Indian media baying for blood

The hyper nationalist Indian media is further dividing and polarising the Indian society on communal lines. From the calls to eliminate Pakistan from the face of the earth to branding traitors those Indians who have been asking their government for evidence of killing 300 terrorists in Balakot, the media in India has become the propaganda machine. In an age of information, where social media has turned news making into a child’s game, the reliance of mainstream media on lie and hyperbolic nationalism to galvanize nation in tense times could make journalism a trivial business. It is easy journalism to become government’s mouthpiece, but it takes professionalism to dig out truth and report facts.

The Indian anchors bully their guests the moment they say a positive word for Pakistan or anything against the Indian government. In one programme the anchor went so far as to ask her guest to leave the studio and give his sound bites to a Pakistani channel. Besides putting words in the mouths of the guests to air what the newsroom has decided to telecast, the anchors have taken on aggressive posture with a face laden with anger. There is complete intolerance to any sane voice seeking even a minute of factual reporting from the journalist conducting a given show.

This is not the first time that the Indian media is reporting verbatim its government’s policy in the time of crisis. When the 2001attack on the Indian parliament occurred, it was the Indian media that made a terrorist of a Kashmir Arabic teacher, Abdul Ahmad Gilani, from the College of Delhi University. Without bothering to verify whether he made any call to Pakistan when the parliament attack was unfolding, the Indian press quoted what had been fed to them by their investigation agencies establishing Gilani part of Jesh-e Muhammad (JeM). The charge sheet filed five months later had no mention of any phone call received or made by Gilani, and neither could the report establish his links with the militants who attacked parliament. Keeping to the stream of lie the right-wing commentators referred to Afzal Guru as the JeM militant. So high and raw was the commotion wrapped up around this falsified bias that L.K. Advani wanted Guru to be hanged at once. The resonance of BJP policy struck so well with the national conscience that the jury was out against Guru much before the Supreme Court of India handed him death sentence not without acknowledging violation of procedural norms in prosecution. Such is the power of media sold to ultra-nationalism. It is the same weaving of falsification of biases and prejudice that has come undone on the media since the Pulwama attack.

As soon as the news of the attack on the Indian Paramilitary Forces in Pulwama that killed 40 officers reached the newsrooms and studios across India, accusations were hurled at JeM for its hands in the crime. In a matter of a few hours not only the Jesh had taken the responsibility of the attack, but sound bites were also grabbed from the relatives of the killed officers seeking revenge from Pakistan that surpass the Pulwama brutality.

A new narrative of punishing Pakistan at its home turf was launched to which each right-wing commentator and even ordinary people on the street were found giving a go-ahead. The “ghar mai ghus kar maray gay” (we will kill them inside their home) narrative reached hysterical proportion within a couple of hours leaving the government unaccountable for crossing the LoC, the international recognized border, which had the potential to escalate war at the cost of pushing both the countries decades back in development and progress.

The former President of India, Pranab Mukherjee had once raised fingers on the credibility of Indian media saying that there should always be room for discussion and dissension in a vibrant democracy. Further exposing the fault lines of intolerance in the Indian media he said: “ “There should always be room for the argumentative Indian, and not the intolerant Indian. The media must be the watchdog, the mediator between the leaders and the public.”

India dropped two levels down from 136 to 138 in 2018 in the index compiled by the global watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The report issued in April 2018 stated: “In India [down from 136 ranking in 2017], hate speech targeting journalists is shared and amplified on social networks, often by troll armies in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pay.” About journalist in Kashmir the report remarked: “Kashmiri journalists were often the targets of violence by soldiers acting with the central government’s tacit consent”. Further exposing the psyche of the Modi government towards national media the report observed: “Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism posed a threat to democracies”. The final nail the report dealt to the Indian version of journalism with these comments: “The Hindu nationalists are trying to purge all manifestations of ‘anti-national’ thought from the national debate, which is giving rise to self-censorship in the mainstream media.”

The high profile journalists, like Gaurav Sawant, instead of asking their government of proving itself right about killing 300 terrorists on the Pakistani soil of Balakot were demanding repeated strike on Pakistan. Even the Reuter’s report from the ground in Pakistan suggesting no casualty from the Indian attack in Balakot failed to deter the Indian media from its jingoistic stance. One media commentator noted, journalists were too willing to “reproduce unverified, contradictory and speculative information” that suited the government. Anchors and pundits were too overwhelmed by the conflict to question the establishment.

The Indian media will go down in the history of journalism as a watchdog baying for blood in the time of crisis.

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