PARTHO SARATHI RAY
“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.” - Joseph Goebbels
Propaganda is one of the main weapons of the government of India’s Operation Green Hunt. The propaganda war is being waged in order to mould public opinion and turn liberal voices against the enemy, the Maoists. As part of this propaganda campaign, the government has brought out large, full colour advertisements (paid for by taxpayers’ money) in major newspapers which have portrayed the Maoists as “ruthless killers” and as destroyers of public property.
However a more insidious, and clandestine, part of the propaganda war, is to plant stories in the mainstream media in the form of “news”, which the average reader, having faith in the objectivity of the media as the main source of information, will take at face value as the truth. It is quite difficult to identify a news item as a police plant (we might just be able to guess), but a news story which appeared recently in the press, and was widely circulated, is a good illustration of what might be a story planted by intelligence agencies, with the connivance of the press.
It is a news story about the “Maoist empire”, the ways and means by which the Maoists apparently function like a corporation to raise a huge amount of money by “extortion, drugs, looting, ransom and robbery” to the tune of Rs 1500 crore. The main, and most widely circulated story appeared in the Sunday Times of India of 11th April, 2010, as a Special Report titled “The Maoist empire Rs 1500 crore and counting” datelined Bhubaneshwar/Ranchi/Kolkata and written by three named staff reporters of Times of India.
It describes in considerable detail the financial operations of the Maoists, analyses state-wise earnings from extortion, levies on businesses, poppy cultivation etc. and also delves into how this money is channeled into various states to run Maoist operations therein. Overall, it appears to provide convincing evidence that the Maoists are running a mafia under an ideological disguise. On reading, it seems to be a well researched piece of investigative journalism exclusively done for ToI by staff reporters. However everything did not seem to be so straightforward when nearly the same news story (in many places a word to word translation) was found to have been published in Bangla in the newspaper Icore Ekdin on 11th April. In Ekdin, the news was datelined New Delhi and described as “nijaswa pratibedan”, which means it was done by staff correspondents of Ekdin. On looking up on the internet, the thing became clearer.
The same report had appeared on 11th April
(1) in Central Chronicle (a Madhya Pradesh-based news portal) under the category News Flash, datelined Bhubaneswar and attributed to agencies;
(2) in Asian Age as a news story by a named correspondent;
(3) and in the Mumbai Mirror as a news story datelined Kolkata and again by a named correspondent.
The game was given away by the Mumbai Mirror story which attributes the news, even in the title of the news item, to intelligence agencies.
Therefore, what we see is that the same news story, including many common phrases and sentences, appearing in at least four different newspapers on the same day, three in English and one in Bangla (and also possibly in the Hindi press), and all claiming (except the Central Chronicle which attributes it to Agencies) that it is a piece of investigative journalism written by their staff reporters.
It is not even the case that the news first appeared in the Times of India (in the most detailed form) and was later copied by other newspapers, because the news appeared in all the papers (including in print) on the same day.
A quick Internet search traces the story about the Rs 1500 crore “empire” of the Maoists to an article that appeared in the intelligence agency-run blog Naxal Terror Watch on 6th June, 2009. It is clearly a news story that was planted by the intelligence agencies (which the Mumbai Mirror divulged) with the connivance of reputed national newspapers, as a piece of propaganda to malign their adversaries, the Maoists. Such plants, appearing innocuously as news stories, and then getting widely distributed, soon become “public wisdom” and provide fodder to talk show hosts and news channel anchors and to the Internet-savvy chatterati to push their own viewpoints in different fora and mould public opinion.