Minhaj Aman

Research-Lead, Dismislab
The Journey of a False News Across South Asia
This article is more than 1 year old

Pakistan Rejecting Aid from Bangladesh

The Journey of a False News Across South Asia

Minhaj Aman

Research-Lead, Dismislab

Several mainstream media outlets of Bangladesh have published a report since September 15, claiming that Pakistan had rejected relief aid from Bangladesh. The news was found on more than a dozen news sites including Desh Rupantor, Daily Inquilab, RTV Online, News24, Dhaka Post, Banglavision, Dhaka Times, Amader Samay, Rising BD and Daily Observer. The post on RTV Online’s verified page alone got over 500 shares.

The very next day, the Bangladesh foreign affairs ministry and diplomatic sources in Islamabad confirmed to BBC Bangla that the report of Pakistan rejecting Bangladesh’s aid was “completely false and baseless”. Then, some outlets, including Channel 24, Rising BD and RTV Online, removed the news item from their website without any explanation. (Click on the names of outlets to read the news item they published. See the screenshots of these reports in the slideshow below.)

However, by then, the news had spread on various social platforms, including YouTube. Among them, a YouTube channel called Ruposhi Bangla TV had put it up getting over 200,000 views. Some videos, with the same news were posted on various other YouTube channels, getting over hundred thousand views.

As a matter of fact, the news then spread all over south Asia, and a Google search showed that the news item and follow-up reports were published on more than 100 sites in India and Pakistan (an even in Nepal). Within the next two weeks, readers engaged in discussions and criticism on Twitter and Facebook.

Incidentally, heavy rains caused severe floods in Pakistan in June which reportedly left at least 1600 people dead besides doing extensive damages. It was in this context that Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, announced relief aid to flood victims of Pakistan at a discussion on August 30. On September 1, the disaster management and relief ministry announced an allocation for that aid in a press release.

Bangladeshi news outlets published the report about Pakistan rejecting the aid. According to the reports, Bangladesh had offered humanitarian assistance worth Tk 14 million for flood victims, but Pakistan rejected the help fearing that it could undermine its image around the globe.

It transpired through factchecking how one unattributed news item published on a shady website spread across the region through the mainstream news outlets of India and Bangladesh.

Source

A review of 10 similar news stories in Bangladeshi outlets found that three Indian news organizations were named as sources: the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), Asian News International (ANI) and Business Standard. IANS is mentioned as a source in most of the newspapers in Bangladesh.

Desh Rupantor cited the Indian Business Standard, besides IANS, as a source. And the source of the Daily Observer was ANI.

Business Standard published the news directly from IANS. It was found that although the content of the news was same, ANI dateline has the report being generated from Dhaka on September 15, while IANS dateline said September 14, Islamabad, Pakistan.

Where did IANS get the news?

The IANS item published on September 14, was titled: “Pakistan rejects flood donation from Bangladesh” and this information was given at the beginning of the report citing local news media. The entire report did not cite any official or direct sources or name anyone. The conclusion of the whole report is drawn, mainly by citing local news media quoting a supposed statement of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which is quoted here verbatim:

“Pakistan Army is reportedly averse to the proposal of aid from Bangladesh as any such relief assistance may undermine Pakistan’s global image,” she said as per local media.

Among the 10 news reports reviewed in the Bangladeshi media such as Desh Rupantor, Amader Shomoy, Inquilab and Dhaka Post translated that sentence into Bengali. However, some outlets in Bangladesh omitted the sentence from the report, even though it was in their original source, IANS.

The IANS report fails to mention exactly which outlet among the local media carried Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s quote. Their report named only one source, Khaama Press, with a sentence quoted from that report, “However, it remains to be seen whether Islamabad would accept the friendly and humanitarian Bangladeshi gesture.”

The news was published on the website Khaama.com on September 14 at 8:56 am, that too with a byline of one of their correspondents. This news outlet is not from India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. It is located in Kabul, Afghanistan. Khaama news agency, in turn, quoted the Bangladesh Prime Minister citing local media, but they too did not mention which outlet in which country carried the quote about the Pakistan Army being averse to Bangladeshi aid.

To find out where this quote was first published, the exact phrase was searched on Google. Using advanced filters, it was found among the sites indexed by Google, that this phrase first appeared on a news website named “Bangladesh Live News” (www.bangladeshlivenews.com), on September 12, around 6 pm.

In other words, a news item from a website bearing the name ‘Bangladesh’ was carried by an Afghan outlet, which in turn was cited by an Indian news agency and got picked up by a dozen news outlets in Bangladesh where it got published almost exactly as reported in the Indian outlet.

Where did ANI get the news?

As mentioned earlier, Bangladeshi media reports had two main sources. Some cited IANS, and others ANI. The ANI story directly quotes “Bangladesh News Live” as its source. That means, both IANS and ANI carried a quote, which establishes the entire story, from the same source.

However, there is a significant difference between the reports of the two agencies. IANS quoted the sentence, “Pakistan Army is reportedly averse to the proposal of aid from Bangladesh as any such relief assistance may undermine Pakistan’s global image,” as a quote of the prime minister carried by local media. But in the ANI report the same sentence appeared as “reported” information. In the following paragraph, ANI refers to Pakistan’s reluctance citing Bangladesh Live News.

Subsequently, several Indian outlets including The Print, Business Standard carried the news item based on the ANI report. On September 21, ANI also published a follow-up report on the controversy triggered by the previous news item, which was, again, carried by various news outlets.

Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari, a leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf Pakistan, tweeted regarding this unattributed news item published in Bangladesh and India. And the matter also got attention of Pakistan media, followed by reports.

Main source

Upon further verification it becomes clear from Google search results and an analysis of the news reports published by the outlets, that the September 12 report on Bangladesh Live News is the main source. Both Bengali and English versions of the site posted the item at 6:06pm.

The sentence, which lends itself to the title of Pakistan’s rejection of aid; which IANS cited as the prime minister’s quote and ANI said “reportedly” – was also used by Bangladesh Live News as a reference. It was not a statement. Their Bengali version, without citing any source, reads: “Pakistan Army is reportedly averse to the proposal of aid from Bangladesh as any such relief assistance may undermine Pakistan’s global image.”

The Bangladesh News Live report presented this sentence as a highlighted text. No official sources from Pakistan or Bangladesh have been cited in support of this statement, nor was it directly attributed to anyone. This news was later carried by various media outlets including ANI. Not only that, searching the same sentence in Bengali yields Bangladesh Live News as the only source.

Although the Indian news outlets suggest that the site is Bangladeshi, the site does not list an address. The website claims to be run by Bangladeshi and Canadian journalists but does not name an editor or publisher. None of the reports has a byline of a reporter either.

Bangladesh Live News website links to a Facebook page, which was opened on January 9, 2013. Page transparency shows that its only admin lives in India. The page produces news items and pushes them through advertisements, the payment for which is made in Indian rupees.

Is the news true, is the quote authentic?

BBC Bangla tried to ascertain the truth of the news item after it was published in Bangladeshi media. A report, citing diplomatic sources in Dhaka and Islamabad, said the news of rejecting Bangladeshi aid was not correct. The report quotes a Pakistani diplomat confirming the BBC that they have yet to receive a formal proposal from Bangladesh. A foreign ministry official in Dhaka told BBC Bangla that although relief funds had been allocated, the matter of sending the proposal is still in process. Dhaka Tribune also published the same news item citing BBC Bangla.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s supposed statement, which was reported in various reports, was mentioned in reference to her announcement of providing relief to Pakistan during the discussion about the National Day of Mourning. State Minister for Information and Communication Zunaid Ahmed Palak’s YouTube page had broadcast the entire discussion live. The quote was not found on that video nearly three hours long.

What to do with such news?

ANI (www.aninews.in) and IANS (ianslive.in) are established news agencies and are regularly carried by the Indian press. However, both have also been accused of publishing fake news in the past. For example, IANS had earlier published a ‘satire’ article as news report, and several factchecking organizations, including AltNews, identified several news reports of ANI as misleading. In 2020, the European Union’s Disinfo Lab also published a detailed report alleging that ANI was linked to a “global network of fake media websites.”

So, before using any news stories or citing them, one must thoroughly verify and factcheck them, says journalist and trainer Qurratul-Ain-Tahmina. She told Dismislab, “There are some ground rules in journalism that ought to be followed — be sceptical and question, ensure that the information has been verified and there must be solid attribution. Any news item that does not have clear and specific attribution must be doubted and double checked. Besides, it must also be a point to consider why a certain news item is going viral at a certain point of time and whether there is some hidden ploy behind it. Because people who spread disinformation or misinformation know very well when people are willing to accept such news without question. If we are not careful in this regard, the news outlets in Bangladesh will suffer from a lack of confidence and it will be the people who are most affected.”