Ranjona Banerji: Do Times Now, India Today & Republic TV want war?

30 May,2017

By Ranjona Banerji


At the risk of repetition, one must ask what Times Now, India Today TV and Republic TV are up to. I am not discussing the various charges of unfair practices that they are all hurling at each other – from what I understand shady distribution deals are rampant in TV. I am not even discussing charges of thievery and whatnot.

It is their practice of journalism that remains horrifying. Even if you accept commonly made excuses like the search for popularity and playing to the gallery, the fact that all three of them seem to be hell-bent on alienating Kashmiris and pushing for war within and without is cause for immediate alarm.

The trouble is that their anchors and reporters are sometimes so excited at the prospect that it is hard to ascertain whether the channels are being cynical or they really believe their own dangerous propaganda rubbish. The tack that they have taken on an army officer using a Kashmiri as a human shield has descended into one more “patriotism” test: if you cite human rights or international laws or even god forbid, the Constitution of India to oppose the army’s actions, you are clearly a traitor to India and hate the armed forces.

This is from a Times of India leader, published on May 25:

“In that context, the army’s decision to honour a major who tied a civilian to his jeep’s bonnet, as a human shield to prevent mobs from attacking Election Commission staff, is a mistake. Even if it’s the case that the move was necessary to save lives, as the army contends, the optics is terrible. While the government is justified in taking action against stone pelters and violent mobs better means of crowd control which minimise collateral damage, as well as better ways of winning hearts and minds in the Valley, need to be devised.”

Absolutely nothing on Times Now has even matched the sobriety of this quiet criticism of the army’s action in a sister publication. In fact, the TOI edit, by print standards, is mealy-mouthed in the extreme. But if you compare it to television, it sounds strong and brave!

To contrast the TOI’s stand with other newspapers, this is from an Indian Express leader today (May 30), responding to General BipinRawat, the army chief, defending his officer’s actions:

“It is undeniable that the army has been thrust into a crisis in Kashmir not of its making, one that the political leadership should have taken the lead to resolve. In these circumstances, General Rawat must arguably aim to limit the fallout of the army’s exposure to what is primarily a political problem. His ill-judged statements, however, send out the impression that the army is fighting the people of Kashmir. This is particularly unfortunate given the fact that the Indian Army has done stellar work in its effort to build bonds with the people of Kashmir, through schools, sports activities and rescue operations during the 2014 flood, as well as this April, when the waters rose dangerously in some parts of the Valley. The chief of the Indian Army cannot sound like an angry retired prime time warrior. He must, at all times, acknowledge the responsibility — and the constraint — of his high office.”

The Indian Express of course was long deemed “anti-national” by the then boss of Times Now who is now boss of Republic TV. So here is an editorial from The Hindu, on the commendation awarded to Major LeetulGogoi for his using a Kashmiri citizen as a human shield in Kashmir.

“It could be argued that in the fog of operations, some improvisation in standard operating procedures is inevitable. But the use of a human shield, in this instance of a civilian, can hardly be justified on this ground, because it militates against the basic principles that govern the rules of conduct in war and war-like situations. It would have been proper if this incident was met with stern disapproval rather than being exploited, as it has been in some hyper-nationalistic quarters, to reinforce an us-versus-them binary and pit the security forces against the Kashmiri street.”

I would not put it past these three news channels – I single them out because they are the worst transgressors – to label most Indian newspapers anti-national. Instead of behaving like journalists and questioning the government, they have switched to a number of easy, vague targets like “liberals”, students, writers and so on. It does not hurt their sense of nationalistic pride however to pay vast amounts of money to various Pakistanis to appears as guests on their shows. The fact that they shout endlessly at them must offset the cost of Indian foreign exchange moving across the border, one assumes.

But we have gone beyond joke territory. To have news channels endlessly trying to incite war with Kashmiris has already exacerbated conditions in the valley. Do we really need them to make the situation any worse?


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