A Dangerous World Of Fake News

Disinformation Campaigns against China and Pakistan


News about foreign affairs and foreign policy in India’s Mainstream Media (MSM) is dominated by almost daily tirades against China and Pakistan, by making allegations that they are colluding and conspiring against India, promoting terrorism, border violations, and by painting that they are a threat to peace in the region and all over the world. And that is one of the major components of ‘foreign’ news in India. Same or similar stories, accompanied by visuals, appear across dozens of media outlets, irrespective of the language. This has been going on for years.

For one thing such news is mostly false, “manufactured”—to borrow Noam Chomsky’s classic usage- by an awful network created by the Indian Establishment, and disseminated widely by the Indian MSM, including reputed news papers and portals, online and offline. That a systematic and well orchestrated disinformation campaign by India is behind this may surprise many but it is a fact. This should be viewed together with curbing India’s own direct media presence in China, and then retaliation by China (Frontier July 16-22, Expelling Each other’s Journalists).

The MSM almost never says how USA maintains for decades hundreds of military bases across the world, and how it killed millions of civilians in wars it waged and promoted across the world. And never tells of the crimes of US’ allies, of NATO etc. But sees a looming threat in China that has an LAC with India where admittedly not a single bullet was fired for six decades, and a threat even from a weakened and crippled Pakistan. Such a threat perception, artificially created, is shown as a ‘cause’ for a huge, purposeless, under-stated and scam-ridden Defence Budget of over Rs 7 lakh crore yearly.

Going on since 2005 of UPA days, this operation is more and increasingly vicious today under BJP- led NDA than ever. They say it is quite common in ‘Statecraft’, maybe so, but there is notably more brazen disinformation than information, particularly by the USA and India, the unique ‘democratic allies’. It’s another matter that a recent PEW survey said 40% American adults said they never heard Modi’s name, and majority said they do not approve his views.

This report of the 15-year long operation was largely ignored by MSM; an earlier edition of 2019 was covered by very few–online media like Nov 14, 2019, and Caravan, Dec 9, 2020, and latest edition by, and (Feb 23-24,2023). Now a revised report of 2023 Feb compels one to take note of it.

In 2019, the EU DisinfoLab, led by Gary Machado and Alexandre Alaphilippe et al, uncovered a vast network of 265 coordinated fake local media outlets in 65 countries serving Indian interests, as well as multiple dubious think tanks and NGOs. An updated version of Feb 2023 (titled Indian Chronicles) showed it grew enormously with around 750 media outlets in 116 countries, aided by ten plus UN-accredited NGOs. “There is no such thing as good disinformation, we are convinced” say the authors of the Report, who are specialists in exposing fake news, a growing international phenomenon.

The authors, usually focused on EU, clarified: “At first, we never intended to work on South-Asia related matters; it all began when we read a publication by the European External Action Service (EEAS).” Reputed academic bodies like Princeton University Library keep the EU DisinfoLab Reports.

A few lines from its Foreword reveal the depth and degeneration involved: “Throughout this investigation, we have been astonished by the multiplication of layers of fake, something we had never encountered in other investigations… The actors behind this operation highjacked the names of others, tried to impersonate regular media and press agencies such as the EU Observer, the Economist and Voice of America, used the letterhead of the European Parliament, registered websites under avatars with fake phone numbers, provided fake addresses to the UNO, created publishing companies to print books of the think-tanks they owned...

“They misused the picture of a former UK Minister and a BBC Director on Facebook registered the names of deceased persons to attend events five years after their death, invented dozens of journalist identities. They used layers of fake media that would quote and republish one another. They used politicians who genuinely wanted to defend women or minority rights to ultimately serve geopolitical interests and gave a platform to far-right politicians when convergent objectives could be reached.

“We believe this astounding level of fakery is the reason why the operation could last for so long: how can a human being suspect or imagine that this is possible? Even our full report does not mention everything we uncovered; we had to leave aside many other fakes.”

The Disinformation undermined the credibility of the Indian media: India’s rank on World Press Freedom Index dropped to 161 out of 180 countries. India is ranked below Pakistan (150th), Afghanistan (152nd), Sri Lanka (135th) and Nepal (95th).

Indians should know and be conscious that the venomous news (increasingly outsourced to the western sources), and vitiated by Disinfor-mation adversely affects Track-2 diplomacy, which is linked to media relations, vis-a-vis China and Pakistan. This in no way benefits the cause of truth, peace or stability. Nor they benefit the growing trade relations with China that are mutually beneficial and also useful to Indian businesses as well as consumers.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) harps against hereditary and ‘parivar’ politics. But this disinfo had roots in the Congress regime, and is organised with the help of three generations and two families: One is an obscure foreign business family of Srivastavas, described as a ‘shadowy business conglomerate’ that came into the spotlight in India after it organised a visit to Kashmir for far-right members of the European Parliament, in late 2019 (, 2019 Nov 14).

The other parivar is of Smita Prakash, head of Asian News International (ANI), the rare journalist who could interview PM Modi, and accompanied several PMs in official visits to US. ANI is a key media player in this campaign, providing content(disinformation)for many well-established media across India, such as Times Group including Economic Times, Business Standard, The Print, and scores of news TV channels like Wion, Republic TV, ZeeTV, TV-9, that have outlets across India and in many Indian languages. They reach news to tens of millions of Indians. Often some of the reputed media outlets play safe by publishing disclaimers, which one can see, saying they did no more than adding a title to the reports from a ‘feeder’, and wash their hands.

Founded in 1971 Indira era by Prem Prakash, ANI was always close to the Establishment, produced numerous films for DD. Prem’s son Sanjiv succeeded him and he married Smita Prakash, who had joined ANI around 1986. She is the daughter of Inna Rama Mohan Rao,former director, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. ANI emerged stronger as Ishaan Prakash, Smita's son, joined ANI in 2011, and entered into contracts with multiple state and union ministries, and expanded overseas bureaus: By late 2011, ANI accounted for about 99% of the Reuters feed. In 1993, Reuters had purchased a stake in ANI. The ‘double-engine’ relations immensely furthered ANI's access within the government, and thus across the world. Smitha did many stories for NPR News America and NHK Japan. Thus ANI’s international clout grew enormously.

With such well-orchestrated efforts, they simultaneously air similar or same tirade against China, Pakistan, often bracketing them together, feigning ‘credibility’ to disinformation. In fact that is the staple source for ‘foreign’ news; which most media outlets can’t afford otherwise. Exaggerated or concocted stories about minority persecution in Pakistan and China, violations along LoC and LAC, ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’ of China, China-Pakistan collaboration and conspiracies through BRI etc against India are among pet themes of disinformation. “ANI remains the only press agency to extensively cover the activities of dubious NGOs in Geneva, though it is fully aware that it was misreporting”.

UNI was a close competitor but outwitted by ANI that became a propaganda tool of the union governments, and acquired a dubious official aura. Post-2000, the era of private TV channels, now in hundreds, provided scope for massive expansion of ANI. As most channels would/could not invest much capital, ANI became a syndicated feeder with visuals for most of them, and had a meteoric rise. Asian Films TV was incorporated in 2000 to provide feed for newspapers and periodicals (this info on the family links is based on Wikipedia.) The Caravan notes that most of its foot-soldiers were low-cost recruits, who had little to do with journalism. ANI grew even closer to the government after BJP assumed power in 2014, crooning with BJP, and inimical to other parties.

Indian Chronicles showed dead entities were resurrected like 2020-re-born EU Chronicle, dead think-tanks and NGOs. These fabricated figures are used as ‘experts’ to provide opinions and analysis to further mislead readers and reinforce the false narratives. It even resurrected dead people: Former Chairman of Commission to Study the Organisation of Peace (CSOP), and “grandfather of international law in the US”, Louis B Sohn, who passed away in 2006, “attended” a UN Human Rights Council meeting in 2007 and participated in an event organised by “Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan” in Washington DC in 2011!

ANI often quoted articles and reports by a think tank, International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS), that was dissolved in 2014, but hijacked and revived as a fake entity. Another think tank frequently quoted by ANI is the Policy Research Group (POREG). However, three of its members quoted by ANI numerous times, on topics such as Pakistan's army doctrines and so-called China’s ‘‘wolf warrior diplomacy’’, were never reachable.
So also failed efforts to contact Philippe Jeune, a claimed ‘‘Paris-based investigative journo with more than 10 years’ experience’’. Asif Noor, founder of Pakistan’s think tank, Friends of BRI Forum, also complained on the fakes.

Linked to Indian intelligence services?
French media outlet Les Jours report suggests that Indian intelligence services could be behind the Srivastava group’s misinformation operations. It cited various examples to justify this claim...e.g. Pramila Srivastava threatened a pediatrician for speaking about infanticide in Punjab in the UN Human Rights Commission. The pediatrician was soon questioned by the Indian intelligence services on her return to the country.

Les Jours also noted that a company run by Ankur Srivastava, makes malware which he said is only sold to Indian intelligence services. It also noted that the Srivastava group runs several fake news websites including Socialist Weekly, Khalsa Akhbar Lahore and the Times of Azad Kashmir, which are likely linked to Indian intelligence services.

The report also points to how NGOs and freshly restored international organisations linked to the Srivastava network worked as a lobby in the UN Human Rights Commission to whitewash state-led Indian atrocities (in J&K) and highlight violence in Pakistan. It says:

“From then on, we uncovered an entire network of coordinated UN-accredited NGOs promoting Indian interests and criticising Pakistan and China repeatedly. We could tie at least 10 of them directly to the Srivastava family, with several other dubious NGOs pushing the same messages. For example, European Organisation for Pakistani Minorities (EOPM), Baluchistan House and the South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF)–were directly but opaquely created by the Srivastava group. They were repeatedly given the floor at the UN on behalf of the accredited organisations”. Similar are three informal groups in the European Parliament, namely the South Asia Peace Forum, the Baloch Forum and Friends of Gilgit-Baltistan, WESTT–the Women Economic and Social Think-Tank. They are used for anti-Pakistan discourse, harping on minorities and women’s rights. Such a role at UN is not possible without official support and co-ordination.

The Les Jours report notes that the SADF, a Brussels-based think tank, created in 2011, has the same address as one linked to the Srivastavas; its domain name was registered directly by the Indian company. It paid for visits to and media conferences on Kashmir.

It is natural that China and Pakistan exposed it in their media. China’s Global Times came out with a report, Jun 20, 2023: GT investigates: How Indian media fabricates think tanks, journalists to churn out anti-China, anti-Pakistan news.

GT said: ‘‘On the one hand, the Indian media produces and spreads false narratives about China, and on the other hand, the Indian government restricts Chinese journalists' access to India and deny their rights of reporting a real India.. The presence of such disinformation campaign aligns with India's strained relations with both countries. What are the implications? “Fake news by Indian media can incite nationalist sentiment within the country and distract people from the real problems of the country and the poor performance of its government.

“Within the complex geopolitical context of South Asia, such disinformation campaigns can have far-reaching consequences, which can exacerbate tensions, strain diplomatic relations, and hinder regional cooperation efforts, observers warned.”

Noam Chomsky et al (1988) exposed in great forensic detail how US MSM operate as propaganda agents for US governments. “CIA, Mossad and the like are role-models to the Indian entities which excelled the pioneers of disinformation, with their own ‘manufactures’.

Then the report gave the modus operandi, with several specific examples: NGOs run by the Srivastava group lobbied members of the European parliament, or MEPs, to write op-eds taking pro-India stances, often against Pakistan or China, which were then published on the group’s dummy news websites. ANI then quoted these as credible reports from European media, from where Indian media and news channels reproduced and disseminated them, unchecked” (the Caravan). Some appear to be written by bots. The copy-paste and dissemination operations now revolve around the Big News Network, a self-proclaimed “news agency” owning hundreds of media outlets…To summarize, a simple letter by individual MEPs, who are free to send any letter they want to send, is ultimately presented as an official position of the EU on China. Surgical strikes by the Indian Army in Pakistan”, were shown as if supported by MEPs.

Though disinformation “has been part of the playbook of all countries”, Alaphilippe (Director of the Lab) wrote: but this was a unique one : “The fact, that during 15 years, and even after being partially exposed last year, this operation is able to keep its activities shows the sophistication and the willingness of the actors behind Indian Chronicles.

“It is definitely the biggest network we’ve exposed.. Just imagine if the same operation would have been carried out by China or Russia. What would have been the headlines of the media?”

EU DisinfoLab in its Conclusion said: “the biggest failure from (the European) institutions would be, if another report is released next year on the same actors with the same techniques. This would mean that EU institutions…are OK with foreign interference.”

Despite such sustained disinformation campaign and a Neighbourhood First policy, India suspects all its neighbours are closer to China, all had joined BRI and felt benefited. Evidently, the scary disinformation is not helping… except in misleading ‘voting cattle’ and domestic public opinion, and feeding India’s Military-Industrial Complex (see Frontier, April 16 - 22, 2023).

Given the scale of sustained disinformation, anything against China and Pakistan in the media, needs to be taken, not with the proverbial pinch of salt but with a ton of it.

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 9, Aug 27 - Sep 2, 2023