Of recently as Bhutanese government announced the change in the tourism royalty which goes into sustainable development fund of the government increased from USD 65 to 200. It invoked reflection and discussion among many both local and international observers.
The announcement has caught a special attention of an Indian News page, The New Indian Express. The new proposes very different angle of interpretation. As can be read from the heading of the news articles, the reporter begins the article with asking a question: “Is Bhutan politely saying ‘Indians aren’t welcome?” It aligns the rest of the general information of news to this question and uses Indian Travel Sector as the one who read it differently. It makes a quote; “Bhutan is politely saying ‘Indians are not welcome.”
And the articles quote an unnamed expert as having said: “India shares strong diplomatic, political and trade ties with Bhutan, so this levy is not going down well with us. The best way to counter it is by levying a reciprocal fee for Bhutanese nationals who travel to India.”
This article was shared on its Facebook handle on 26th July at 11:14. This post has generated some 217 shares and 1k comments. The disinformation campaign seems to have worked reversely with many Indian commentors commenting on favour of Bhutan’s tourism policy. One commentor, Ramesh Nambiar has said: “Call me elitist or whatever but please leave some places in the world from hordes of ‘our laud desis.’ Many has commented in favour of the policy and hike in the sustainable fee. One called Madhavi Koya remarked: “This is good news, they need money and look at the amount is so meagre stop spreading fake news.” Indeed, the fee Indian visitors would not be pay sustainable fee of 200 USD but around Rs.1600.
But there are few who are aligning the perception as proposed by the articles. A commentor named Misha Sharma comments: “By applying same fee to them, we can reciprocate.” Another known as Ashwin Kulkarni has said “Let’s stop protecting them, let them go to China, we will save lot of money by avoiding investing in their projects for free.”
With much of the comments in favour of the policy and with many comments derating fellow Indians for their undisciplined behaviours. Another brief with a video clip instead of the link to the articles was shared on the same day at 14:49 with a much neutral and in a positive tone which did not attract any likes or comments.
|Prime actors:Yeshi Seli a reporter of Express News Service|
Secondary Actors:The New Indian Express, an online news page.
|Transparency: As a news report piece, it does use the facts of change in the sustainable development fee by clearly proposing Indian being target by the policy when it is not.|
Intent: Misleading and disinformation.
Dependency: News page and Facebook
|The article proposes that Bhutan’s tourism policy targets Indian tourists from visiting Bhutan.|
Harm: It has the capability of provoking opposition from the masses of Indians if the story was understood as true.
Synthetic: The content was misleading with perspective being put into a form of news.
Narrative(s): The content is aligned with the disinformation and fake news narrative.
|Target audience:General Indian population|
Platforms:News page and Facebook
|Socioeconomic:It misinforms the general Indian population about the socioeconomics policy in Bhutan pitching the idea of the alienation of Indian tourists.|
ABCDE Framework Analysis:
It is clear that the open actor is a reporter named Yeshi Seli and the publisher The New Indian Express. What we do not know is the possibility of any other forces or those who might have sold the idea of this story to the reporter or the news page.
Behaviour: The actor is writing an opinion and perspective in the form of a news report.
The content is clearly a perceptional opinion in form of news. It reports the news of the changes in sustainable development fee for tourist visiting Bhutan with an approach of a personal opinion telling its readers that Bhutan may be trying to disallow Indian tourists.
The actor has gone to the degree of quoting an unnamed travel expert suggesting a reciprocal response from India to the change. The actor is manipulative of the news with its own opinion and idea of the change in Bhutanese tourism fee. While USD 200 is about third country tourists, the story appears to tell that it is same for Indian tourists when it is not. It also uses a fake quote without a name of the so-called expert. It also distorts the rise in the air fares as part of the game while the truth is every traveller including Bhutanese will be paying any increase in airfare by the airlines.
The story has a high potential of invoking protest from Indian masses or potential to compromise security of Bhutanese traveling through or living in India.
The Case has been identified as a case of Disinformation campaign. It reverses the actual information of the change in the fee targeted at high end tourists.
While the story has the high potentially compromise general trust and public safety it enjoys as neighbours. The impact it has made was found to be positive. As the disinformation initiative was quite obvious, the readers has rather understood the actual story as the comments projected that the readers were able to identify it as fake and misleading.