Truth, facts, norms are mere collateral damage as a section of TV news channels go to war on ‘nationalism’
Pankaj Srivastava | March 18, 2016
On the afternoon of February 25, outside the Allahabad district court, a mob of more than 200 people including men wearing black robes of the lawyer’s uniform attacked a peaceful dharna by the leftist organisations to demand the release of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar. They had rods in their hands and were shouting slogans such as “Vande Mataram”, “Go back to Pakistan” and “traitors”. Several protestors including two women sustained injuries. During this crowd frenzy, KK Pandey, the editor of Samkaleen Janmat, a Hindi monthly magazine, was asked to shout ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’ at gun point, which he bravely refused. “There is nothing objectionable in praising Mother India but nobody can force me to do it,” said Pandey who was injured.
This was one of the many outcomes of ‘tele-jingoism’ that India has been suffering from of late. Incessant telecast of the dubious video clippings of the February 9 event at JNU with alleged anti-India sloganeering has affected many gullible minds. As a result, fanatics were ready to attack anyone who dared to talk anything contrary to what they believe in; for example, anything in support of the JNUSU leader or liberal values. One of the prominent TV journalists who dared to do so has received threats on phone, forcing a court to take note. The scene described above is not limited to Allahabad. The Patiala house court in Delhi witnessed worse earlier, when Kanhaiya was brought there for a bail plea hearing and JNU teachers and mediapersons were beaten up and sexually molested – all in the name of nationalism.
Some of the TV news channels have taken up cudgels in the name of nationalism. They have proudly claimed that it is their ‘duty’ to eliminate ‘traitors’. But they are in trouble now, as the forensic report commissioned by the Delhi government has found that three of the seven videos examined were doctored, and the anti-national slogans were mixed up with visuals of JNU students’ demonstrations. The Delhi government has ordered legal action against three TV news channels for allegedly airing doctored footage.
This ‘tele-jingoism’ is a sure-shot way to gain high TRPs apart from political patronage. But veterans are worried. Qamar Waheed Naqvi, a veteran journalist and former news director of Aaj Tak, says, “The behaviour of a section of so-called national media in the coverage of the JNU episode was amazingly shocking. How can they claim to be part of the national media of the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy? Does a democratic media ever lose its balance and sense of articulation like this? The JNU coverage can be described as the best example of not doing objective reporting; but doing it with an objective, with the help of fake videos and unverified and unsubstantiated ‘facts’. How can a mature media do this? Have journalists forgotten all the lessons they learnt in their journalism schools – to be fair to all sides; to be objective; to be neutral; to be unbiased; to give enough opportunity to one side to defend itself against allegations; to check and cross-check all facts of the story before publishing or putting it on air and finally not to be judgmental? Students of journalism will wonder if this reporting has followed basic and fundamental tenets of journalism.”
Om Thanvi, former editor of the Hindi daily Jansatta, has no doubt about the political design behind such coverage. “The case of sedition was fabricated by government agencies. The government should have verified the facts first, but home minister Rajnath Singh treated the news aired by a channel as gospel truth though this channel’s editor was once arrested for extortion and blackmail.”
The bias did not end with the doctoring of videos. “Kanhaiya’s bail order should have been discussed widely as it has raised some serious questions about the judiciary itself, but a large section of media either ignored it or discussed it in a way that presumed Kanhaiya guilty of sedition. Most of them have ignored the fact that there is no term like ‘anti-national’ in law. The sedition charge is for an act against the state, not against the nation. A section of media is trying hard to turn democracy into mobocracy and the situation is alarming,” Thanvi adds.
No doubt, there is a motive behind this emotive coverage. Naqvi recalls, “The highly charged emotive coverage in the name of ‘defending nationalism’ has once again exposed vulnerabilities of the Indian media, a bit of which we had witnessed long back during the troubled years of Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Advani’s Rath Yatra and the Kar Seva in the 1980s-90s when a large section of Hindi and regional media found itself overwhelmingly dipped in ‘faith’.
I wonder what will happen to our national media if such an intense emotive issue comes up again in future,” he says.
Urmilesh, a senior journalist who anchors a Rajya Sabha TV show called ‘Media Manthan’, says, “The attack on JNU is a result of a planned political conspiracy and a section of media has become part of it. They have crossed all the limits of media ethics to fulfil the agenda of a particular politics which hates ‘left-influenced JNU’ and its culture of dissent and debate. It is an extreme example of embedded journalism to air doctored videos to prove a false propaganda right. It is good that another section of media has exposed their conspiracy. A senior producer has even resigned and exposed the shameful act of a TV channel.”
The JNU coverage once again raises the issue of media regulation. The notion of ‘self-regulation’ is nothing but a joke, according to media critics. “In the current situation, media is not only media but part of a larger design. We have to understand the ownership pattern and the power of this medium to ‘manufacture consent’. The ruling class is not ready to give up its control over media. Course correction is possible only when society itself reacts sharply and demands free and fair journalism. An alternative media could emerge only from a powerful mass movement,” believes Urmilesh.
When it comes to media regulation, a recent development in Pakistan is telling. Right when a section of Indian media was going jingoistic, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) recommended issuing an advice to all satellite TV licences to strictly refrain from calling a person anti-Pakistani, traitor, anti-Islam, kafir or enemy of Pakistan and from using racial and religious discriminatory words against any citizen.
The article appears in the March 16-31, 2016 issue
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