Senior Indian journalists voice concerns over toxicity in newsrooms
Prime time television in India has become a platform to peddle hatred against Muslims, the largest minority group at 14 per cent of the country’s population, senior journalists and commentators have told Gulf News.
The Muslims are openly targeted and ridiculed on live television debates and in reporting. Senior Indian journalists Gulf News spoke to for this article admitted that a large section of mainstream media is pursuing an agenda to vilify Muslims and projecting the entire community as backward and disloyal to India, they said.
On live television, they are openly called “anti-national” and these sustained, daily attacks on Muslims are causing fissures in the society.
Moreover, this hatred has acquired primetime legitimacy due to the massive reach of these channels.
“Yes, I do believe that sections of the media in India have contributed greatly to growing intolerance in our country. These sections have sought to portray a seventh of India’s population — comprising Muslims and other minorities – as second class citizens, which is in keeping with the ideology of many in the ruling regime,” Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, independent journalist, author and publisher told Gulf News.
“This is a form of Islamophobia that has been spread. In particular, I would like to name a few television anchors who have contributed to the recent toxicity in Indian society, and they include Anjana Om Kashyap of Aaj Tak, Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News, Amish Devgun of Network 18 Hindi and Gaurav Sawant of India Today TV,” Thakurta added.
To be fair, hate-filled news programmes are not limited to a few channels or some anchors mentioned by Thakurta. Hundreds of news channels follow the same format.
“Night after night, TV debates focus not on holding the government to account but communal rifts – real or perceived – between Hindus and Muslims,” independent website Scroll said in a media commentary recently.
This kind of programming is cleverly built around news events and saw a spike last week when the Supreme Court concluded arguments in Ayodhya dispute between Hindus and Muslims, the Scroll said.
“Leading the majoritarian charge on television on Wednesday night was Aaj Tak, owned by the Indian Today group. If his birthplace and Ram is ours, where did these masjidwalahs come from?” the channel bluntly asked. “The use of the possessive pronoun made it clear that Aaj Tak considered this broadcast only for one community,” the Scroll article added.
Protecting Hindu interests
“Mainstream media is murdering Indian democracy. This is not done by one or two but by several hundred news channels,” Ravish Kumar Managing Editor, NDTV India told Gulf News.
“These channels pretend to talk about protecting interests of Hindus by raising the bogey of Ram temple, just look at their language. They are spreading poison in the society and poisoning people’s thought process. They are working on a plan to spread hatred against Muslims and to make Hindus insecure,” said Kumar.
“Indian media was never so communal and I am worried that media is turning Hindu youth into a mob. Youngsters who want jobs, good education, want to become doctors are being turned into rioters to support a particular political party. Today’s media has become Hindu media and they don’t follow ideals of journalism. I say to Hindus to stop watching news channels to avoid becoming what these channels want them to. Indian media has become dangerous, shame!,” Ravish Kumar added.
Indian media was never so communal and I am worried that media is turning Hindu youth into a mob. Youngsters who want jobs, good education, want to become doctors are being turned into rioters to support a particular political party.
While the TV industry does claim to have a self-regulatory mechanism to monitor inflammatory content, there is little evidence that channels are following any guidelines or that any institutions are monitoring the content.
Take the example of Sudarshan TV, a news channel owned by Suresh Chavhanke and operating from Noida, near capital New Delhi.
Chavhanke himself appears on his channel and warns viewers about “conspiracy to turn India into an Islamic country”.
Facts or corroboration of facts are not required for content aired on this channel.
Sample this — “There is a conspiracy to marry Hindu girls to Muslim boys,” screams Chavhanke in one such video. “The speed at which Muslim population is growing is not good for India,” he says in another clip.
Is India waiting for Holocaust???
This week on ABP news channel, anchor Sumit Awasthi interviewed the mother of a right-wing leader who was murdered in Lucknow. While the old woman names individuals who she thinks are responsible for her son’s death, Awasthi ignores her and attempts to bring a Hindu-Muslim twist. Awasthi was rebuked by the woman who warned him for trying to build a communal narrative.
ABP News is owned by West Bengal’s Anand Bazar Patrika which also publishes The Telegraph English daily, a newspaper, ironically, known for passionately defending secular space in the country.
While channels like Sudarshan TV freely disseminate toxic content, the industry is not willing to have a regulatory framework.
“There is no doubt that large sections of mainstream media have indeed become a bit partial. I think it’s important to maintain some semblance of balance in a complex multi-cultural society like ours. A regulatory framework may not serve the purpose and may only end up raising more questions. The story of media has to be handled by media itself,” Bhupendra Choubey, Executive Editor, CNN-News18 told Gulf News.
There is no doubt that large sections of mainstream media have indeed become a bit partial. I think it’s important to maintain some semblance of balance in a complex multi-cultural society like ours. A regulatory framework may not serve the purpose and may only end up raising more questions. The story of media has to be handled by media itself.
Rajdeep Sardesai, Consulting Editor, India Today Group, told Gulf News: “I think a large section of the Indian media, especially TV, has played a pernicious role in amplifying bigotry towards minority groups. It is shameful and reflects a moral degradation in the search for TRPs.”
Other journalists were guarded in their response.
When pointed out that Indian media is spreading hate, Sevanti Ninan, Founding editor of South Asian media watch website The Hoot.org, said: “No, that is too sweeping a statement. But some elements of news television indulge in unwarranted communal provocation. Those in Indian media who indulge in communal provocation are confined to a few TV channels and a few anchors. But unfortunately those are the ones with high viewership.”
Those in Indian media who indulge in communal provocation are confined to a few TV channels and a few anchors. But unfortunately those are the ones with high viewership.
Saba Naqvi, journalist and author, said: “Television media thrives on Hindu Muslim combat and ends up increasing cleavage and creating a particular narrative…It’s the age of irresponsible ratings driven performances on what we call news channels.”
Political commentator Tehseen Poonawala said: “There is no doubt in my mind [that] the media is out to create a religious divide. Indian media is at its lowest…it knows what it is doing is incorrect and harmful, yet it continues to be a divisive force rather than one that acts like a pillar of democracy.”
Social media user Celine Mary compared Indian media with ‘white Southern’ press.
“The Indian media is playing the role of the white Southern press during the bloody 19th and 20th century in US. Like the Southern press, Indian media prepares ground for Muslim alienation by click-baits like ‘Ram Hamare, Masjid Wale Kahan Se Padhare’ (Ram is ours, from where Muslims came from).
“While the Southern Press called coloured people, ‘fiends’ and ‘brutes’, Indian media allows calling Muslim representatives Mulla and Jinnah with impunity, in their own studios. While the Southern Press airbrushed any coloured face in the pictures, Indian media blurs out data clearly pointing towards increased violence against Muslims,” said Mary.
Impact on society
Journalists also acknowledge that this kind of toxicity in newsrooms is spilling out on to the streets.
Arfa Khanum Sherwani, Senior Editor, The Wire, said: “As a direct result of the communal politics in the last five plus years, there is a clear deficit of trust between Hindus and Muslims.
“This lack of trust or mistrust can then easily be fuelled for creating hatred against the Muslims and makes them vulnerable for violent attacks on them. News channels through their shameless bigotry and naked display of communalism are normalising this hate and violence on vulnerable Muslims.
This mainstreaming of bigotry is dangerous not just for the Muslims but is destroying social peace in the country. If this is not addressed immediately, it will have serious consequences for the unity and integrity of Indian nation.”
Hate crossing the borders
Given the massive reach of these channels, their content is reaching not just Indian homes but also to nations in the geographical vicinity and beyond. For example, Arabian Gulf region is home to millions of Indians, including Hindus and Muslims.
There are concerns that this kind of toxicity can potentially cause social fissures in countries like the UAE also.
Shajahan Madampat, Cultural Critic and Commentator based in Abu Dhabi, said: “The potential impact of the highly poisonous anti-Muslim discourse on India’s ‘national’ TV channels on the peaceful and multi-religious social fabric of the UAE is a matter of serious concern.
“On the one hand, this is a country where Indian Hindus and Muslims live and work in large numbers in an atmosphere of peace and harmony. On the other, it is a place where citizens of both India and Pakistan co-exist peacefully in their millions.
“It is a matter of shame that a considerable segment of the media in our country [in India] has degenerated into a willing tool for communal mobilisation.”
“As an Indian living in the UAE, I am deeply worried about the current situation in India spilling over into the UAE, which is the perfect antithesis of the kind of fanaticism now exploding in India. Various Indian social groups active in different parts of the UAE should collectively work on fighting the rabid communalism seeping into our social fabric.
“They should also sensitise their compatriots about the venom being spewed against the Muslim citizens of India by many TV channels day in and day out.
We need to convince the people that what these channels disseminate is far from the genuine Indian nationalism, which is enshrined in the constitution as a lofty noble idea of harmonious pluralism. What they spread is hatred reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
Who regulates Indian media?
Indian media is controlled by three laws — Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1955 (television), Press Council of India Act, 1978 (Print and digital) and Information Technology Act, 2000 (Digital).
Also, the industry’s self-regulatory bodies News Broadcasters Association and the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council are expected to play the role of ombudsmen.
How wide is reach of TV
Direct-to-home satellite and cable services reaches around 200 million homes across country.
These households are bombarded by over 900 private satellite TV stations, including over 400 dedicated to news.
India has around 17,000 newspaper and newsmagazine titles with a combined circulation of over 400 million, according to a media profile by BBC.