Ranjona Banerji: Why did we watch hatred grow?

15 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Round and round in circles we go. Much as some of us fulminate about the damage being done to constitutional democracy, as long as the enablers and fans of the destroyers carry on with their agenda, nothing will change.

There is an undercurrent of hatred that has filled up spaces in ways that many of us, even in the media, are ignorant of or have ignored. Take Sudarshan News. Run by editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke, it is not just a pro-BJP, pro-Hindutva, anti-minority “news” channel, it is an active spreader and promoter of fake news. Over the last six years, such “news” outlets have been legitimised. And not only that, they operate openly but under the radar of whatever heights the rest of the mainstream media considers itself at.

Sudarshan News’s latest “news break” which generated some controversy is about how India’s civil services are being “infiltrated” by Muslims. The programme is advertised as “UPSC Jihad”. The intent is very clear. It is to accelerate hatred and disaffection. How this constitutes “news” is the other matter. How does a “news” channel such as this get a broadcasting licence? The editor is a “volunteer” for the RSS and part of the Sangh Parivar’s student wing, the ABVP. He does not pretend that his intent is promote his ideology over the practice of journalism.

How then does Sudarshan News get legitimised as a “news” source? Many media outlets have clear affiliations with political movements and parties. They are usually referred to as “mouthpieces” and they focus on their parties. The RSS already has Organiser. But those belong to the old school. Sudarshan News or the toxic website OpIndia.com, run by BJP supporting non-journalists and whose main purpose appears to be demonization of Muslims, operate on a different wavelength and get amplified by the very hatred they spread.

The fact that both Sudarshan News and OpIndia.com push outright lies and hatred and yet masquerade as “news” sources is no longer, it seems, a matter of concern to journalists and the news media. We have just come to accept that they exist and sometimes even shoot from their shoulders to suit our own agendas.

On what basis can “UPSC Jihad” and a conspiracy by Muslims to “infiltrate” the civil services be considered a news break of any kind? The Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom had allowed the telecast of the programme. Now a group of retired civil servants have moved the Supreme Court again with objections to the programme.

https://thewire.in/law/former-civil-servants-upsc-jihad-sudarshan-tv

The big problem here is that several mainstream channels themselves compete with the likes of Sudarshan and OpIndia in their adoration of political parties, figures and their deliberate spread of fake news or their stupidity in not knowing the difference. If major television news channels can spend months on the death of one man with every kind of conspiracy theory given national prominence and a gleeful destruction of one woman, then why blame these party channels? Times Now, Republic TV, Aaj Tak, India Today have all spent untold hours defecting attention from the pandemic and all the other problems facing India. Channels like CNN News 18 and NDTV have also been part of the campaign to save the Narendra Modi government from embarrassment on its many transgressions and misdemeanours.

All these channels often fall for fake news and propaganda and it is only the large and capable separate industry of fake news checkers which exposes their cupidity and/or stupidity.

Well known TV “journalists” for instance inform their followers on Twitter that it is incorrect for anyone to raise questions about the health of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, arguably the second-most important person in the Modi Cabinet. When journalists admonishingly say “don’t ask questions”, are they journalists any more?

The Facebook political manipulation saga goes on, with a latest whistleblower revelation:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/facebook-ignore-political-manipulation-whistleblower-memo

The upshot is that between industrial-level social media manipulation and largescale media dereliction of duty, the hatred and lies will only grow. And we will be responsible for it.

 

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

 

 

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