“Propaganda journalism can destroy us from within.”
– Syeda Laraib Fatima Warsi
At a time when India’s society is clearly strained along communal and caste lines, some of our TV news channels are deplorably wedging these uneasy divides further and deeper. What a shame it is to see respected names of the media industry trading ethics and news values for cheap sensationalism.
The abysmal standard of journalism seen in the coverage of the tragic Kasganj incident is a case in point.
On January 26 – as India geared up to celebrate the ideals of this secular democratic republic – communal violence tore apart this small town in northwest Uttar Pradesh. The riot allegedly began as a minor altercation between two groups over a matter of Republic Day celebrations and flag-waving. By the time the situation was controlled, one man had lost his life, several were injured and scores of businesses, shops and the city’s infrastructure had been torched and destroyed.
More than two weeks later, the air in UP’s legislative assembly is thick with accusations. Despite a few people being taken into custody, there is not a single official consensus about the investigation into the riot’s causes.
Our news channels, apparently, care little about official probes and findings. Indeed, in the aftermath of the incident, a clutch of India’s mainstream TV media had shockingly started airing incendiary and provocative headlines. Sample these:
Let us for a moment set aside all foreknowledge of the Kasganj incident and analyze these headlines.
To a student of journalism like me, it is obvious how these proclamations would widely be read and interpreted by the average Indian audience. And my analysis scares me.
Firstly, the aforementioned headlines contain a subtext about Pakistan as India’s enemy. Secondly, they force the reader to connect Indian Muslims to Pakistan in his mind. And third – perhaps the most controversial implication – the above two ‘hidden messages’ lead to the accusation that Indian Muslims are enemies (Pakistanis) in their own country.
In crafting each of the above boldly flashing headlines, the journalists dispensed of objective facts completely and presented a patently fake picture of the incident before the people of the country. The idea, presumably, was to feed on the insecurity and mistrust between two religious communities. In the process, the media risked biasing, even indoctrinating, thousands of ill-informed viewers. Not to mention the aggravating effect these headlines would have on already prejudiced and radicalized minds in both communities.
This is not just shoddy journalism but, more alarmingly, also a dangerous catalyst added to India’s already volatile and incensed society.
If this type of sloganeering were being done by en extremist organization, and there are plenty of them around – Karni Sena, for instance, whose aggressive posturing is still fresh news – it would still be understandable, if not pardonable.
But this is the voice of a national news channel. These are the words of professional journalists and therefore ring with credibility and authority. Unfortunately, these statements are also unproven, suggestive and extremely leading.
Is it ethically correct for media to make derogatory statements about a community?
Is it responsible journalism to concoct leading headlines without irrefutable evidence?
Who are these “enemies of the tricolor” in Kasganj?
As a young Indian Muslim and an aspiring journalist, I can’t help questioning why the “flag-waving” or “flag-hoisting” by Indian Muslims is news at all.
Why should I, or any other Muslim citizen of India, become a recipe for TRPs or a news angle on patriotism on any republic day?
With the penetration of the Internet and social media, a truckload of propaganda and lies disguised as news are seeping into more and more Indians every day. If trusted names of the media industry and large, respectable news channels take the same road, our society’s bubbling tensions could erupt in several more Kasganj-like tragedies.