Why Prasar Bharati’s tweet-rebuttal to Alt News is lame and lazy

And it does not change the fact that the state broadcaster is peddling demonstrably false information online.

WrittenBy:Ayush Tiwari
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If reality spoke for itself, Prasar Bharati would probably dispute it.

On January 6, a day after mob violence in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, India’s state broadcaster spun a blatantly false angle on it. This was fact-checked by AltNews, but Prasar Bharati would not back down.

It tweeted this video, showing a man with a red sweater relentlessly beating up another man: 

The tweet gave new life to the allegations levelled by journalist Sumit Kumar Singh, who was the first to accuse the Left of unleashing the violence on the JNU campus, saying “students associated with Left parties bashed up ABVP members when they were facilitating admission process”.

The Prasar Bharati tweet did not name the ABVP or the Left, but pushed the dirty envelope with sufficient winks and nudges. “Those opposing registration for Winter session of #JNU” — a reference to protesters led by the Left — “are behind violence to scuttle the academic process of varsity.”

It took a fact-check by AltNews to call out this claim. AltNews found that the man in red, zestfully landing the blows, is actually Sharvender, a JNU student associated with the Sangh Parivar affiliate Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. The victim is Vivek Pandey, a JNU student and a member of the All India Students’ Association, affiliated with the Communist Party of India (ML).

Newslaundry independently verified this with Pandey and two eyewitnesses of the incident. Our ground report also brought out videos from January 4 where ABVP students, with the JNU ABVP president in their midst, can be seen hitting others with pipes and sticks.

In short, the state broadcaster of India — itself borne out of the fears around autonomy following ruthless state propaganda during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime — is now peddling demonstrably false information online. Unsurprisingly, this information suits the position of the current establishment. 

This misinformation was echoed by multiple journalists on Twitter. They included Aditya Raj Kaul, the evergreen crusader against Pakistani misinformation campaigns, Swati Goel Sharma, Swarajya reporter known for “busting fake narratives”, filmmaker Ashoke Pandit, and Abhijit Majumdar, former editor of the unsuccessful rightwing portal My Nation.

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Image courtesy AltNews.

These journalists were in sync with other online promoters of this misleading tweet, including the head of the BJP’s IT cell, Amit Malviya, and the  JNU Vice Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar, who also retweeted it.

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On January 8, a day after the AltNews article, Prasar Bharati tried to pull another bunny out its hat. It posted a video of two JNU professors recounting what they went through on January 4. One of them is Nagendra Shreeniwas, an assistant professor at the Centre of Russian Studies in JNU’s School of Language, Literature and Cultural Studies, and Yogesh Kumar Rai, an assistant professor at the same centre.

Shreeniwas says he was manhandled by students when he tried entering his office on January 4. He adds that his phone was snatched by one of them, whom he hasn’t yet identified. “It happened at the same time when this scuffle seen in the video broke out,” he claims, possibly referring to the video where the ABVP member is assaulting an AISA student.

Furthermore, Rai, says he was trying to help students register for the winter semester on January 4. He says he entered his centre, purportedly blocked by students led by the Left. “But just after we entered, there was a tense atmosphere outside. One of our colleagues was being manhandled, as you can see in this video.”

It’s not clear which video Rai is referring to, since Prasar Bharati did not follow up with any footage.

In the next tweet, the state broadcaster turned churlish, tagging the Twitter handles of Huffington Post India, The Wire, Scroll, Quint and the Times of India.

It is not clear what Prasar Bharati wanted to convey in this series of tweets. If the intention was to rebut AltNews, the execution was shabby, even ridiculous. The accounts of the professors allege manhandling by students blocking their Centre, a possible reference to protesters led by the Left, although they do not say so themselves. It does not dispute what the video shows: that students associated with the ABVP were perpetrating violence. Nor does it change the fact that Prasar Bharati is running a riot of online misinformation, cheered on by the stormtroopers of the establishment.

In November, Newslaundry reported about how Prasar Bharati, despite being the state broadcaster, was left out of the ambush swearing-in ceremony of the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis as Maharashtra chief minister on November 23. The news was in fact broken by ANI.

Brijeshwar Singh, former CEO of the state broadcaster, had then told Newslaundry that Prasar Bharati could not boast of the autonomy it was meant to have during its inception. “Its assets were never handed over by the government. It is still funded by the government because it could not achieve financial autonomy,” Singh explained. “The grants are discretionary. So it cannot be compared to, say, the BBC, which is fairly independent and takes a leftwing stance in domestic matters even when a conservative government is in power in the UK.”


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