The formation of a self-proclaimed media watchdog group, ‘India Against Biased Media’, has raised eyebrows in the media fraternity over the last few days. Their role—rather aim—is not to simply monitor the media for ‘biased and fake news’ and their spectrum of news extends beyond the conventional means of television and print news, thereby entering the tricky boundaries of social media as well.
Formed by retired aeronautical engineer Vipul Saxena from Mumbai and Delhi-based lawyer Vibhor Anand on August 15, IABM has been systematically filing legal complaints against the likes of actor Swara Bhaskar and Youtuber Dhruv Rathee for their political views, as well as against other journalists for their tweets in the aftermath of an attack on JNU student Umar Khalid.
In an interview with Newslaundry, founder Vibhor Anand describes their organisation as a reactionary measure to the supposed multitudes of fake news doing the rounds. “IABM stands for the anger of the people at large,” says Anand. “There exists a selective brand of people at the top, who are actually masters of the fake news business right now.” But who are these news outlets and what exactly is fake news, according to IABM? Is there a systematic vetting process that stories undergo for the group to reach the conclusion that a piece of news is ‘biased,’ ‘fake,’ or ‘misrepresented?’ Moreover, won’t putting such legal pressure on media houses inadvertently deter them from doing their job of reporting the news, forcing them to focus more on their legal battles? Anand has an answer—which he calls a solution—to it all.
“The media is actually a self-proclaimed fourth pillar of democracy without any accountability. If media houses say they are the fourth pillar, then, in that case, IABM is a self-proclaimed watchdog—a vigilante organisation. We are going to counter the media in their own den, based on evidence, and challenge them based on the law, in courts. Let the courts decide whose opinion is better. The Indian judiciary is not so immature that they will simply believe whatever we are suggesting, without any proof or substantial claims. It would tell us if we are incorrect in lodging our complaints. Then why is the media scared of us? Does being a free media mean you want to be free from all forms of accountability?”
Anand claims to not watch primetime shows on prominent news channels, with his primary source of news information coming from the set of people he follows Twitter. Yet, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which ones are considered ‘good’ or ‘unbiased’ according to him/IABM. “Take the recent manner in which the media reported the Umar Khalid case a couple days back,” he says. “Within 15 minutes of it happening, everyone reported that Khalid had been attacked, but did so without quoting any statement from official authorities. What they should have reported was that a firing incident had taken place near Constitution Club where Khalid happened to be present at the time. Everyone blamed Times Now and Republic for the firing. Why? Kya Arnab ne TV pe chillaya tha ki isko goli maar do? [Did Arnab shout on TV and say shoot at Khalid?”]
He goes on: “In the Kathua case, the biggest flaw of the media was that they failed to acknowledge that one of the accused—whom the charge sheet said was involved in the rape at the time—was actually giving an exam somewhere else when the incident occurred. Only Zee News ran the story.”
IABM seems more focused on creating a chilling effect rather than push for accountability. “If we catch organisations/publications/people lying, we will take them to court where they will be answerable. Fear is a very potent weapon if used wisely and fear of the law must be there in every organisation. If media houses are fearing the fear of the law, then I am very happy. This is the fear I want to instil in media houses—that you are not above the fucking law.”
When asked who he thought was the most irresponsible journalist, or which was the most irresponsible publication/channel, Anand said: “There are a lot of people I want to name right now but won’t—abhi toh sabko court mein ghaseetke leke jaana hai [we now have to drag everyone to court] (laughs). Being irresponsible is one thing and to show that you are irresponsible all the time, is a habit.”
Currently, IABM has filed 27 cases against actor Swara Bhaskar, 34 cases against Youtuber Dhruv Rathee, and 17 cases against journalists who were supporting Umar Khalid in the recent firing that occurred at Constitution Club.
Shortly, IABM plans to have a full-fledged national team comprising primarily lawyers, as well as activists and other top MNC executives. “The national team will be scrutinising each and everything based on inputs received from IABM’s state teams.”
Meanwhile, IABM’s Twitter account was suspended/locked late Friday night by the social media giant owing to a “technical error.” On Monday, one of the group’s founder’s, Vibhor Anand (29), who is a Delhi-based lawyer, tweeted saying that the group is planning to take Twitter to court for terminating accounts without giving them prior show cause notice.
“They suspended the IABM Twitter account on the night of August 17—it hasn’t been re-activated yet,” said Anand on Monday, adding that it was now what is technically a ‘locked’ account. “It was a technical error on our part, but at least they should have given us a chance to rectify our mistake.” According to him, the ‘Date of Birth’ entered while creating the Twitter account for IABM was August 15, 2018, thereby making the account user only a couple of days old. “We wrote August 15 as the D.O.B since we were referring to the birth date of the organisation.”
“We are going to lodge a collective Public Interest Litigation (PIL) across various High Courts to show that certain people are being harassed by Twitter’s legal policies. Anyone who is critical of the opposition or the government, their account is suspended. These people might be left-wingers or right-wingers, but if you have to suspend their accounts, then at least give a show cause notice. There is a lot of valuable data and contact information stored on these accounts.”
“We have reached out to Twitter but they haven’t responded to us yet—this shows their arrogance,” said Anand.