How to tell false news

A Worked Example

You see the following headline on the websites of several Gulf newspapers: India bans Arab TV channels under pressure from Israel.

Here’s how you tell it’s false:

India bans… Okay so far. Quite possible.
…Arab TV channels… TV channels, yes. Arab ones, unlikely. But okay, possible.
…under pressure from Israel. Now you’ve got to be kidding!

There, you don’t even need to read the Indian government’s statement to know that the ban story was incorrect. The ‘ban’ was first reported by Shahid Raza Burney, an Indian journalist. In fact, reading his report suggests that he didn’t actually wait to get positive confirmation of the facts before jumping to a conclusion. So much for his dissing of the ‘world’s largest democracy’ and condemnation of India’s failure to return the friendship ‘that Arab countries imagine exists with their neighbor across the Arabian Sea.’

43 thoughts on “How to tell false news”

  1. “Nabila Al-Bassam, a Saudi businesswoman on a trip to Bombay, told Arab News how she became exasperated at not being able to watch Arab channels at Bombay’s leading five-star Oberoi Hotel.”

    The term “Saudi businesswoman” is more like “an intelligent blonde” 😉

  2. paranoid Arabs they “see” the hand of the jooooooz everywhere. according to their sick fantasy the Jews control 91.576887799% of the world. I feel like taking my table vase and banging it on their collective heads hoping it will make them see some sense. but then i might only lose a good vase 🙂

  3. Anand,

    Can’t remember where, but I did read reports of Saudi women in business recently. The comparison with blondes is not correct because Saudi women are not in business because they are restricted; no one restricted blondes from being intelligent. 🙂

  4. Thinking aloud here… if the Indian government can ban Rushdie ‘s book because it may stoke teh Indian muslim community, why can’t it ban the Arab channels as they may provoke some in muslim community to be drawn towards terrorism, even internally. It may not be a good decision for Indian democracy, but consistent with some of its other policies.

  5. Sachin,

    Because Rushdie’s book and Arab channels stand poles apart. That’s why.

  6. Nitin: great work highlighting this silliness. There’s either no demand (apart from “businesswoman” Al-Bassam) for the channels, or they have not complied with a telco regulation.

    No-one will convince the ones looking for a jewish conspiracy otherwise. The concept of intellectual honesty is conspicuous by its absence. Depressing.

  7. If there was an Israeli channel, the Govt. would have banned it to strengthen the one-way friendship, without even the Arabs asking for it.

  8. I wonder If Ms.Bassam is aware –
    When an [wretched] Indian life ends in the the eden that is your country, he/she is not allowed to be cremated according to Hindu custom.

  9. When an [wretched] Indian life ends in the the eden that is your country, he/she is not allowed to be cremated according to Hindu custom.

    Or about the concept of Blood Money.

    A kind extract:

    100,000 riyals if the victim is a Muslim man
    50,000 riyals if a Muslim woman
    50,000 riyals if a Christian man
    25,000 riyals if a Christian woman
    6,666 riyals if a Hindu man
    3,333 riyals if a Hindu woman.


    These arabs should be told to go and F***k themselves. Indians are not interested in becoming party to the islamic hate campaigns against Israel.

  10. Pankaj: The arabs deserve our pity, not our hate. They’re so impotent they can’t find better uses for their kids than strapping bombs on them. They’re raising a whole maladjusted generation with no marketable skills. Israel’s just a convenient scape-goat to cover their dismal failure on virtually every barometer. As a superpower-to-be it’s clear we want nothing to do with them beyond the oil sustenance.

  11. Wo’nt you blame the management of Hotel Oberai?If for some reason they are not showing a particular channel,do’nt you think the staff working at the hotel should be aware of it?We are not talking about motel six but Hotel Oberai,the place where Bill Clinton likes to stay.Indian journalists were always famous for making a fuss over a non issue.

  12. Sorry for the unrelated post. Thought you guys might be interested. Below is the first paragraph [and link-free]from an article published in this weeks, weekly standard.

    Catch a Tiger by the Toe
    The conflict in Sri Lanka presents the United States with a rare, low-cost opportunity for leadership in the region.
    by Aaron Mannes
    08/08/2006 12:00:00 AM

    WHILE THE WORLD focuses its attention on Lebanon, the bloody civil war in Sri Lanka looks poised for yet another flare-up. Even excluding the Sri Lankan army’s current offensive, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)’s June 15 bombing of a passenger bus that killed 64 people and the June 26 assassination of a top Sri Lankan general, LTTE terrorism and Sri Lankan military reprisals have claimed hundreds of lives this year. Sri Lanka is a democratic ally, but the United States has limited options for preventing further bloodshed. However, international frustration with LTTE intransigence has created a rare, low-cost opportunity for American leadership in the region. If the United States can effectively target the LTTE’s international finance and smuggling networks, a lack of money and weapons will reduce the group’s capability to commit terror attacks, increase the possibility of a political solution in Sri Lanka, and improve the regional situation in Southeast Asia.

  13. “Wo’nt you blame the management of Hotel Oberai?”

    Firstly, since it is obvious that the reporter lied with respect to the ban, his entire story, including the Oberoi angle, stands discredited. In all likelihood, Oberoi never gave any false informtion to the “Saudi businesswoman”: either she or the reporter made it up.

    Secondly, even if supposing Oberoi gave wrong information, to peddle it without checking with the appropriate authorities shows either lazy journalism or agenda-driven journalism.

  14. “They’re raising a whole maladjusted generation with no marketable skills. ”

    Generally, wealth brings in its wake the following:

    1. Education
    2. Advancement of science and technology
    3. Liberal values; especially reduction in gender iniquities
    4. An ambitious, educated middle-class that drives further the above three.

    It is a msytery as to why this has not happened in most of the Arab societies. Or perhaps, it is not such a mystery after all. The only thing Arab countries are producing apart from oil is terrorism.

  15. RR,

    Probably you are talking about the virtues of ‘hard earned money’, where the society has to reform itself and be flexible. I don’t think the Saudi society falls under that category.

  16. Hiren: touche. The arabs are in a no-win – did not have to earn their money and were woefully prepared to handle those large sums. Add to that the low focus on learning/education and you have a society without a compass.

  17. Anand:
    “The term “Saudi businesswoman” is more like “an intelligent blonde” ;)” I assume what you mean is that the term is an oxymoron? That’s a comment stemming from ignorance and hubris, my friend. There is a very strong community of business women in Saudi Arabia, and they do quite well too. I have travelled to the country often, and can only tell you that that is just one of the whole host of misconceptions about this place.

  18. When talking about Arabs do you mean Saudi Arabia ,all the oil producing Gulf Arabs (the GCC) or all the 22 members of the Arab League ?

    @Libertarian “As a superpower-to-be it’s clear we want nothing to do with them beyond the oil sustenance.”
    That’s still a long way off.Remember lakhs of Indians are still employed in the Gulf States (According to some estimates – 15 lakh Indians in Saudi Arabia alone).And Saudi Arabia will always remain important for (Indian)muslims because of Makkah and Madinah.

  19. History: my sharpest criticisms are directed at the Saudis and Kuwaitis. I’m aware that the Gulf states are quite different. But apart from the possible exceptions of Dubai (not all of the UAE) and Qatar, they have precious little to show for the trillions of dollars they’ve received for their oil. Saudi, for instance, has seen its per-capita GDP slide from well over $20,000 per annum in the ’70s to $12,500 today (and that’s because of the sky-high oil prices). Some estimates of its unemployment run as high as 25%. The world, in general, holds the Gulf states to a really low standard – which makes stars of Dubai and Qatar. For example, if Singapore attempted to do what it being done in Jumeirah, the investors would be apoplectic.

    Seems like you feel we owe the Gulf states for the employment they provide Indians. My Dad spent 20 years there (even learnt kaam-chalao arabic). I have uncles who spent years in Dhahran and Riyadh. But at the end of it all, it was a fair deal. We owe nothing – they owe nothing. Providing employment and income does not qualify them special treatment against objective measures.

    To your point of Indian Muslims and Makkah and Madina: if I were a chowkidar at Fort Knox, or the RBI, doesn’t mean I have access to that untold wealth. I remain a poor (and self-respecting) chowkidar. And so it is with these self-appointed “custodians”. They are not endowed with special gifts by association.

  20. I admit I don’t have much respect for the Giant Shopping Mall also known as Dubai but that is different issue.
    Almost every muslim I know has atleast one uncle or cousin working somewhere in the Gulf states.My point was that the Gulf States are still important to many Indians because of the substantial employment potential.
    On Saudi Arabia,despite the numerous mishaps during Hajj, most ordinary people come back greatly impressed by the infrastructure and facilities for Hajj.They are grateful to the money spent by the Saudi government on Hajj facilies.In public perception, they are not mere chowkidars.The Saudi monarchs stoke the public perception by adopting and playing up thier self adopted title of the Khadim a Haramain a Shareefain (the Servant of the two Holy Masjids).This has powerful emotional resonance which cannot be just wished or reasoned away.

  21. I fail to see the reason for the anti-Arab venom being spewed out here. A very large majority of Muslims, including Saudi nationals do not support terrorism, and if the local press is anything to go by, it is heavily condemned. At the same time, Israeli occupation is something that we tend to overlook very easily.

    As to the question, what do we owe the Arab nations? We owe them the same consideration that we give to Israel and any other country for that matter. They may have social, political and economic issues, but so do we, and it is to the benefit of both sides to promote economic co-operation. Also, as to the Saudi government and royalty, they have been often a target of the Al-Qaeda, because they are considered pro-US. If you really want to know who “promotes” or what triggers terrorism, my answer is occuping forces – be it Indian forces in Kashmir, Israeli forces in the Occupied territories of Gaza and earlier the West Bank, Sri Lankan forces in the North, or American forces in Iraq.

    If you want to take a leaf out of a true superpower-to-be look at how China is courting Venezuela, Sudan and other oil-producing nations. A policy that I don’t necessarily agree with, but if it’s purely business you’re talking about, then the Chinese have the right ideas.

    While I do not believe in a Jewish conspiracy, it is very clear that the US is definitely very pro-Israel, if only you consider the sheer number of vetoes it has issued during UN resolutions. As to whether it is outside the realms of possibility for Israel or anyone else to force/request/convince the Indian government to ban news channels or other news media. Well, the blog ban was largely influenced by the Left. Also, one should bear in mind that Israel has a very, very strong PR machine. Check this documentary out

  22. Intrepid: first, seems you have business dealings in Saudi Arabia – so yours is not an unbiased opinion. The “venom” you talk about has a line of reasoning, with facts and figures to back it up. If you choose to ignore that and identify with your vilified arab friends, that’s your choice.

    Terrorism does not need a mass base or media support to succeed. Your observation that a majority of Saudis do not support terrorism is irrelevant. All that’s needed is a modest amount of money and an immodest amount of brain-washing. With a 25% unemployment rate they’re admirably positioned. Further, the Saudi monarchy only woke up to the nightmare they unleashed when it turned on them. Up until then they were quite happy to fund and ignore the trouble-makers.

    Your paragraph on root causes – and the abomination of naming India as an occupying power in Kashmir – is typical of the woolly-headed thinking that has us in the predicament we are. Our terrorist adversary understands projection of power – most usually through the barrel of a gun. Any other response to their provocation strengthens their well-founded conviction that India is a soft target.

    As for emulating China – I agree – we need to follow their example. More than the way they court these oil-wrecks, we need emulate their response to anything remotely threatening to them. A fine example of their robust statecraft is with Taiwan. There’s a reason the Pakistani establishment doesn’t coddle and stoke the Uighurs. The same reasoning allows them to formulate a strategy for low-intensity warfare with India. I shudder to think what would happen if Indians start subscribing to your viewpoint in larger numbers.

  23. libertarian: You can do better than launch ad hominem arguments. But since you raise the point, I have business dealings with the US too – larger than with KSA. You don’t find me supporting them, now do you?

    In any case, I am not pro-Arab or pro-Israel. My point is to take a balanced view of the situation, specifically the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Both sides have committed atrocities, and human rights violations, and both sides are equally to blame. Except that it is difficult to find any justification for what happened at Qana or the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

    As to woolly-headed, well my opinion is driven by this very interesting study:

  24. “I fail to see the reason for the anti-Arab venom being spewed out here.”

    Stop spewing anti-India venom, “Intrepid”. We are discussing the lies manufactured by an anti-India journalist. This is not the right place to vent your poison.

    “libertarian: You can do better than launch ad hominem arguments. ”

    As soon as you stop spewing anti-India venom.

    “my answer is occuping forces – be it Indian forces in Kashmir”

    And the “occupying” forces are there, in the first place, because Islamists , in connivance with locals, ethnically cleansed the valley of non-Muslims, and are now attempting to do the same outside of the valley too. Only yesterday, in Jammu, these soldiers of Allah beat to death a woman and her two children to death — for not being Muslim.

    Stop rationalizing genocide, ethnic cleansing and anti-semitism.

  25. “My point is to take a balanced view of the situation, specifically the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Both sides have committed atrocities, and human rights violations, and both sides are equally to blame.”

    This is propagandistic nonsense. Anti-semitism is being passed off as “balanced view”. There can be no moral equivalence between the arsonist and fire-fighter. Hezbollah is the arsonist, Israel is the fire-fighter.

  26. Good one RR.

    This “intrepid” should at least care to complete his nick. I think “the intrepid idiot” should be very appropriate.

  27. Intrepid: the study you refer to seems agenda-driven. For example, using Iran and Sudan (as non al-qaeda producing majority muslim countries) to illustrate a point is fuzzy at best. The central data point – that the tamil tigers invented suicide bombing is sound. However, concluding that the (infamous) root-cause of suicide bombing is occupying forces seems flaky.

    Regarding Qana, Shatila, Sabra, Jenin – I find it difficult to sympathize when we have deadlier attacks in Mumbai, Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu, Varanasi, Bangalore that we don’t pay as much attention to. Same innocent civilians – except these are our own.

  28. Intrepid,
    First of all, the debate on this post has digressed way beyond the issue it highlights—that the Indian government is not really responsive to Israeli ‘pressure’ as far as its domestic policies go.

    But I thought I must comment on the lively debate that has sprung up:

    While I agree with your point that there is little merit in demonising Arabs, there is also equally little merit in attempting to make value judgements (of the variety of “who is right”) with respect to the cause of various disputes in the Middle East.

    What this blogger seeks to understand, and this blog seeks to articulate is what is at stake for India. How are India’s national interests affected by the war in Lebanon? Some answers are offered here.

    That said, this blog has no sympathy for the view that dubs Indian troops as “occupation forces” in Kashmir. If there are any occupying forces in Kashmir, they belong to the Pakistani Army. Consider. Unlike India’s J&K state, PoK is not even a part of Pakistan under its own constitution. Any troops that Pakistan maintains in PoK are de jure occupation troops.

  29. Nitin: Hmm…you are right. This is certainly not the forum or the blog post for this discussion. In any case, my alarm was because the justification being used to villify an entire people, is the same one that has been used in the past to tarnish the entire Indian Muslim population. In most of the terrorist attacks in India, Muslims have been found to have been the agents of terror. Using the logic that some people have cited in this above discussion, one would simply go ahead and claim all Muslims are terrorists. That’s the danger.

    If you see response #33 from Raj, it clearly insinuates the generalization that I talk about. A moderate opinion is attributed directly to my religion. And no, Raj, I am not a Muslim.

    As to the point about occupying forces. Sir, if the day comes where you have half a million troops stationed in Maharashtra on constant vigil and with checkpoints every half a block, I am sure you will also agree that they constitute an occupying force in the state. There is of course justification that would be found in the case of Kashmir, but this does not take away from the fact that normal civilian life as you and I are used to, simply does not exist. And that the army is indeed an occupying force.

    Libertarian: I agree that we’ve had gut-wrenching terror attacks. Believe me, I live and work in Mumbai and love the city, and can only begin to imagine the pain of those families that were affected by not just the recent terror blasts but also those that have happened ever since 1993. That however, does not give me justification to not commiserate with people who are being affected by terror worldwide.

  30. Intrepid

    As to the point about occupying forces. Sir, if the day comes where you have half a million troops stationed in Maharashtra on constant vigil and with checkpoints every half a block, I am sure you will also agree that they constitute an occupying force in the state.

    I’m shocked that reasonable people can even suggest this. First of all, democracies don’t keep half-a-million troops on alert in Maharashtra unless there is a good reason, and consequently, when they do get sent there, it’s for a good reason.

    Actually you mix cause and effect: the lot of ordinary Kashmiris is miserable not because Indian troops are deployed there, but because jihadis are operating there. And the jihadis, you will notice, were there first. The metaphor I always use is: chemotherapy hurts, even harms. But cancer kills. Pointing to the damage caused by chemotherapy as the real evil is silly.

    You may have a general point about not demonising entire communities. But by arguing it in the manner you have, you will find few takers for your case.

  31. Dear “Intrepid”

    “the justification being used to villify an entire people, is the same one that has been used in the past to tarnish the entire Indian Muslim population.”

    On this blog?

    “Using the logic that some people have cited in this above discussion, one would simply go ahead and claim all Muslims are terrorists. That’s the danger.”

    Feel free to step in and issue condemnations as and when all Muslims are projected as terrorists. Riling about it before it happens sounds like rabble-rousing , and a nasty attempt at tarring and feathering all Hindus (except your noble self) as prone to seeing all Muslims as terrorists. Pissing off Hindus is a dangerous thing to do too, don’t you think?

  32. Intrepid …

    …so you are not a muslim ? Well – that is a surprise because your thoughts, as expressed here, gel well with that of most Indian muslims. They share the same view as yourself on the situation in Kashmir, about Indian Army being ‘occupying forces’ etc.

    Like you, they also believe state terrorism as exhibited by Indian Army and Indian security forces is real terrorism. And of course, that USA and Israel are scum.

    Maybe you are just a secular progressive liberal intellectual as well as an ardent advocate for human rights and civil liberties.

  33. Intrepid : “A moderate opinion is attributed directly to my religion.”

    Folks – understand this. If you do not believe that India Army is illegally occupying Kashmir and that the Indian soldiers are the real terrorists, and also that Kashmiri jihadis are freedom fighters honorably responding to Indian state terrorists, then you are not a moderate. You are a hindooo extremist.

  34. Intrepid: I agree with your point about villifying an entire people. Thanks for helping me clarify my thinking and my point: my deep disgust is directed at the Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchies. I don’t know the people well enough to make a generalization.

    Nitin: nice analogy on chemotherapy. Will file in mental cabinet for use at a later date 🙂

  35. “It just bothers me you’re Indian.”

    Explain why ? Let me guess. You dont agree with my characterisation of a certain section of India’s population ? Blame me for telling it like it is. Thats how they think.

  36. Hi,

    Nabila Bassam is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest art collectora, she runa the Arab Heritage gallery in Khobar. She was born in Pune and educated in Bombay. Her parents made a lot of money in the handicrafts trade.

    She was sent to India by the new King Abdullah as part of an image building i.e. psyops team. The team tried to build on her family’s old contacts in the handicrafts trade, and her old cathedral chums to get a foothold in the Indian media.

    I think what you are seeing in this fake report of a ban on Arab channels is her flexing her media muscles in India. Watch who reported her story, and which news channels carried it. Those people are Saudi Arabia’s new friends in India.

    Best Regards

  37. Interesting post and discussion. The very thought that this Government, which bans blogs for being anti-Left / Islamic terrorist would ban Arab channels is ridiculous. Sonia is far more likely to ban the Acorn than Al Jazeera

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