On 16 June 2017, Chinese and Indian troops locked into a standoff at Doklam also known Donglang by Chinese. It is a trijunction area with borders between Bhutan, China and India. According to Indian media reports Doklam clash started when Chinese troops encroached southwards with equipment to extend a road network which can alter status quo. However Chinese media claim that the standoff began when Indian troops illegally encroached into Chinese side of the boundary to stop a road construction project. According to Chinese side of the story, Indian troops crossed into Chinese territory trespassing clear demarcation.
However, media outlets from Indian side explained that Chinese were encroaching into Bhutan’s territory. Almost all of the mainstream Indian media coordinated their coverage on the standoff explaining the underlying issues. India was concerned of China’s attempt to change the status quo of the border with Bhutan at the trijunction which can disadvantage India from the point of border security.
While the standoff continued at the border and Bhutan maintained low profile out of media attention. The Week an Indian magazine was busy selling fake news alleging that Bhutan is getting closer to China. Rabi Benerjee was The Weeks writer who continuously during the Doklam standoff crisis has been trying to tell its readers that Bhutan may be shifting its diplomatic ties moving towards China. His article online dated 21 August 2017 quoted a Bhutanese politician as having said that Bhutan government is even considering forming ties with China. He also quoted a political commentator as having said that giving away Doklam to China will be in the interest of Bhutan. The cover of the same issue of the magazine was designed with Bhutan’s national animal Takin being licked by Penda with the title “A New Love Story.”
This was Investigated by The Bhutanese a national English newspaper a leading investigative newspaper. It was found that The Week’s reporter Rabi Benerjee and his companion’s entrance to the minister’s enclave was treated as a breach of security because the reporter and his associate has barged into the national assembly speaker’s residence unannounced and without appointment.
The speaker was found to have commented by saying that diplomatic issues are handled by Foreign Ministry but the reporter has falsely cooked up the quotation remarking that speaker told him the government is even considering forming ties with China in his article titled “Bhutan faces tough task of choosing between India and China.”
The magazine also alleged that China is building huge physical infrastructure in Bhutan at the request of the people of Bhutan. This kind of fake news and disinformation has been promoted by The Week. This was again tweeted by The Bhutanese’s editor Tenzin Lamsang alerting it as fake inaccurate propagation.
The same reporter has written two other articles in the magazine with lots of inaccuracy and disinformation alleging the Bhutan is drifting towards Chinese favour. An article titled ‘We will Reach out to others,’ and ‘Dangerous liaison,’ is the other two articles Benerjee has wrote in the same Magazine. He comments that while Doklam crisis continues to linger, Bhutan seems to be drifting away from India.
|Prime actors:The Week Magazine |
Secondary Actors:The Weeks reporter Rabi Benerjee
|Transparency: The actor propagates insecurity and doubt among the Indian population following the Doklam crisis closely. |
Intent: The behaviour suggests aspersive intent.
Dependency: Facebook of The Week,
|It uses catchy headlines on the facebook such as “Bhutan’s silence over the Doklam issue perceived as blow to India.” While its report focuses mostly on alleging shift in Bhutan’s diplomacy favouring or to favour China.|
Harm: The content propagates divide and instigates fear and doubt among its audiences.
Synthetic: The content had cooked up, fake and inaccurate information using excuse of having met with officials he cited.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation and fake news narrative.
|Target audience:Indian population|
Platforms:Print Magazine and Facebook
|National Security:It propagates adverse perception of Bhutan among the Indian population potentially inviting thread to Bhutan’s security from outside.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
Rabi Benerjee the reporter of The Week has used his illegal trespassing into the minister’s enclave in Bhutan and the hospitality of the ministers he saw to cook up the story and to legitimize the false story.
His use of “Bhutan’s silence over Doklam issue is being perceived as blow to India,” indicates that most of articles were trying to build up his own perception while Bhutan wasn’t vocal outside its diplomacy in the media forums.
It was proven that the reporter has cooked up most of the quotes he made while he hasn’t got the answer he wants to hear. The articles all published online on August 27, 2017, were found to be baseless, inaccurate and fake. Besides local critics who found many holes in the story.
Many Indian journalists has criticized the story. Business Standard columnist Ajai Shukla has told the Bhutanese the articles were a most un-nuanced and one-sided reading of India Bhutan relations at a time when both countries are behaving with tact and sophistication, While the articles has alleged that Bhutan is cozying up to China, the Bhutanese has found out that Bhutan never had any plan for diplomatic ties with China while keeping low profile hoping for a peaceful resolution. Bhutan commented only with a welcome note later when the standoff ended.
The content was developed to propagate insecurity and doubt over Bhutan’s diplomacy among the general Indian population during the Doklam standoff crisis. Going by how the reporter trespassed and breached security protocols to get into the residential area of the ministers. The headlines and the quotes he cooked up was deliberately falsified to instigate doubt on Bhutanese diplomacy to encourage questioning of Bhutan’s commitment to India as its closest friend and an alley.
The reporter has gone to the extent of breaching the security protocol to get in touch with ministers to legitimize his cooked-up quotes and narratives while designing a very provocative cover design for the issue of The Week magazine that carried these stories.
The Doklam issues is a lingering security thread to Bhutan and the propagation of disinformation among the general public of an alley country will be a grave danger for Bhutan if the disinformation campaign ran by The Week and its reporter is taken seriously by its readers who would be the grassroot population of India. Luckily most of the Indian readers dismissed it as a fake and misleading story. One of the Indian commentators to The Bhutanese’s story said, “Dear Bhutanese brothers and sister, please don’t read Indian media and they are all corrupt.” Ultimately, the story proved that most of the Indian Media could not be trusted and relied on for information.
The Case has been identified as Influence Operation this is because several story the reporter and magazine published was purely developed with fabricated narrative and quotations building a verifiably false content with fake information aimed at propagating doubt and questions over Bhutanese diplomacy during the Doklam crisis to influence public perception among the Indian population over Bhutanese diplomacy and friendship.
As India and China became the headlines in the Doklam standoff crisis, Bhutan took a behind the scene role in the entire period of the standoff. It opened an opportunity for India to use the situation to generate questions on Bhutan’s commitment of friendship and trust of an alley to India.
The stories of The Week and its reporter tries to generate provocation through fake news and disinformation to invite discussion from both Bhutanese and Indian audiences which could offer a clue of the general perception of Indo-Bhutan relations at grassroots level and the perception of China as an option.
The Doklam crisis however ended without changes in the status quo and in peace with Bhutan playing a silent but a critical role in the resolve while The Week and its reporter’s publication did not make much adverse impact notably because the Indo-Bhutan friendship is well understood at the grassroot level of the populations of the two countries.