake news or false information about China and Pakistan will damage its own credit in the world", Liu said. Bhakal also warned about the consequences of the operations," when the Indian government prides its population to be against the country, what happens is they box themselves in and they restrict their negotiating options".

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