The left-liberal media establishment of India does not have a solid track record when it comes to ethics and integrity. But above all, this particular establishment has shown multiple times to be a champion of unbridled hypocrisy. The people in this establishment are known take grandiose stands in front of the camera, be it on women empowerment, eve teasing, transparency in businesses, crackdown on black money, objectivity and ethics in news reporting so on and so forth. But when it comes to adhering to these principles in personal or professional capacity, they show absolute disregard for almost every tenet of these principles.
AltNews, a left leaning website which claims to be ‘fact checker’ has been found in potential violation of the principles of its approver, International Fact Checking Network (IFCN). IFCN is a unit of the Poynter Institute dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide. The approval from IFCN could put the company in the radar of global technology giants like Facebook and Google to get contracts as third party fact checker. The major IFCN approved fact checkers in India are AltNews, BoomLive, TV Today Network, and Quint.
A popular Twitter handle with the username SpaminderBharti pointed out that one of its signatories AltNews’s founder prima facie is in violation of the Nonpartisanship policy of the IFCN. The twitter user stated, “Hello @factchecknet@baybarsorsek@dpfunke, your code of principles says that the members of the applicant org should not be members of any advocacy group. So how did you certify AltNews as compliant when their CEO’s Twitter bio shows that they violate your code?,”.
In his twitter bio, Pratik Sinha, the co-founder of AltNews, has written that he is a member of Jan Sangharsh Mach.
Hello @factchecknet @baybarsorsek @dpfunke, your code of principles says that the members of the applicant org should not be members of any advocacy group. So how did you certify AltNews as compliant when their CEO’s Twitter bio shows that they violate your code? pic.twitter.com/A9UFSWNOjB
— Spaminder Bharti (@attomeybharti) June 7, 2019
As per the link, Nonpartisanship and Fairness, Transparency of Sources, Transparency of Funding & Organization, Transparency of Methodology, and Open & Honest Corrections Policy are the principles that a signatory needs to follow. As per the Nonpartisanship and Fairness norm:
“Signatory organizations fact-check claims using the same standard for every fact check. They do not concentrate their fact-checking on any one side. They follow the same process for every fact check and let the evidence dictate the conclusions. Signatories do not advocate or take policy positions on the issues they fact-check.”
The IFCN replied to the Twitter thread stating that ‘further evaluation’ would take place with regard to the potential violation of the principles by AltNews. “We have been informed of a potential violation of the IFCN code of principles by one of our verified signatories in India. Further evaluation will be followed by communication with the related organization,” tweeted IFCN with a link to its code of principles.
We have been informed of a potential violation of the IFCN code of principles by one of our verified signatories in India.
Further evaluation will be followed by communication with the related organization. https://t.co/yYvcOsn2Z4
— IFCN (@factchecknet) June 7, 2019
“We will be very transparent and informative during our evaluation of the issue. Non-partisanship is at the core of @factchecknet’s Code of Principles,” tweeted Baybark Orsek, the director of IFCN.
We will be very transparent and informative during our evaluation of the issue.
— Baybars Örsek (@baybarsorsek) June 7, 2019
OpIndia, a right leaning website, had earlier applied to become certified member of IFCN but the organization rejected its claim and clearly wrote in its assessment that the organization “concentrated on certain political organisation(s) with a certain ideology.” If IFCN could not give approval to the certification of OpIndia on the basis of their neutrality principal then the network’s acceptance of AltNews could not be justified given the fact that the editor of the website openly claims about his ideological leanings. In an interview to rediff.com, Pratik Sinha had admitted that ideologically he is oriented towards the left. As such, it would be naïve to say that his ideological leanings do not have a bearing on the organisation’s behavior.
AltNews website, has not even shied away from its anti-BJP, anti-right leanings. The majority of the ‘fact-check’ on the website is targeted towards the right-wing. Pratik Sinha’s twitter profile is filled with anti-BJP and anti-right wing tweets. His mother, Nirjhari Sinha (who is also involved in the management of AltNews) identifies herself, in her Facebook bio, as ‘Atheist, Socialist, Convener, Jan Sangharsh Manch and Director, Pravda Media Foundation (AltNews)’.
His father, Mukul Sinha wrote a book named ‘Truth of Gujarat’ on 2002 Gujarat riots and claimed that it was ‘state led violence’. Earlier, Pratik Sinha had started a website named ‘Truth of Gujarat’ to propagate the claims of his father. His mother’s organization Jan Sangharsh Manch of which Sinha is a member collaborated with Congress leader Jignesh Mewani to organize a protest in Ahmedabad for minimum wages to sanitation workers.
In an interview with Business Standard, Sinha said “Alt News is a byproduct of the ideology I have grown up with and the skills I developed as a professional.”
“Mukul [Sinha] and I were always taking up the cause of people and had friends from all sections. I used to carry Pratik everywhere, even if we went on an agitation, because we had no babysitter. Growing up in such an environment must have influenced him,” said her mother in the BS interview.
Pratik Sinha has not exactly been subtle about his ideological leanings and preferences.
It is very much evident that Sinha and AltNews both adhere to socialist ideals and target a particular party and ideology behind a thin veneer of fake news busting. IFCN’s certification of such blatantly biased organization as neutral fact-checker amounts to legitimization of propaganda of a particular ideology. As such, it would be prudent for IFCN to review and cancel the certification of AltNews to set precedence.