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Ghost experts, non-existent think tanks fuel India’s disinformation drive

Islamabad, February 25 (KMS) : In spite of two major exposes against the wire service in 2019 and 2020, Asian News International — a major Indian ‘news’ agency — continues to peddle disinformation using “non-existent” sources and ghost “experts” to target regional rivals, particularly Pakistan and China.

This was revealed by the EU DisinfoLab in its latest investigation report ‘Bad Sources (BS)’ into anti-Pakistan and China influence operations as part of its follow-up on two previous investigations.

In its earlier reports, the DisInfoLab had said ANI “regularly quoted the defunct ‘EP Today’ and ‘EU Chronicles’, two fake media outlets supposedly specialising in EU affairs that were, in fact, created to push anti-Pakistan/China narratives in India”.

This time again, ANI — which acts as a purveyor of news to millions of Indians — is the kingpin of this disinformation network. Interestingly, typographical errors and “fake personae” are the trademark of this operation — rather these are the telltale signs that the wire service peddles fake news.

“A think tank [IFFRAS] that we had previously linked to the Srivastava group and that was legally dissolved in 2014, is now quoted about twice a week by ANI,” according to the DisInfoLab.

“The think tank’s website falsely mentions real Canadian university professors as participants in a conference that they never attended, even concocting false quotes by these academics,” it said.

“Besides ANI and those outlets republishing its content, barely any other established media covered the reports produced by these ‘Bad Sources’ (BS) — the name we gave to this investigation,” the report added.

In spite of its dubious nature, ANI continued to use the ‘think tank’ IFFRAS as its source of information. The investigation report described this think tank as one “that does not exist and does not want to be found”. The think tank, previously chaired by a former Canadian MP, was registered in Canada in 2012, and officially dissolved in 2014, it added.

For ANI, it is still active. In Jan 2020, it claimed to have hosted a press conference at the University of Montreal in which four professors of the same university participated. However, two of the professors — who could be approached — confirmed to EU DisInfoLab that they did not attend the said conference.

Besides fake credentials, another thing these think tanks have in common is their reliance on ANI for the dissemination of their content. In fact, their activities make the “backbone” of ANI ‘news’.

In 2021, another think tank quoted by ANI is the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA) — this does exist. “Alongside the legitimate reports … we encountered content that we could not attribute to real individuals,” the report said.

“One such report is ‘Deception Games: Pakistan’s Eyewash Action against Terror Groups’, authored by ‘Ronald Duchemin’ … [and] covered by ANI the following day,” it said, adding that “further evidence of Duchemin’s existence and expertise on Pakistan” could not be found.

“Another CPFA persona, named Mario de Gasperi, produced several reports on pro-Indian narratives…but we did fail to find any evidence of his existence,” the report added.

In July 2021, ANI published a piece of news entitled ‘European Parliament to withdraw Pakistan’s GSP+ status over abuse of blasphemy laws’. “The source of this ‘news’… nevertheless, does not exist.”

In a comment on the role of ANI, it said the wire service “does not seem to be concerned” by using fabricated sources. In other words, journalists working at ANI must know these sources are fabricated — and if they don’t, they are failing as journalists,“ it added.

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