India ruling party official to sue critical news website

Oct 27, 2022, 10:32 PM | Updated: Oct 28, 2022, 1:09 am

NEW DELHI (AP) — An official from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said he would file civil and criminal charges against an independent local news website after it reported in a now-retracted story that Meta, the U.S.-based social media giant, granted him extraordinary powers to censor Instagram posts.

Amit Malviya, who is the IT head of the BJP, said Thursday he will sue the news website The Wire for publishing “forged documents with a view to malign and tarnish my reputation.”

Malviya’s planned legal action comes after The Wire, known for its critical reporting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, wrote a series of sensational stories this month that claimed Malviya had been granted special powers by Meta to take down posts on Instagram without any input from the company’s content moderators.

To back this up, The Wire published screenshots of internal reports and emails it said it had accessed from sources within Meta. But former Meta employees and whistleblowers, tech experts in India and Silicon Valley, and Meta itself said the claims were untrue and questioned the authenticity of the evidence.

“We accept scrutiny of our content decisions, but we fundamentally reject these false allegations based on what we believe to be fabricated evidence. We hope that The Wire is the victim of this hoax, not the perpetrator,” Meta said in a statement.

Nonetheless, The Wire doubled down and followed up with more stories claiming the internal emails it had accessed were true, even though independent technical experts continued to cast doubts on its findings and said the documents it made public appeared to be forged.

Amid mounting criticism, The Wire last week retracted its articles and opened an internal review of its reporting and editorial processes. The news website said it had found inconsistencies in its stories but stopped short of saying they were fabricated.

On Thursday, however, the publication posted a public apology on its website and said that one unnamed member of its staff had deceived the organization and that it lacked the expertise to vet technical stories.

“To have rushed to publish a story we believed was reliable without having the associated technical evidence vetted independently is a failure of which we cannot permit repetition,” The Wire said in a statement.

The news website also said it would conduct a thorough review of previous reporting done by “the technical team involved in our Meta coverage” and remove the stories from public view until that process is complete.

The Wire’s stories had fueled growing concerns in India about digital privacy and the government’s efforts to tightly control the internet, and at least one opposition party had said it would discuss the issue in Parliament.

Meanwhile, media watchdog The Editors Guild of India on Friday said it was “disturbed” by the events and urged Indian newsrooms to “resist the temptation of moving fast on sensitive stories.”

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India ruling party official to sue critical news website