Ranjona Banerji: Are pro-government media houses biggest perpetrators of fake news?

21 Apr,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


Health workers at the forefront of fighting Covid-19 face not just the virus but also the wrath of the public. This is inexplicable because health workers have paid with their lives, more than any one category of people.

And now we find that journalists on the field have also been affected. In Mumbai, 53 journalists have tested positive for Covid-19. While we grapple with the problems of lockdown, it also seems that if you venture into the world, you head straight into the danger zone.

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/coronavirus-pandemic-53-journalists-test-positive- in-mumbai-report-5167721.html

And then there are those who pay for doing their jobs, in other ways. The stealth and speed with which the virus has overtaken the news cycle has meant that focus has shifted from other burning issues. The problems within Kashmir remain since the abrogation of Article 370 last year: of oppression, of loss of franchise, of lockdown, of loss of civil liberties, of economic disaster now compounded by the virus. But even if the public eye has been distracted, that of the State has not.

Photojournalist Masrat Zahra has been booked by the Jammu and Kashmir police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for some unspecified media posts. The UAPA is used against suspected terrorists. It should be of surprise to no one that the current dispensation at the Centre, which runs Jammu and Kashmir, sees journalists who do not toe the government line as “terrorists”.

The Hindu’s correspondent in Srinagar, Peerzada Ashiq, has had an FIR filed against him by the Jammu and Kashmir police for filing a story which contained “fake news”. This is one more way in which this government harasses anyone who dares to question it or present news which shows it in a bad light.

The Network of Women in Media, India has issued a statement, as has the Committee to Protect Journalists:

http://www.nwmindia.org/component/k2/drop-fir-against-kashmiri-photojournalist-masrat- zahra-nwmi


https://thewire.in/media/kashmiri-photojournalist-charged-under-uapa-for-unspecified-social- media-posts

Is it necessary to mention that pro-government media houses are the biggest perpetrators of fake news? Starting with those who try and communalise every single event that happens in India so that non-Hindus and lower castes are vilified even more than they are normally? Blamed for the spread of the virus?

How many FIRs have been launched against channels like Zee News, Republic TV, India Today TV, Aaj Tak and all the rest of the various government mouthpieces masquerading as “independent” news channels? Any FIR yet against Dainik Jagran for carrying an ad by Valentis Cancer Hospitals, Meerut, which stated that Muslims would not be treated unless they came with an attendant and a certificate saying they were Covid-19 free. I don’t know how low newspaper managements have fallen, but earlier ad departments did check through received advertisements before printing to see that they did not break any laws.

The communalisation of Indian society now seems complete, if the Palghar incident in Maharashtra is anything to go by. The “sting” operation by India Today TV and its news director Rahul Kanwal on madrasas in Delhi lying, breaking social distancing laws, having some Tablighi Jamaat and therefore by implication spreading Covid 19, is a textbook case of successfully using a pandemic to attack a community.

Writer Annie Zaidi’s gentle piece in The Hindu gives you a perspective on madrasas, which actually any thinking person could have worked out for themselves.

https://www.thehindu.com/society/how-can-a-poor-madrasa-magically-conjure-up-many-more- rooms-in-the-midst-of-a-lockdown/article31366116.ece

The Palghar incident, of mob lynching which has sadly become almost par for the course in India since 2014, was given a communal tinge by the usual suspects on social media, like “film-maker” Ashoke Pandit known for his vicious Islamophobia. It spread like wildfire, as you can imagine. This is in spite of the Palghar police and the chief minister of Maharashtra trying to set the record straight.

Alt News explains what happened in its usual well-investigated style:

https://www.altnews.in/palghar-lynching-incident-falsely-communalised-on-social-media/? utm_source=website&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=newpost


Meanwhile, the figures about the virus itself remain opaque as we hear contradictory claims and explanations from healthcare workers, the Indian Council for Medical Research and the government. Health reporters who question the government are also under attack on social media.

Is there hope for us?


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



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