1676398807 Behind the attacks on journalists disinformation and online hate operations

Behind the attacks on journalists, disinformation and online hate operations

Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh in 2017. Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh, 2017. LÉA GIRARDOT, AFTER PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP

On September 5, 2017, Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh returned to Bangalore, capital of the southern state of Karnataka, after putting the finishing touches to an article in his weekly Gauri Lankesh Patrike, due to be published two days later. The text, titled “The Age of Fake News,” detailed the viral spread of a rumor started by Hindu conservatives who accused the liberal opposition of censorship. The information, which came from the ultra-partisan website Postcard News, was found to be false and had been widely disseminated by Indian People’s Party (BJP, Hindu nationalists, in power) militants and far-right activists.

As Gauri Lankesh arrived in front of her bungalow on a quiet street away from the noisy center of India’s tech capital, she was hit by four pistol shots. She was killed instantly. Two men, whose image was captured by surveillance cameras, fled on motorcycles.

The killing of Ms Lankesh is the culmination of a long process in which the dissemination of false information and the radicalization of political activists play a central role. Forbidden Stories, the non-profit association based in France that follows the work of journalists who have been killed or silenced, spent several months investigating with around twenty partners, including Le Monde, the distributors of disinformation, within the project called “Story Killers”. And especially the mercenaries who lend their services to the highest bidder to manipulate public debate, attack dissenting voices, and discredit the media and journalists.

Read our archive (September 2017): Article reserved for our subscribers Indian journalist, critic of Hindu extremists, shot dead

A year before his death, Gauri Lankesh had been the victim of a violent online campaign that he had threatened to the point that he reluctantly decided to install a surveillance camera in his home. The two men who shot her in front of her house were quickly found by the police. They are awaiting trial in prison. But behind those who pulled the trigger are the disinformers who orchestrated these attacks, which themselves evaded prosecution.

Video manipulated on YouTube to incite hatred

Since Ms Lankesh’s death, Postcard News, the newspaper she researched, has only grown to become one of the darlings of India’s top right. During the investigation into this assassination, despite all the evidence, he waged a veritable campaign to blame left-wing extremists. The site’s owner, Mahesh Vikram Hegde, is close to the BJP leadership: he founded a communications company with a party ministerial adviser and now heads an online media empire. Mr Hegde, who was arrested in 2018 for spreading false information, had boasted to police about having “the blessing of several right-wing leaders” and one of the lawyers who defended him is the leader of the BJP’s youth wing.

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