Vi­ral video spreads fake news on UAE

A false story in In­dian me­dia fails to take into ac­count that both na­tions revel in an amaz­ing range of plu­ral­ism

Gulf News - - Front Page - By Chi­ran­jib Sengupta | Hub Ed­i­tor

ev­eral me­dia out­lets across In­dia are scram­bling to con­trol the dam­age af­ter falsely at­tribut­ing a two-year-old vi­ral video where an Emi­rati colum­nist says “Jai Siya Ram” to His High­ness Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Com­man­der of the UAE Armed Forces.

The video, shared by In­dian chan­nels such as Times Now and Zee News in the run-up to In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s visit to the UAE over the week­end, claimed that Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed had chanted the Hindu prayer greet­ing in­vok­ing the de­ity Ram while speak­ing at a spir­i­tual pro­gramme con­ducted by the guru Mo­rari Bapu in Abu Dhabi in Septem­ber 2016.

But the story is patently false and Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed never at­tended any such event: the per­son in the video shown at­tend­ing the cer­e­mony is ac­tu­ally Sul­tan Sooud Al Qassemi, a UAEbased colum­nist and com­men­ta­tor on Arab af­fairs.

In an on­line ver­sion of this col­umn pub­lished ear­lier this week, Gulf News called out the glar­ing pat­tern of false pro­pa­ganda ev­i­dent in the vi­ral video and sto­ries — and the re­sult was dra­matic: the col­umn it­self went vi­ral in In­dia, was shared and picked up by sev­eral me­dia out­lets and widely cited by top jour­nal­ists and com­men­ta­tors in the coun­try as yet an­other ex­am­ple show­ing how some par­ti­san news out­fits were dam­ag­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of In­dian me­dia. It also trig­gered a wider de­bate on the pol­i­tics of fake news, with some users on so­cial me­dia calling for more strin­gent norms by the Edi­tors Guild in In­dia to pre­vent such em­bar­rass­ing and mis­lead­ing episodes from re­cur­ring.

Method to the mad­ness

Fake news and dis­torted at­tri­bu­tions are now a global phe­nom­e­non grow­ing at an alarm­ing in­ten­sity. But when sev­eral me­dia out­lets in the same coun­try start spread­ing the same video at around the same time with sim­i­lar false at­tri­bu­tions, then there ap­pears to be a sin­is­ter method in the mad­ness. More than ir­re­spon­si­ble click-bait jour­nal­ism, it be­comes a care­fully chore­ographed at­tempt to spread false pro­pa­ganda and gain po­lit­i­cal mileage in In­dia.

Main­stream In­dian me­dia is cer­tainly no stranger to Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed — hav­ing ex­ten­sively cov­ered his two vis­its to In­dia as the chief guest at the In­dian Repub­lic Day cel­e­bra­tions in 2017 and as a state guest in 2016. So the fact that they could not dis­tin­guish be­tween Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed and some­one else from the UAE is thus very un­likely, and raises sev­eral dis­turb­ing facts.

First, it is a clear in­di­ca­tion that main­stream me­dia in In­dia is highly sus­cep­ti­ble to pro­pa­ganda and fake news, whether by choice or as acts of com­mis­sion. They do not have ad­e­quate safe­guards in place to pre­vent such dis­torted halftruths from spread­ing far and wide.

Se­cond, the pat­tern of a mis­lead­ing video be­ing de­lib­er­ately re­cir­cu­lated mul­ti­ple times by a se­lected sec­tion of the In­dian me­dia was a clear pointer that the ob­jec­tive of the ex­er­cise was to spread ma­li­cious pro­pa­ganda on a swathe of un­sus­pect­ing news con­sumers.

Iron­i­cally, this fake and dan­ger­ous ex­er­cise gained trac­tion on so­cial me­dia on a day when the In­dian prime min­is­ter wit­nessed the ground­break­ing cer­e­mony of the first Hindu tem­ple in Abu Dhabi — made pos­si­ble by the gen­er­ous ges­ture of Shaikh Mo­ham­mad in do­nat­ing land to the In­dian com­mu­nity for the pur­pose.

In his speeches at var­i­ous fo­rums on Sun­day, Modi spoke at length about how In­dia and the UAE have come closer in the past few years, shar­ing deeply cher­ished com­mon goals and val­ues. The tem­ple in Abu Dhabi is widely seen as one of those com­mon val­ues — it re­flects the UAE’s mod­er­a­tion, tol­er­ance and re­spect for all hu­man­ity ir­re­spec­tive of their faith or creed.

The BAPS Swami­narayan Sanstha, which will man­age the Abu Dhabi tem­ple, it­self came for­ward to thank Shaikh Mo­ham­mad for a noble ges­ture and said the de­ci­sion re­flected the “guid­ing vi­sion of tol­er­ance and har­mony of the found­ing fa­thers of the UAE”. In­deed, the al­lot­ment of land for the tem­ple is a tes­ta­ment of the UAE’s plu­ral­is­tic val­ues and its re­spect for the Hindu com­mu­nity in the coun­try, which makes up an im­por­tant part of its ex­pat pop­u­la­tion.

Any at­tempt by any groups to de­mean the good­will ges­tures of Shaikh Mo­ham­mad Bin Zayed or the UAE lead­er­ship’s foun­da­tions of cul­tural co­ex­is­tence for the sake of do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal gains will not suc­ceed, but could de­rail the un­prece­dented mo­men­tum in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions that Modi and the UAE lead­er­ship have strived so hard to build in the past few years. The cul­ture and legacy of UAE-In­dia re­la­tions are so sim­i­lar that they revel in an amaz­ing range of plu­ral­ism — in re­li­gion, lan­guage, eth­nic­ity, food and so on. The al­lot­ment of the land for the tem­ple in Abu Dhabi is in that spirit, and so is Sul­tan Al Qassemi’s greet­ing to the In­dian di­as­pora at the 2016 gath­er­ing. Both In­dia and the UAE are acutely aware of that strong foun­da­tion of mu­tual re­spect.

But some don’t seem to get it — and that’s why they revel in such fake news.

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