India’s largest news agency, Asian News International (ANI), routinely bases its articles on information from dubious think tanks and authors who appear to not exist, according to a report released today by the Brussels-based non-profit EU DisinfoLab.
ANI, which has gained in stature and revenues since the rise of nationalist Prime Minister Narinda Modi, has published hundreds of articles relying on fake sources that furthers the agenda of the Indian government while discrediting rivals Pakistan and China, EU DisinfoLab said in the report, “#BadSources: How Indian News Agency ANI Quoted Sources That Do Not Exist.”
ANI articles are used by hundreds of Indian news outlets, including The Print and Business Standard, as well as news portals such as Yahoo News. Since international news giant Thomson Reuters owns a large minority stake in ANI, its raw videos and pictures are also made available to Reuters subscribers.
“With this network, ANI is an indirect purveyor of news to millions of Indians,” EU DisinfoLabs wrote.
ANI did not respond to a request for comment. Reuters said when it used ANI content in its own stories, it was “rigorously verified and fact-checked.” It did not respond to specific questions on the apparently fake content on ANI.
The EU DisinfoLab report was released in conjunction with “Story Killers,” a new international collaborative journalism project investigating the disinformation-for-hire-industry. “Story Killers” was coordinated by French non-profit Forbidden Stories and included reporters from dozens of media outlets, including OCCRP.
According to EU DisinfoLab, ANI used reports provided by Canadian think tank International Forum for Rights and Security (IFFRAS) as the “backbone” for more than 200 articles published between May 2021 and January 2023.
Many of the reports involved comments allegedly made at conferences organized by the think tank. EU DisinfoLab found that most of the 70 academics and experts said to have spoken at these conferences “did not exist at all,” while a handful who could be identified denied knowing about the events.
For example, IFFRAS claims to have brought together four Montreal University professors for a campus discussion on the Muslim Brotherhood in January 2020, but two of the supposed speakers told EU DisinfoLab that such an event had never taken place.
IFFRAS was formed in 2012 and chaired by former Canadian MP Mario Silva. It was dissolved in 2014 and in 2019 Silva told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation it was inactive, yet a website bearing its name remains online. In a 2019 investigation, EU DisinfoLab tied the think tank’s website and those of several Canadian fake news websites to the Srivastava Group, an Indian corporation run by a self-described entrepreneur based in New Delhi.
“Our guess is that the sole purpose of the IFFRAS is to produce content that can be covered by ANI and then republished widely throughout the Indian press,” the researchers wrote.
IFFRAS did not respond to a request for comment.
ANI has also published articles based on content created by the Policy Research Group, another think tank. EU DisinfoLab determined that three of their contributors, James Duglous Crickton, Magda Lipan, and Valentin Popescu, do not appear to exist.
Policy Research Group editor Rama Rao said he stood behind his contributors’ work and believes they are real people based on his interactions with them, though he has never met them in person.
EU DisinfoLab also found instances where ANI has based articles on reports published by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, a real think tank in France that has published several pro-India or anti-Pakistan articles by seemingly fictional authors.
In February 2021, for example, the think tank published “Deception Games: Pakistan’s Eyewash Action Against Terror Groups,” under the byline of Ronald Duchemin. ANI’s lengthy story about the report, which was critical of Pakistan’s efforts to fight financial crime, was republished by The Times of India and other Indian outlets.
EU DisinfoLab said it could find no evidence that Duchemin existed. CPFA did not respond to a request for comment.
“All this would be laughable if it weren’t the case that hundreds of press articles eventually republished the content produced by all these fake personae,” EU DisinfoLab wrote. “Sadly, the overwhelming majority of these reports are being reproduced across Indian media, reaching hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of readers.”
ANI was founded as Asian Films Laboratories Pvt. Ltd. in 1971, and was renamed ANI in the 1990s. According to Indian magazine The Caravan, Reuters bought a large stake in the media outlet in 1993.
ANI founder Prem Prakash and his son, Sanjiv, controlled a combined 51 percent of ANI shares, while Reuters held a 49 percent stake until December 2022, when the two companies announced a reduction in Reuters’ shares to comply with India’s rules on foreign direct investment.
While ANI’s independence and veracity have been questioned for years, the company has remained financially healthy as other Indian news organizations have struggled financially and have turned to ANI as a ready source of video and written content. It has become India’s largest news agency since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, and appears to have been granted an unusual level of access to the premier and top officials in his government, including five long interviews with Modi himself.
In “#BadSources,” EU DisInfoLab said it was concerning that ANI continued to disseminate the fake sources from IFFRAS and the other dubious think tanks it had exposed..
“[J]ournalists working at ANI must know these sources are fabricated — and if they don’t, they are failing as journalists.”
Source : OCCRP