An Almost Obituary for a Brave Media

25 Feb,2020


By Ranjona Banerji


‘The Real Beast’ is the headline this Tuesday, February 25, 2020 of The Telegraph, Calcutta. Across India’s national capital, while the State Machinery was “busy” with US President Donald Trump’s visit to India, the state machinery was busy stoking violence. State BJP leader Kapil Mishra led a rally through North East Delhi and verbally attacked anti-CAA protestors. Soon after, the attacks became physical.

To quote the Telegraph: “protected thugs roam parts of Delhi; 4 killed as cops remain spectators.” The toll has since gone up.

This is the story of every riot in India. And most cases, barring some notable exceptions, it is the Hindu rightwing which starts these riots. As academics like Paul Brass have carefully researched and made plain, no riot can be successful without state help. Anyone who has been caught in or observed a riot in India knows that most help rioters receive is from the police.

They stand back, they watch or they actively take part. Members of the media who has reported on riots or been in the newsroom coordinating coverage or making pages or programmes knows this. Some of India’s best known TV personalities became “famous” and household names because they covered riots. Today, they are often enablers of rioters, of government excuses and police excesses by remaining silent or looking for false equivalences.

These two first-hand reports, by a Times of India photojournalist and a Times of India reporter, makes the ground situation clear. It reiterates who the perpetrators and who the aggressors were. Members of the Hindu Sena getting aggressive, forcing tilaks on people, wanting to check if the man is circumcised or not (as in, are you a Hindu or a Muslim), breaking locks on shops with Muslim names vandalising property.


The link below is from The Hindu. It continues with the old custom of “majority” and “minority” communities, but the story is the same: Hindus bashing Muslims.

I have chosen these first-person reports because if you read through the news reports of what actually happened in Delhi on Monday, or at least, whatever details are currently available, all you get is confusion. There is plenty of chatter about a gunman who apparently fired in the air and has since been detained and his name revealed as “Shahrukh”. However, this “gunman” did not injure anyone. Initial screen scrolls suggested that a police constable was killed by a gunshot wound. Now it seems the constable was killed in the storm of stones being exchanged. Before information of what the gunman did or did not do was revealed, we had senior journalists asking for the “terrorist” to be arrested and so on.

Meanwhile, members of the Hindu Sena and Hindu rightwing and Sangh Parivar and Hindutva proponents are presented as “misguided youth”. The narrative in India now follows the American pattern and this has nothing to do with Trump’s visit. All Hindu violence is a result of provocation, youth, misguided and such. All non-Hindu violence is a result of terrorist training. The hypocrisy and lies are no longer shocking. It is part of our mainstream.

When the media reports on the ground reality and media commentators twist or ignore ground reports to either facilitate the State and its agenda or at any rate try not to upset the State, you know how embedded the rot is. This is in spite of the fact that across media houses, reporters and photojournalists at the sites of violence faced threats from the Hindu rightwing, from organisations associated with the government, and saw the police standing by or actively encouraging violence.

India’s media has lost its conscience and whatever ethics it had in this desire to appear “objective”. If it no longer realises that it is not really being objective, then it is stupid. And if it continues with this fake objectivity then it is the acid that is eating into our society. I use this sweeping generalisation because the few voices that counter this sponsored news presentation are too small and too weak to make a difference.

The Narendra Modi government at the Centre has an endgame in mind: it is the Hindu Rashtra dream of the RSS. Instead of the largescale Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom of 2002 which earned Modi and the BJP widespread international attention and opprobrium, the new strategy is small wars of attrition and a constant stream of violence. There will be attempts to now isolate and blame BJP leader Kapil Mishra for instigating the violence and excuses will be made for Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Modi we have been repeatedly told by the media and others is a strong leader with a firm grip on his government. Shah is India’s home minister and the Delhi police is part of the Union home ministry. If these two do not know what’s happening in their party and their government, then they are but puppets in the hands of their RSS masters. If they do know what is going on, then they are part of it.

But every journalist and most Indians with their eyes open know what is going on. And if people do not know, and do not like what is happening, they need to educate themselves. The media and journalists can no longer help because too many of them are part of the problem.

Veteran media commentator Sevanti Ninan says “India deserves better media”. Never have truer or sadder words been spoken.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal


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