New Delhi: “We believe that ANI has acted at the behest of India’s ruling party to manipulate quotes and defame our honourable intentions.”
Those were the words of Priyadarshi Chowdhury, a retired Indian Army major representing the interests of around 400 veterans’ in a letter to Thomson Reuters this week. The letter was sent after the news agency ANI (Asian News International) falsely reported on a previous letter penned by the group of veterans.
Major Chowdhury had been the organiser of a letter sent to President Ram Nath Kovind on April 12. The letter condemned politicians using the defence forces as a means to garner votes, and was signed by over 150 veterans.
This letter came after comments on the Balakot airstrikes made by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, first minister of Uttar Pradesh. The Election Commission had urged leaders not to politicise the armed forces, and told Adityanath to “be more careful”.
Hours after the letter was sent, ANI reported that three of the senior signatories of the letter had denied supporting it. Former Army Chief of Staff Sunith Francis Rodrigues was quoted by ANI as saying “[I] don’t know what it is all about’ and allegedly denying signing the letter. Similar claims were made about former Air Force Chief N.C. Suri and Army Vice Chief Lieutenant General M.L. Naidu by the news agency.
This reporting led defence mister Nirmala Sitharaman to dismiss the letter as ‘fake’, ultimately quashing the power and importance of the veterans’ message.
The Wire uncovered that each of these three men had in fact given their support to the letter, which has now been signed by a total of 400 veterans. This evidence suggests that ANI also misrepresented the veteran’s quotes, a claim the news agency denies.
On April 16, Lieutenant General Naidu, one of the veterans named by ANI, explained, “Yesterday, I was informed by friends that I am being quoted by the visual media. Especially ANI. No one had contacted me.”
These revelations have led the veterans to appeal to Thomson Reuters, ANI’s strategic partner and wold renowned media company, about what they see as the ANI’s BJP bias. In this second letter, Major Priyadarshi Chowdhury wrote, “ANI’s conduct tantamounts to being perfidious with a view to influence the ongoing elections in India in a biased manner”, citing the groups “concern and anger over the recent conduct” of the news agency.
Major Chowdhury went on to pose a series of questions to Thomson Reuters regarding their knowledge of ANI’s political leaning, how they edited ANI content and whether the company felt ANI’s conduct was in line with Thomson Reuters’ ethical standards. “Thomson Reuters commands respect and trust the world over, and in recognition of this, we hope for a reply addressing our concerns,” the letter concluded.
Whether the global media giant will take any action regarding ANI’s conduct is yet to be seen.