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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Indian National Congress’ Media Director Jairam Ramesh used fake news about Wagner PMC to attack Modi

Jairam Ramesh needs to apologize, delete his tweet, and fact-check everything he shares going forward after this embarrassing debacle with The Economic Times.

Jairam Ramesh was appointed general secretary in charge of communication, publicity, and media for the Indian National Congress (INC) a little over a year ago, which gave him the power to speak on behalf of the country’s largest opposition group. It therefore attracted national attention when he uncritically retweeted The Economic Times’ (TET) unconfirmed report on Tuesday alleging that Gorkhas are being recruited by Wanger and claimed that this supposedly represents a failure of the Modi Administration.

The abovementioned report references The EurAsian Times’ piece on this subject, which in turn cites Nepal Press’ report. These degrees of separation therefore resulted in TET indirectly amplifying this outlet’s report, whose Nepali Twitter account has only around 30,000 followers while its English one has just over 400, to its much larger audience of 4.3 million people on that platform. What otherwise could have remained a local story therefore became a regional one that potentially attracts global attention.

The problem, however, is that Nepal Press’ original article that The EurAsian Times based their piece off (which was then picked up and reported on by TET) doesn’t even mention Wagner. The same goes for Nepal Press’ article from earlier this month that they hyperlinked to in the introduction and described as “the first Nepali mass media to report” on their country’s youth joining the Russian Armed Forces. That piece can be regarded as the primary source since for this entire story since it was published on 11 June.

Upon using Google Translate to understand the Nepali language in which it was published, it becomes clear that The EurAsian Times either mistakenly conflated the Russian Armed Forces with Wagner (who weren’t mentioned in the text) or deliberately added this detail to embellish their report for clickbait. It was also inaccurate of them to claim that Wagner waived its Russian language requirement for joining since Nepal Press’ primary source reported that it was actually the Russian Armed Forces that did this.

Regardless of whyever The EurAsian Times mixed up the two, what’s most problematic is that TET’s editors didn’t fact-check that claim before repeating it in their article. Although this much more influential outlet’s piece also made reference to The Diplomat’s recent report on this subject, that DC-based magazine didn’t mention Wagner just like Nepal Press (whose 11 June piece they also hyperlinked to in their text and which arguably served to inspire it) didn’t either.

This observation suggests that TET’s editors took what The EurAsian Times wrote about Wagner for granted even though the latter inaccurately reported on what Nepal Press had earlier published. The false impression that TET’s readers therefore had was that both The Diplomat and The EurAsian Times reported on Nepali youth joining Wagner. They might not have been familiar with The EurAsian Times since it only has a little more than 6,000 followers on Twitter, but The Diplomat has nearly 230,000.

Moreover, The Diplomat is much more globally renowned due to its partnerships with leading think tanks such as the Indian Ministry of Defence-funded IDSA, which is why more serious readers might have been misled into extending credence to TET’s report due to its reference to that outlet. Another error of judgement that TET’s editors made apart from taking what The EurAsian Times wrote for granted was to not hyperlink to those two articles that they cited in their own.

Had they done so, then even if their cardinal mistake of repeating The EurAsian Times’ inaccurate report about Wagner wasn’t caught, then more serious readers who are aware of The Diplomat’s renown could have clicked on its article to see that it didn’t talk about that group like TET made it seem. Their editors’ mistakes don’t absolve Ramesh of using that outlet’s fake news to attack the Modi Administration, however, since he’s a leading opposition member with lots of responsibility due to his post.

As the INC’s general secretary in charge of communication, publicity, and media, he should have exercised due diligence in fact-checking TET’s article or at least tasking his staff with doing so before he relied on fake news to attack the Modi Administration to his over 320,000 followers. Even worse, his tweet was then picked up and reported on by India’s “The Telegraph” to mislead an almost equal number of people about this on that same platform.

India’s opposition always talks about accountability, yet now they have the opportunity to finally put their money where their mouth is by taking full responsibility for Ramesh using fake news to attack the Modi Administration. This fact-check proves that TET laundered false information about Wagner’s alleged recruitment of Gorkhas, which was based on their editor taking The EurAsian Times’ inaccurate article about Nepal Press’ report for granted without checking the primary source.

The TET also misleadingly referenced The Diplomat’s article in their own about this subject, which made serious readers fall under the false impression that it had reported on this too even though it didn’t. TET could have hyperlinked to those two outlets that it cited but declined to do so, thus complicating the search for those materials except from the most intrepid readers. Ramesh needs to apologize, delete his tweet, and fact-check everything he shares going forward after this embarrassing debacle with TET.

(The story was published on on June 28, 2023 and has been reproduced here)

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Andrew Korybko
Andrew Korybko
Moscow-based American political analyst specializing in the global systemic transition to multipolarity


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