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British Herald, Who? How Indian Media Fell For An Unknown Website’s Poll Praising PM Modi

British Herald, Who? How Indian Media Fell For An Unknown Website’s Poll Praising PM Modi

After talking to British Herald officials, BOOM found that the poll has several discrepancies and ambiguities that were ignored by the Indian media during its coverage.

Image shows cover photo of British Herald with Modi in cover page

Last week, Twitter was abuzz with a poll conducted by an unknown magazine called British Herald which named Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the most powerful person in the world.

BOOM decided to look into the magazine and the poll they conducted, to ascertain its reliability and relevance. BOOM also spoke to Ansif Ashraf, Executive Director of British Herald to get some insights into their poll.

On May 23, 2019, as the 2019 general elections came to an end with a massive victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi, British Herald put out a congratulatory tweet with an image of Modi on a magazine cover. The tagline on the cover read- ‘ Narendra Modi- World’s Most Powerful Person’.

The tweet itself garnered around 29 retweets and 60 likes at the time of writing this article – barely making any noise. At that time, not much was known about British Herald and the now-famous poll.

Fast-forward to June 17, 2019, British Herald posts another tweet with an article written on their website by someone called Harsh Singh, where an explanation was given as to how a reader’s poll conducted by them resulted in Narendra Modi winning the title of ‘World’s Most Powerful Person 2019’.

According to the article, British Herald readers had a choice between four names – Donald Trump, Xi Jingping, Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. Finally it was Modi who emerged victorious as the readers’ choice.

However, British Herald failed to mention any details of their readership nor did they provide a sample size and methodology of the poll.

Regardless of the missing pieces of the puzzle that would substantiate the relevance and credibility of the poll, several Indian news publications and channels along with several political leaders took to Twitter to celebrate Modi’s victory in a global poll of world leaders.

However, when we investigated the website closely, we found that the details surrounding the poll are marred with discrepancies and ambiguities.

British Herald, Who?

According to conversations BOOM had with British Herald officials, the publication started off in the 1860s as a newspaper, and had its name changed to Bible Herald in the late 19th century.

The name British Herald was eventually revived in April 2018 by a businessman from Kerala named Ansif Ashraf.

Ashraf, who was already the editor-in-chief of a bi-monthly magazine called Cochin Herald in India, bought Herald Media Network Limited, which owned the rights for the ‘British Herald’ brand.

The eMagazine was started in March 2019, and has two of its issues released till date, featuring Vladimir Putin and Jacinda Ardern on their covers, respectively. The issue featuring Modi on its cover will see its release on July 15, 2019.

Image shows British Herald magazine covers featuring Putin, Arden and Modi.
British Herald magazine covers featuring Putin, Ardern and Modi.

Given that the magazine is still at its early stages, the question arises as to how popular it is.

BOOM looked into its social media channels to ascertain its popularity and found that it still had a long way to go, at least in terms of its social media presence.

It’s Twitter page, created in October 2018, has a meagre 4,155 followers at the time of writing this article, while their Facebook page had around 57,883 followers.

Image shows Screenshot of British Herald's Twitter page.
Screenshot of British Herald’s Twitter page.
Image shows Screenshot of British Herald's Facebook page.
Screenshot of British Herald’s Facebook page.

Ashraf explained to BOOM that they were not able to acquire the Twitter handle ‘@britishherald’, as it was already in use, and is in the process of acquiring it through legal means.

Amazon Alexa gives the website a ranking of 26,500, which grew from 91,342 in the last three months, while SimilarWeb gives it a global rank of more than 2 million, suggesting that the website is far behind its contemporaries.

Alexa traffic metrics for British Herald.
Alexa traffic metrics for British Herald.

This shows that British Herald is still at its nascent stage and is yet to experience widespread popularity, in the UK or elsewhere.

That did not stop Zee News, DNA and News18 from describing British Herald as ‘a leading British magazine’, while highlighting the results of the poll which named Modi as the world’s most powerful leader.

This was contradicted directly by Ansif Ashraf, the Execute Director of British Herald, who told BOOM, “We have not claimed ourselves as The Leading Magazine anywhere.”

BOOM also got in touch with a British Herald spokesperson, to enquire about the number of staff working there.

According to the spokesperson, “there were quite a few people working at British Herald”, but she was unable to give an exact figure as she was unsure of whether she could divulge that information.

However, when BOOM looked through the stories on the website and the previous issues of the magazine, we observed that almost all of the stories were syndicated from Reuters, with the exception of the cover stories on the eMagazines.

If British Herald has “quite a few people working for them”, they are definitely not writing stories.

What About The “Reader’s” Poll?

According to British Herald, more than 25 leaders were featured in their nomination list, out of which only four names were chosen by a judging panel of experts – Putin, Xi, Trump and Modi.

The article on their website stated that Modi’s victory was a result of 31% of the votes by readers going in his favour, while the other four contenders trailed behind closely.

Image shows Vote share for the four contestants.
Vote share for the four contestants.

The website failed to mention the sample size and demographics of voters – factors that are crucial in determining the relevance of any such poll.

However, the website did mention that during the first week of June, while the voting was underway, the voting page had crossed 2.5 million hits. Since the article did not provide any other figure on the sample size or readership, it can ascertained that it was during this time that the highest number of voters came to the website, as per their own article.

Image shows Insights of hits on the British Herald website during first week of June.
Insights of hits on the British Herald website during first week of June.

Interestingly, while voting was well underway in the first week of June, generating millions of hits, British Herald had already decided the winner on May 23, 2019, long before the voting ended, as it had already published the magazine cover with Modi and a tagline that said “World’s Most Powerful Person”.

Ashraf explained to BOOM that the voting began way back in November 2018, but it was only in the first week of June that the website crashed due to high traffic which led them to publish the figures for that week.

BOOM asked Ashraf how they had already decided Modi’s victory before the ‘reader’s’ poll ended, to which he replied, “Even by May, Modi was already in the lead, so he was a clear winner”.

In the absence of a sample size of voters, BOOM enquired about the average number of readers every month, to which Ashraf failed to give a specific response, and gave a vague indication of how many people may have had access to the eMagazine instead.

Ashraf claimed that 2461 copies were sold through digital publishing platform Issuu, while PDF versions were distributed via emails to 4,15,600 email addresses via a third party company. He was unable to provide the sales figures on Amazon Kindle and Magster.

“The magazine is has been recently launched in March 2019, so we focus on free distribution more. It is part of our marketing plan for visibility,” said Ashraf.

BOOM was still nowhere close to understanding the sample size of readers who voted for the poll. While on one hand, the only sales figures given to us were 2461 copies sold through Issuu, the website claims that the number of hits on the voting page was well above 2 million in the first week of June.

Who voted for the poll then?

Despite multiple conversations with Ashraf and a British Herald spokesperson, BOOM was unable to ascertain the sample size of voters and any approximation on the number of issues that have been sold as opposed to free distribution.

Upon being requested for these figures, Ashraf finally explained, “Please be noted that the verdict is not solely based on votes, but also based on the evaluation of the selection process and extensive study and research of all these figures.”

“British Herald looked at how powerful a leader is based on democratic popularity with an online survey. India being the most populous democracy in the world already gives its leader an advantage. He has the most votes by human beings in a legitimate transparent and internationally acceptable voting system. No other world leader has had so many votes,” he added.

(BOOM is now available across social media platforms. For quality fact check stories, subscribe to our Telegram and WhatsApp channels. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.)

Archis is a fact-checker and reporter at BOOM. He has previously worked as a journalist for broadsheet newspapers and in communications for a social start-up incubator. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris and a Master's in Media and Political Communication from the University of Amsterdam.

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