Veterans say ANI attempted to ‘defame’ their intentions, ANI calls accusation baseless

The controversy around the letter to the President on the politisisation of the military refuses to die down.

WrittenBy:Ilika Mishra
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Retired Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury, on behalf of a group of armed forces veterans, has written to Thomson Reuters raising questions on the editorial practices of the Indian news agency, Asian News International (ANI) . The veteran has alleged that ANI attempted to “defame” their intentions behind an appeal against the politicisation of the military. Thomson Reuters, a multi-national media company, shares an investor relationship and strategic partnership in editorial content with ANI.

The letter was addressed to Stephen J Adler, Reuters president and editor-in-chief, Reuters News President Michael Friedenberg, PR Manager Joel Ivory-Harte, and other Reuters representatives.

Chowdhury wrote, “We believe that ANI has acted at the behest of India’s ruling party to manipulate quotes and defame our honourable intentions. In our opinion, ANI‘s conduct tantamounts to being perfidious with a view to influence the ongoing elections, in India, in a biased manner.”

On April 11, veterans of the Indian Armed Forces had written to President Ram Nath Kovind, registering their protest against the use of the armed forces for political campaigning. The letter was signed by over 150 military veterans.

Soon after, ANI spoke to some of the signatories such as former Army Chief General SF Rodrigues, Air Chief Marshal NC Suri and former Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General ML Naidu for their comments. On April 12, ANI published their denials of having endorsed the letter.

On April 13, Ajit Kumar Dubey, ANI‘s National Security Editor had accused the other veterans of “indulging in fake letter writing” via his Twitter account. His tweet was retweeted by members and supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

In his letter to Thomson Reuters, Chowdhury has mentioned an article by NewsCentral, which had accessed email exchanges between Naidu and his fellow veterans. The exchanges show concerns over alleged denials by some of the veterans. The report also mentions Naidu’s mail to Major General (retired) SG Vombatkere in which he states that he was “amazed that they [ANI] decided to quote me without even talking to me.” The Wire posted Rodrigues’ reply to Vombatkere that shows that he endorsed the appeal to President Kovind.

Chowdhury also raised questions to Steve Adler inquiring about the editorial practices of its strategic partner ANI and whether Thomson Reuters evaluated the practices, political affiliations, and reputation of ANI prior to expanding its strategic partnership in June 2018. He sought their findings on ANI if the aforementioned evaluation was done, and questions the credibility of editorial material if the evaluation wasn’t done. His last question quotes the Reuter’s mission statement and seeks their stand on ANI‘s ‘motivated misreporting’ of the ‘genuine and Constitutional appeal’ in comparison to their own standards for editorial propriety.

Speaking to Newslaundry, Chowdhury said the purpose behind the letter was “to express anguish as regards to the perfidious conduct of ANI” while covering the veterans’ petition to the President. “It was also to question Thomson Reuters whether they are okay with this sort of unethical behaviour. They are a listed US company and are governed by certain standards as per their mission statement and code of ethics.” He also said, “It is also important to understand that they own 49 per cent in ANI. As per the Company Law Board rules, they have certain rights as regards operations of ANI.”  

Chowdhury also told us that Thomson Reuters had responded to the letter. “Before I sent this email out…six days before that we’d sent a mail to Thomson, Editors Guild and Press Council and none of them replied back. We waited for six days and then wrote again asking for acknowledgement. While Thomson acknowledged, Editors Guild and PCI did not,” he said. However, after assurances of looking into our complaint, Reuters representatives told us, ‘we recommend (you) should contact ANI directly in regard to your complaint’, Chowdhury said. Newslaundry has seen the email trail. “We may move legally against both Thomson and ANI,” he added.

Speaking to Newslaundry, he said, “ANI and Thomson Reuters are media behemoths in a post-truth world. And they probably think they can afford to wait till the story dies down or is killed. But, the truth has a strange way of emerging from the shadows. The story may die but the questions on ethics will remain.”

When asked how the veterans feel about the ANI’s coverage, Chowdhury responded saying, “angry, anguished and disgusted”.

The veteran has also written to the Press Council of India and the Editors Guild of India seeking a response on their evaluation processes of editorial practices and whether they believe that ANI’s “motivated reporting” of their Constitutional appeal “meets the best practices for editorial propriety”.

The Telegraph reported on Wednesday, April 24, that the number of veterans endorsing the appeal to President Kovind has increased from 156 to 422. Names of Army Chief General SF Rodrigues and Air Chief Marshal NC Suri have been crossed out since they are yet to comment on their so-called denial to ANI, however, their names have not been dropped out altogether owing to their original endorsement.

Newslaundry also reached out ANI editor Smita Prakash for comments on allegations made by Chowdhury. She said, “There are vested interests working to discredit ANI. With regard to the veterans’ letter, ANI published voices endorsing and rejecting this letter. All quotes were backed by video and audio, therefore the accusation that ANI manipulated any quote is baseless.”

Along with her remark, Prakash attached Dubey’s tweet that contains a recorded conversation with Naidu. In the audio, we can hear Dubey asking Naidu if his consent was taken for the letter that protests against Modi government politicising the armed forces and Naidu’s denial of the same. A second tweet is a roughly a forty-second byte of an interview with SF Rodrigues saying “…anyone can write anything these days …there is nothing new with what they publicise as fake news”. He, however, does mention that prayer of the plea is simply that the army should not be politicised at all. Another ANI tweet quotes Major General Harsh Kakkar who, though endorses the missive, does not direct the politicisation of the armed forces to just the Modi government but all others.

Newslaundry also reached out to Reuters for comments. The response is produced in full: “In response to your enquiry, we recommend you should contact ANI directly in regard to this issue and complaint.”

Note: This story has been updated.


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