Ranjona Banerji: Delhi riots coverage – objectivity by any standards?

28 Feb,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The tremendous hold that the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre has on the national capital’s media was in full evidence during the riots that have torn apart India’s National Capital. The coverage of riots has evolved over the years, in keeping with tempora and mores. But instead of growing in strength, the media has lately become covered in pusillanimity. I say lately, but what I mean is ever since Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014.

Delhi’s five star “journalists” have fallen over themselves to try and prove that the violence in riots was evenly balanced between “this side and that side”, that is between Hindus and Muslims. This is in spite of reportage often from their own juniors that the bulk of the violence was committed by Hindus and that most of the victims were Muslims. From Rajdeep Sardesai to Rahul Shivshankar, we’ve been treated to calls for “objectivity” while their own broadcasts have just enabled rioters.

Even in 1984, as Sikhs were massacred by Congress and other goons after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, India knew that Sikhs were the target. And remember, there was only Doordarshan and All India Radio, which had both blocked the news of her death until the evening. A smattering of the population had landlines and obviously there were no mobile phones or internet, and therefore no social media sites. And best of all, no 24-hour “news” television. Given the way that star anchors incite violence and use a fake cloak of “objectivity” to justify taking sides, who knows how bad the violence could have been?

There were chilling similarities with the riots that cemented Modi’s position as a “strong” leader in the minds of his supporters. The riots in Gujarat started in February 2002, after the deaths of kar sevaks in coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express. Many of the same TV “journalists” who parachuted into Gujarat to “cover” the riots and went to all the wrong places, now lecture us on “both sides”.

Coverage by TV reporters and by newspapers present a different picture. Reports from civil society organisations present a more dire version of the same picture. Of Hindu mobs roaming the streets. Of Muslims of North-East Delhi leaving their homes in fear. Of homes and shops being burnt. Of saffron flags being hoisted on top of a mosque. The names of the victims make it clear that the bigger brunt has been borne by Muslims.

Like every riot in India, witnesses speak of police standing by and watching. Or of police encouraging rioters. Reporters faced anger, threats and violence from rioters and were mobbed by them and had to be rescued. In spite of all this, our fascist enablers continue with their death dance of objectivity.

However, people also had other sources of information:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/27/death-toll-from-delhis-worst-riots-in-decades-rises-to-38

Those in the media who were not fascist enablers, as usual trained their anger on opposition politicians. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his AAP bore the brunt of objective anger. Although everyone knows that the Delhi state government does not control law and order. The police come under the Union Home Ministry Amit Shah. Who, according to media reports, had meetings about the price of onions while New Delhi was in flames. The Congress and Rahul Gandhi were the other targets because the Congress has been out of power at the Centre and in Delhi for over five years and Rahul Gandhi has never been in government.

This ready reckoner from the Indian Express explains what the Delhi state government can or cannot do, under such circumstances:

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/delhi-violence-delhi-clash-caa-protest-citizenship-amendment-act-6286709/

 

Annoying as you may find these people, the responsibility to control the riots lay with only one party: the Bharatiya Janata Party. And given how Delhi journalists have spun us these legends of their superhuman powers, only two men: Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. For some reason, Modi was completely off the hook, possible because he was eating broccoli samosas and dum biryani with Donald, sorry Dolund, Trump.

Kapil Mishra whose speeches are said to have provoked the riots is also now a proponent of free speech and democracy according to our bothsiders. He is free to roam and incite more hatred against Muslims.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/world/asia/delhi-riots-kapil-mishra.html

The fascist long arm of the government is visible everywhere as a judge who pulled up the Delhi police was suddenly transferred:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-51644861

AAP MLA Tahir Husain has been suspended from primary membership of his party after he was booked on suspicion of murder. He and his supporters have accused of murdering Intelligence Bureau employee Ankit Sharma in a savage and brutal manner.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/delhi-violence-case-filed-against-aaps-tahir-hussain-for-murder-arson-2186844

Let’s play Devil’s Advocate. Let’s say that objectivity is vital for a journalist. One must be able to pull back and assess a situation. To be completely, professionally objective you do not have an opinion at all. You present the bare facts and leave the reader or viewer to decide. But that can only be objective if as many facts as available are shared. ‘All the truth that’s fit to print’ in the words of the New York Times.

But after a situation like this, if you pull back and decide you have to support a government’s inaction or brutality or attempts at fascism, then that is not objectivity by any standards. That is enabling, being a government stooge, that is giving up professional journalism to become a publicity agent.

Several journalists sneered at others as “dynasty hacks” implying support for the Congress and/or the Gandhis. What do we call BJP supporters?

Meanwhile, here is academic and columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta who once supported Modi. Anyone with a bit of a brain and more has seen the light as darkness spreads across India. What does that say about our Sanghi fascist colleagues?

https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/delhi-violence-riots-police-caa-npr-6288323/

 

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

 

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