The one-sided coverage of Indian journo Zubair that raise questions
Several reports on Indian journalist and Alt News co-founder Mohammad Zubair's arrest have raised more questions than they have answered. They lack balance and cross-checking and appear to be heavily reliant on what police said.
Zubair was arrested on June 27, 2022, over a 2018 tweet involving a Hindi movie.
The most striking of these reports appeared on India Today on June 28, according to a Newslaundry report.
The headline is as follows: "Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair received more than 50 lakhs in last 3 months: Sources". The article says this information is from "police sources", who claim that "Zubair had also received a lot of donations," the report said.
There were no additional detail on the claims. Who sent him Rs 50 lakh and why? Were the funds associated with Alt News? Has the money been used? What connection did these transactions have to the tweet and how did the police discover them?
The India Today report was revised a few hours later. From Rs 50 lakh in the "last 3 months", the headline changed the period to "last few days". The news outlet did not carry any correction or explanation for this important update. The unnamed sources were removed, and the deputy commissioner KPS Malhotra reiterated the claim in the revised copy.
Neither Zubair's attorney nor any of his colleagues were contacted by India Today. Alt News chief Pratik Sinha's tweet on the arrest was carried but not his reply to the Rs 50 lakh claim. He posted a screenshot of the India Today article on Twitter along with the words "absolutely lies" to describe the police claim. "All the money that Alt News receives goes to the organisation's bank and not any individuals," he wrote. "The bank statement of Zubair's personal account of which I have a copy debunks this falsehood."
In contrast, the Indian Express published the story along with commentary from Kawalpreet Kaur, Zubair's attorney, and Pratik Sinha.
Republic, meanwhile, had access to the police's remand copy while India Today broke its source-based stories. The channel claimed that Zubair was asked to participate in the investigation but refused, according to the copy. Upon learning that "Zubair's lawyers haven't been provided the copy despite multiple requests to the concerned police personnel," Sinha questioned on Twitter how the channel got hold of the note.
However, allegations of non-cooperation soon spread to other places. The sources had shifted to Times Now by evening. Zubair apparently "refused to hand over the electronic gadgets that he used to post the offensive tweet back in 2018," the channel reported, adding that "Alt News co-founder Mohamed Zubair refused to cooperate with the authorities in the investigation."
What kind of gadgets are involved? How many? Why did Zubair "refuse" to hand over the gadgets? These details were again lacking. They are crucial because, according to the Delhi police, he was detained because he refused to cooperate.