Media Mockery

Joseph Maliakan Joseph Maliakan
13 Mar 2023
The NDA government, like the internal emergency regime of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, does not have great belief in the existence of a free, fair and diverse media.

In a welcome move, the News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has castigated three leading channels -- Times Now, Zee News and News 18 -- for airing blatantly communal shows.

The Authority in its order of February 27 indicted Times Now and Zee News for their coverage of protests by the now banned Muslim organization, the Popular Front of India, and the increase in India's population. Times Now had falsely claimed that "Pakistan Zindabad" slogans were raised at a demonstration held by the Popular Front in Pune on September 24, 2022.

Times Now had in its defence said it had relied on reports by news agencies ANI and PTI and freelance reporters for the show. However, the Broadcasting Authority was not convinced and pointed out that Times Now while airing the show had boasted that it was the first channel to report on the matter and ran tickers such as "News Break Here First 'Pakistan Zindabad' slogans at PFI stir" and "Pak slogans by PFI workers".

The Authority headed by Justice (Rtd) A. K. Sikri directed Times Now to remove the video of the broadcast and all hyperlinks to it. 

The Broadcasting Authority, on another petition, held Zee News guilty for targeting Muslim community on July 12, 2022 in a debate on increase in the population of the country and selectively broadcasting statistics giving the debate a communal colour. 

The show lacked objectivity as it focussed on one religious group, the Muslims, being solely responsible for population growth, the Authority said. It directed the channel to publicize that its show violated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards. The Broadcasting regulator warned Zee News not to air such reports in future.

The Broadcasting Authority fined Hindi news channel News 18 for making objectionable statements on Muslims in four shows hosted by news anchor Aman Chopra. The topics of the shows ranged from glorifying public flogging of Muslims to giving totally false data to show phenomenal increase in the population of Muslims.

In the case of Times Now, the Authority noted that several fact-checking websites had fact-checked the news report in question and had found the slogan raised at the PFI demonstration was not “Pakistan Zindabad” but “PFI Zindabad”.

In the first case of News 18, the Broadcasting Authority found that a debate hosted by Aman Chopra on January 18, 2022 had religious biases. “By starting the debate on the premise that 20% of the people were ganging up against Hindus constituting 80%, the anchor had given the debate a thrust, which is communal in nature and not appropriate,” the order said.

The programme, NBDSA chairman said, had violated the fundamental principles of impartiality, objectivity and neutrality that are necessary in reporting. In the complaint, Anju Dubey submitted that Chopra deliberately made statements that maligned the Muslim community.

“The entire premise of the show revolved around creating a negative image of the Muslim community to instigate the members of the Hindu community to develop hatred for Muslims,” he said. Throughout the show, the anchor indulged in racial and religious stereotyping towards the Muslims. No caution of whatever nature or restrain was exercised by the anchor or the channel while airing the show in question, it was pointed out.

The Authority also imposed a fine of Rs.50,000 on the broadcaster and directed it to remove the videos of the show from its website and You Tube. It further directed News 18 to state on its ticker once every hour between 8 am on March 6 and 8 am on March 7 that they had violated broadcasting guidelines.

The second case related to another debate, also moderated by Aman Chopra, on October 4, 2022 on the brutal public flogging of Muslim men in Kheda district of Gujarat. On 3rd October night, in Undhela village of Kheda, a group of Muslim men allegedly threw stones at a garba site near a mosque. The following day, five Muslim men accused in the incident were dragged out in public, tied to an electric pole and beaten with sticks by the police as a crowd loudly cheered.

Indrajeet Ghorpade, the complainant in this case, submitted before NBDSA that News 18 India celebrated the flogging of the Muslim men by the Gujarat police by describing it as “police ki dandiya”, a reference to a traditional Gujarati dance in which sticks are used as a prop. The complaint stated that News 18 had repeatedly showed the visuals glorifying and praising the illegal and inhuman police action of flogging.

The channel also wrongly declared the Muslim men tied and flogged by the police as guilty of stone throwing, the complaint said. By connecting stone pelting with jihad and by making negative generalised statements about young Muslim men and accusing them of engaging in various crimes, the channel had tarnished the image of the Muslim community, the complaint added.

Though News 18 denied the charges, Justice Sikri said that the channel had "targetted, vilified and castigated the entire Muslim community for the actions of a few miscreants." Sikri also objected to the use of phrases such as "garba me love jihad" and "what is your role in my garba", in the ticker.

The Authority imposed a fine of Rs. 25,000 on the channel in this case and directed it to avoid giving a "communal colour” while reporting such cases. It directed the channel to remove the videos of the show from the channel's website and You Tube.

The third order was against a show hosted on July 28, 2022 by Aman Chopra on the murder of Bhartiya Janata Party youth wing leader Praveen Nettaru in Bellare village of Dakshina Kannada district in Karnataka. The complaint said that between 19 and 28 July 2022 there were three "communally motivated" murders in Dakshina Kannada but Chopra chose to highlight only Nettaru's case. The two other victims were Muslims.

“The broadcaster had violated the Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards relating to neutrality, impartiality and Clause 19 of the specific guidelines covering reportage pertaining to Racial and Religious Harmony,” Justice Sikri observed.

The fourth case is about a debate titled "Ghazwa-e-Hind" aired on August 5, 2022. It was about reports by the police to the Home Ministry on the "sharp rise in the Muslim population in Uttar Pradesh and in districts bordering Bangladesh and Nepal.”

The programme used the hashtag "Border Par PanIslam" and showed Muslims in busy neighbourhoods. "In an effort to support the Citizen's Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC), rhetorical attempts were made to show Muslims in bad light and breed hatred towards them," the complaint said.

The Authority in its order said that the news channel did communalise the issue by giving the impression that the Muslims were intruders and were trying to change the demography of the country by supporting illegal infiltrators. It imposed a fine of Rs. 20,000 on the broadcaster and directed Chopra not to make communal statements while covering issues of national importance.

A Blow to Fair News

Prasar Bharti’s contract with RSS-backed Hindustan Samachar will seemingly make Doordarshan and All India Radio wings of Sangh Parivar 

With the signing of a two-year contract between India's public broadcaster Prasar Bharati and Hindustan Samachar, which is a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-backed news agency, for the daily news feed, both Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) will apparently come under the indirect control of the RSS.

The space for free, fair and independent news and analysis, which has been steadily shrinking during the NDA rule, will further shrink with the operation of the news feed contract with the Hindustan Samachar.

In principle, Prasar Bharati is an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which runs both Doordarshan and AIR. However, in comparison with private television channels and newspapers, both Doordarshan and AIR have enjoyed little autonomy and, therefore, very low credibility and people have been over the years turning away from the public broadcaster. 

Until 2020, Prasar Bharati had a contract for daily news feed with the Press Trust of India (PTI), India's biggest professional news agency with offices all over India and in Capitals of many countries. The deal with RSS-backed Hindustan Samachar has come two years after the cancellation of subscription with PTI.

The cancellation of the PTI subscription followed its 2020 coverage of the border clash between India and China which Prasar Bharati described as "anti-national”. At that time, PTI published an interview with former Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong, who blamed India for provoking the military encounter at the Galwan Valley in Ladakh in June 2020 in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed. China had claimed that only four Chinese soldiers were killed in the clash.

Another interview PTI did with Vikram Misri, former Indian Ambassador to China, also led to the ire of Prasar Bharati against the agency. PTI had quoted Misri saying, “Chinese troops needed to move back to their side of the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.” This statement contradicted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's claim that Chinese troops did not intrude into Indian territory. How can anyone question the Prime Minister of India let alone contradict him?

PTI maintained that it had only done its professional duty of interviewing the former Ambassadors of India and China and describing the agency as anti-national was "unwarranted, unjustified and unfair."

Commenting on the Prasar Bharati-Hindustan Samachar deal, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarai Vijayan tweeted: “The move by Prasar Bharat to make Hindustan Samachar, a news agency linked to the Sangh Parivar, the sole news source for Doordarshan National and Akashvani is an attempt to saffronise news and silence dissent.” 

The deal has come at a time when the country has been steadily slipping in world press freedom index over deliberate attacks, arrests and even killing of journalists. It also came after raids on BBC offices in India following the release of the two-part BBC documentary on Prime Minister Modi detailing his role in whipping up anti-Muslim hatred in the wake of Godhra train burning in which more than 50 kar sevaks were burnt to death.

Prasar Bharati CEO Gaurav Dwivedi defended the decision to sign the deal with Hindustan Samachar saying it was the only news service offering content in various Indian languages. In fact, since 2017 Hindustan Samachar has been providing "free" news feed to Prasar Bharati on "evaluation" basis, Dwivedi added. But Hindustan Samachar which was starving for funds for several years started getting huge Union Government advertisements ever since the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power. Therefore, the claim that Hindustan Samachar gave free feed to Prasar Bharati is nothing but a farce.

Hindustan Samachar was established in 1948 by Shiram Shankar Apte, an RSS leader and co-founder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, along with RSS ideologue M.S. Golwalkar. The agency was established for creating a fertile ground for the growth of Indian nationalistic approach to life in an environment of growing western influence.

As per the contract, Hindustan Samachar is expected to feed 100 news reports to Prasar Bharati every day. The reports should include 10 national and 40 local stories in regional languages. Hindustan Samachar operates in 11 languages including Assamese, Odia and Nepalese.

The Communist Party of India state secretary, at a protest March in Kozhikode, said: “By choosing Hindustan Samachar as the sole agency to offer news service to Prasar Bharati, the Modi government is now officially implementing its policy of saffronisation.... This way the power to decide the kind of news and views that would be relayed through the DD and AIR would go into the hands of the RSS.”

The contract was signed on February 14, 2023 under which the agency will give daily news feed for two years on a payment of Rs. 7.7 crores. However, Hindustan Samachar is no match for PTI which employs more than 600 regular staff journalists and nearly 800 stringers providing subscribers 1000 stories in a day. PTI's video service, started in February 2023, streams more than 100 live events and 200 raw video packages.

The NDA government, like the internal emergency regime of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, does not have great belief in the existence of a free, fair and diverse media. Consequently, the way in which PTI and UNI have been bringing out reports critical of the government during the last few years has not been to the liking of the BJP-led Union Government. Therefore, on the flimsy ground that the subscription rates of the news agencies were very high, the government reportedly directed Prasar Bharati to terminate their services and enter into a contract with RSS-backed Hindustan Samachar.

Hindustan Samachar apparently employs people who believe in the RSS ideology of Hindutva and one can naturally expect that all their news feeds whether national or local will be quite biased. One can expect that soon Doordarshan and Akashvani will become two wings of the RSS and the BJP.

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