Mainstream, VOL LIV No 43 New Delhi October 15, 2016
News Media in a Frenzy over Nationalism
Sunday 16 October 2016
by Mohd. Afsar
“Today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups... So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing,” famous writer and philosopher Philip K. Dick made these points in his speech titled “How To Build A Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later”.1 And today’s situation of Indian news media is nothing different than what is stated in this quote.
Over the past two years, the Indian news media is continuously using “Nationalism” to sustain their selfish and extremely unethical ‘political relations’ as well as to gain TRPs. Prime-time debates and news stories are leading this new trend. Anchors and reporters (at times) are the carriers. Originator(s) is somebody who is behind the scene and giving the directions. This unseen demon needs to be identified to save our democracy.
Communalism is being branded on the TV news channels via debates and news stories in the name of nationalism. Be it ”gau raksha”, gau-maans”, “love-jihad” or ”Kairana exodus”. When one issue’s surf is low, another one is picked up. This trend may turn, very soon, our nation into a huge ground of high level communal tension, riots and violence. But till then it would be too late for us to realise that the situation has gone way out of control. You as a viewer have to think: why is the media getting fiery over nationalism? Why is nationalism being inten-tionally aroused day after day using the name of Army and border? It’s time to think and analyse the current situation. We have to decide whether to ignore now and suffer later or to prevent now and be exultant later.
The present ruling government is going through its golden period because a major section of the media is continuously busy in presenting a clean and progressive image of the ruling government. On the contrary, the media should highlight the issues and problems which are being faced by the common people. Why is the news media hiding today’s frightening problems such as the shortage of more than five lakh teachers in primary schools, shortage of doctors and medicines, creaking condition of the health infrastructure, continuously increasing inflation rate, hundreds of applications coming from highly qualified Ph.D degree holders for the post of peon and many more. Just because the news coverage of these issues will not yield political benefits and TRPs for them? What a shame! Is this the nationalism of our news media on which they lean upon? And is it really so hard to understand this very evident difference between politics and nationalism?
News channels have shown the news of ‘Iron Lady’ Irom Sharmila when she has ended her 16-year old fast against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (1958) in Manipur. Her fight was for peace and against violence. But the news media never showed debates or news stories on the issues raised by her for the common people of Manipur. Shouldn’t her 16-year-old marathon struggle be thoroughly shown to the people? Is the one-day media coverage of her fast-ending enough? Do these kinds of stories not fit into the nationalism that today’s news media is portraying? You see the difference and the intentions. All this is being done in a very planned and well-orchestrated manner.
A famous historian and social theorist, Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm, once said: “National myths do not arise spontaneously from people’s actual experiences. They are something which people acquire from someone else, from books, from historians, from films, and now from people who make television...”.2 And the same is actually being done by today’s news media. That’s why nationalism is being raised time and again in the news media to promote this kind of exclusivity to serve the interests of the dominant classes. Dalits and minorities are being continuously targeted. An evident and very recent example is of the media coverage of the ongoing Dalits’ movement in Gujarat which has been started after the attacks on Dalits by Gau Raksha Dal activists. The Dalit protests are being shown as some kind of problem or provocation by the media. Why is the media not showing the hate statements of the Gau-Raksha Dal and many of the BJP members who are openly saying that they will kill anyone in the name of gau-raksha? Why has this side not been clearly shown to the common people? Is the media waiting for some Dalits to get killed?
The media, the Fourth Estate, has a very crucial role to unify people in the upholding of our constitutional values so as to strengthen the spirit of nationhood. But the big question is: “Is the Indian news media performing this role?” No. Instead, it has become an enterprise whose only motive is to maximise profits. They have turned themselves into brokers for power and money. The Indian news media is nowadays no more than a puppet which is willingly being controlled by its master(s).
News channels today are busy in attracting large audiences to develop or sustain their political relations as well as to increase their TRPs over nationalism. ‘#hashtag’, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ drives this news media politics. The more the controversy arises from the debate, the more the TRP. The performance of a news anchor depends upon his mastery in raking up the controversy and spinning the news story to arouse public emotions. Debates have turned into staged performances. Hate is being spread not only between people but in the news media fraternity too. This is dividing the news media also. On July 26, 2016, Times Now Editor Arnab Goswami called a section of journalists “pro-Pakistan activists” and supporters of ISI, Hafiz Sayeed and Pakistan. He tried extensively to provoke the viewers by putting questions like: “How long will you be silent against these elements?” , “Why should we be silent?”, “Why don’t we take on these one by one, bit by bit and part by part?”3 As a viewer you have to decide whether this presentation of news was favouring nationalism or provoking the common people in the name of nationalism. Does he have any proof for making these statements? If yes, then why are our security forces silent? Why are they not arrested? If no, then shouldn’t he face accountability for spreading such lies?
Anchors are being turned into some kind of heroes who play role of self-declared nationalists (pseudo in nature) in what could be referred to as a drama being played every day on prime-time debates on different TV news channels. News channels are not entertainment channels. They are intended to give news. There is a race going on among the media fraternity to be the most famous nationalist journalist. And they are trying their level best to be in the first position in this pathetic race. Is there any kind of difference left between a movie show and the news channels? Is the media made for this kind of journalism? No. Not at all. The mediapersons have forgotten their responsibilities, their ethics, and their agendas.
Truncated video clippings and unclear audios are being used as sources of evidence. High-lighters and markers are being used on the screen with complementary shout sounds of anchors. No focus on investigations. No balance of thoughts and expressions. News anchors have forgotten the fundamental journalistic values of evidence, balance, and engaged conver-sation. A recent example was during the JNU issue coverage. News channels like Times Now and News X have openly branded JNU students as “traitors”, “terrorists” and “anti-nationals”4. Arnab Goswami’s “Newshour Debate” on JNU issue opened with a statement for Umar Khalid: “You are anti-national.” He continuously spoke over Khalid and didn’t give him an opportunity for explanation. When Umar asked: “Where is the space for alternative voices in India?”, the question was quickly erased. His sound was muted.5 Moreover, a few Hindi national news channels manufactured and disseminated fabricated reports about Khalid’s terror linkages (based on a fake tweet) to make a nationalist story out of these reports. While some like NDTV, NDTV India and India Today preferred to provide information of both who were labelling and who were being labelled as “anti-national”. It is also true that not all of the media fraternity has become a part of all this. There are some mediapersons who are not willing to present news stories which are of biased nature. But they are being forced to do so. Vishwa Deepak resigned from a national Hindi news channel and posted his message on his Facebook page: “...The way JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar was framed in the name of ‘nationalism’ and was proved ‘anti-national’ through media trials is a dangerous tendency. We, as journalists, have a responsibility to ask questions to those in authority... In the history of journalism, whatever positive has been achieved is a result of such questions. To ask or not to ask questions is a matter of personal choice. But I believe what is personal is also political. There comes a time when you have to choose between your professional responsi-bilities and socio-political convictions and take a side. I have chosen to go with the latter and due to differences on these grounds with my organisation I have resigned with effect from 19 February. My resignation is dedicated to the country’s lakhs and crores of ‘Kanhaiya’s and those friends from JNU who struggle and make sacrifices with eyes full of beautiful dreams.... After May 2014, when Narendra Modi has become the PM, almost every newsroom of the country has been communalised, but here, situations are even more catastrophic.... Why is it that all news is written by adding a ‘Modi angle’? Stories are written keeping in mind how it will benefit the agenda of the Modi Government....” 7
All this mindless frenzy which is being created since the last two years in the news media will lead to a Hindu versus Muslim civil war. This is being done intentionally. Somebody is planning and executing it. The most worrying part is that we are effortlessly becoming part of it. The Indian news media must straightaway stop this transformation of India—a secular democratic country into a rapidly intolerant fascistic nation. News media is going through its worst phase. It needs to be revived.
2. Eric Hobsbawm, The New Century, trans. Allan Cameron (London: Abacus, 2000).
The author is a senior correspondent, India News. He can be contacted at e-mail: afsar11[at]rediffmail.com