Updated: May 11, 2020 12:07:21 pm
A report by a Union Home Ministry think tank on “how to spot and investigate” fake news, which red-flagged the targeting of minorities over the Covid pandemic and mentioned the audio of the Tablighi Jamaat chief in its discussion on fake audio, has been pulled down within a day of being posted online.
The 40-page “guide for law enforcement agencies” was uploaded by the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D) on its official website Saturday and removed Sunday. When contacted by The Indian Express, BPR&D spokesperson Jitendra Yadav said: “There are some corrections being made in the booklet. It will be uploaded again after that.”
Incidentally, The Indian Express had reported Saturday that an initial investigation by the Delhi Police Crime Branch has found that an audio clip mentioned in the police FIR against Markaz Nizamuddin head Maulana Saad Kandhalvi, which suggested he had asked Tablighi Jamaat members not to follow social distancing norms and prohibitory orders, may be “doctored” and stitched together using several audio files.
Responding to the report, the Delhi Police had said that “the news is not only factually incorrect but seems to be based on wholly unverified sources and purely conjectural imagination”.
A reference to the Tablighi Jamaat chief’s audio figures on page 10 of the BPR&D guide, under the headline “Fake news and disinformation vectors.”
Para V says: “Fake/Viral Audios: In the present scenario, viral/fake newsmongers may create voice content and spread it across the social networking channels.” This is followed by a screenshot with the partially masked words, “T… Jama… Leaked Audio on Covid 19 Lockdown”, and the caption “A voice clip of religious leader who violated lockdown rules that went viral.”
Once the text was extracted from the guide, the words were clear: “Tablighi Jamaat chief’s leaked audio on COVID-19 lockdown”.
The guide contained other instances of “fake news” linked to minorities, including a video of people licking plates and spoons.
Asked about the reference to the Tablighi Jamaat audio, the BPR&D spokesperson said: “There are many examples given in the booklet. I cannot comment on what examples have been given for fake audio clips and videos. These are all done by a committee. It is the committee which does these enquiries. It has technical people who find out which is a fake video or audio. Only they (the committee) can say what it is. Right now there are some corrections being carried out in the report.”
The guide, meanwhile, stated: “One of the fake news spreading vectors is fake videos. Here, most of the video content carries false message, hatred, communal violence, etc., to spread panic.”
The guide also suggested various steps and resources for the “investigation of fake news related videos”. One case it referred to is a video that shows people acting as Muslims to discourage those in the community from following precautions related to the pandemic.
Some of the other instances of “fake news” cited by BPR&D included UPI IDs for PMCARES Fund, a Ministry of Health order on PPE kit specifications and a Telangana government order on opening of liquor shops on March 28.
Apart from recommending basic enquiries of sources, dates and authors of such news, and verification from other sources, the BPR&D has asked law enforcement agencies to guard against their own beliefs.
“Watch out for information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. Review facts before sharing the information. Stories that seem hard to believe are often untrue,” the guide stated.
The bureau has also provided guidelines on how to forensically investigate fake news in order to make it admissible as evidence in courts and asked agencies to use tools, such as reverse image search, geo tagging and geo fencing, and other methods.
Clarifications & corrections
Responding to the report in The Indian Express, ‘Tablighi FIR: Police probe indicates Saad audio clip was doctored’ (May 9), Delhi Police Public Relations Officer Mandeep S Randhawa called it “factually incorrect” and sent a rejoinder:
“The report has claimed that the Crime Branch investigation has found that the audio clip mentioned in the police FIR against Markaz Nizamuddin head Maulana Saad Kandhalvi in which he had asked Tablighi Jamaat members not to follow social distancing norms and prohibitory orders is doctored.
“The claims made by the reporter regarding the investigation are strongly rebutted. The news is not only factually incorrect but seems to be based on wholly unverified sources and purely conjectural imagination. The Delhi Police does not in any way stand by the story of the reporter.”
The Indian Express replies:
The report is based on conversations with sources and officials aware of the probe against Maulana Saad. Before publication, calls were made to Special CP (Crime) Praveer Ranjan Friday. Also, a message was sent to him seeking his comments on the key points made in the report. No response was received.
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