The little-known organisation that allegedly sponsored the Kashmir visit of the unofficial European Union delegation last month is linked to an international fake news network managed by an “Indian influence network”, EU-based non-governmental organisation EU DisinfoLab claimed on Wednesday. The network has more than 265 fake news websites in over 65 countries and works to serve New Delhi’s interests, the organisation’s investigation showed.
The websites are allegedly run with an aim to influence international institutions and elected representatives to turn public perception against Pakistan. Most are named after defunct local newspapers or spoof real media outlets and they republish content from other news agencies, EU DisinfoLab said.
The NGO began to reveal its findings last month when it said that EP Today, a website that claims to target European parliamentarians, used to reproduce a large number of its articles directly from Russia Today and Voice of America. Amidst the syndicated content, the NGO “unexpectedly found a large number of articles and op-eds related to minorities in Pakistan as well as other India-related matters”.
The disinformation watchdog then found that EP Today was managed by Indian stakeholders with links to a large network of think tanks, NGOs, and companies from the Srivastava Group. The group is a New Delhi-based organisation that lists New Delhi Times as one of its assets, and also runs a think tank called International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies.
The International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies is the organisation that allegedly paid for the travel and accommodation for an unofficial delegation of 23 European Union parliamentarians who visited Srinagar on October 30. The group of politicians, mostly from far-right nationalist parties, was the first international team to visit the region since the government revoked the special status of the erstwhile state. Questions were then raised about the organiser of the event. The trip had been arranged by Madi Sharma, who describes herself as an “international business broker”.
Last week, the EU DisinfoLab found that Times of Geneva, an online newspaper that claims to be “approaching 35 years in business”, has similar content as EP Today and produces videos covering events and demonstrations criticising Pakistan’s role in the Kashmir conflict. The newspaper was part of the same network that includes Srivastava Group.
“Specifically, the websites of these NGOs and think tanks are hosted on the same servers and/or staff have worked for one of these previous organisations while publishing articles for EP Today,” the study said. “We also proved that the two influence networks [in Brussels and Geneva] were interconnected by discovering links between website registration addresses, email addresses, and domain names.”
The non-profit group added that EP Today and Times of Geneva also led them to a fake news agency called “4newsagency.com”. The website described itself as “an independent not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in Switzerland”. It found that the agency’s tweets and YouTube videos were largely concerned about covering events and demonstrations highlighting the plight of minorities in Pakistan.
By looking more into the servers that hosted EP Today and Srivastava group, the watchdog found that an additional network of over 265 such media houses in more than 65 countries.
A week after EU DisinfoLab first published its findings, EP Today apologised for carrying Russia Today’s content and said it would not do so any more.