Karnataka fact-check cell: 19 of 20 IFCN-accredited fact-checkers to stay away
Fact checking website Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha said they did not apply as they feel that the focus is on prosecution and not awareness
Nineteen of the 20 International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN)-accredited Indian fact-checkers have not applied to be empanelled for Karnataka’s Information Disorder Tackling Unit (IDTU), citing the lack of editorial independence and its focus on prosecution.
The Karnataka government a fortnight back sought proposals until Monday (5pm) to set up its three-pronged IDTU. It said being a signatory to IFCN’s code of principles will be an added advantage for the fact-check team. The requirement was at odds with IFCN’s code of principles. The signatory status cannot be granted to an organisation “whose editorial work is controlled by the state, a political party or a politician”.
Karnataka’s information technology minister Priyank Kharge earlier claimed that multiple fact-checkers have shown interest in getting empanelled when HT cited the contradiction.
The 19 of the 20 Indian fact-checkers, including Boom, Factly, TV Today Network and Lallantop, Press Trust of India, Quint, Vishwas Network, The Healthy Indian Project, Newschecker, Factchecker.in and NewsMobile, told HT that none of them intended to submit any proposals.
Fifteen of the 20 fact-checkers have renewed their IFCN accreditation. Four of them—First Check, Lallantop, Logical Indian, and Digital Forensic, Research and Analytics Center—were in the process of getting it renewed.
Alt News is the only signatory, which has not renewed its accreditation since April 2020. IFCN’s accreditation is valid for a year.
The fact-checkers reiterated their commitment to remaining non-partisan, free, fair, and independent. State interference, apart from undermining the newsroom, can also result in the loss of their IFCN accreditation.
Alt News co-founder Pratik Sinha said they did not apply as they feel that the focus is on prosecution and not awareness. “There is no attempt to reimagine how information is shared. We do not work with governments, especially when there is a renewed focus on prosecuting speech.”
Tarunima Prabhakar, the co-founder of Tattle Civic Technologies which works for “a healthier online information ecosystem”, said they fundamentally disagree with punitive action over speech. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done before we get to punitive action.”
Rahul Namboori, the co-founder of the fact-checking website Fact Crescendo, echoed Sinha and said they were not applying because it is a government-controlled unit. “How will non-partisanship work? Do we have the freedom to work on stories that we pick up editorially? There is a lot of confusion around the process. At the end of the day, we rigorously follow the IFCN’s code of principles because we are active in seven countries... Fact-checkers cannot be working for the state.”
The IDTU’s fact-checking workflow says the empanelled agency will “proactively hunt” for content that needs fact-checking. The agency will have to first get approval from the review single point of contact (SPOC)—a state government-appointed official—to begin the fact check.
The review SPOC will once again vet the fact check, whether in response to a user complaint or after “proactive hunting”, before making it public.
Prabhakar said the government could have given grants to the fact checkers and remained out of the process. “They could have built the capacity of grassroots organisations that tackle hate speech. Instead, they have taken control over the process.”
For 10 of the 15 signatories, IFCN accreditation also means that they are a part of Meta’s third-party fact-checking programme. Meta partners with certain IFCN signatories to fact-check misinformation and disinformation on its platforms—Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This partnership with Meta acts as a source of revenue for the fact-checkers.
IFCN’s code of principles says that the signatory status cannot be granted to any organisation whose editorial work is controlled by a state, a political party, or a politician. “It may however be granted to organizations that receive funding from state or political sources to carry out public service journalism if the IFCN assessor determines there is clear and unambiguous separation of editorial control from state or political influence,” says the IFCN website.
IFCN director Angie D Holan said the Karnataka government’s requirements do not meet that standard as it permits it to select fact-checks and control the publication of findings. “No IFCN signatory could agree to such a plan and still meet the code’s principles,” she said. She added if a signatory still applied, it would be subject to their process and would not be able to meet the terms for renewal of its status.
Holan said the state government did not reach out to the IFCN to the best of her knowledge.
Kharge first spoke about a fact-checking cell in June weeks after the Congress returned to power in Karnataka. There was consensus about rejecting the cell since it opened a Pandora’s Box when at least 16 organisations had a video conference with Holan on October 13.
Representatives from IFCN-accredited Logically Facts, an independent fact-checking entity under UK-based Logically that claims to use AI to fight misinformation, also attended the conference.
A spokesperson for the entity said as a verified signatory of the IFCN, Logically and Logically’s independent fact-checking subsidiary, Logically Facts does not intend to respond to the fact-checking element of IDTU’s call for proposals as it stands. “Logically will continue to engage with the Government on best practices and adhere to any guidance from the IFCN on the appropriate relationship between fact-checkers and Government entities.”