Indian TV news channels relentlessly demonise protesters. But heckling their reporters isn’t right

Boycott TV media if you so want. But harassing reporters on the ground doing their work only does harm.

ByChitranshu Tewari
Indian TV news channels relentlessly demonise protesters. But heckling their reporters isn’t right
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Delhi has been seething with anger against the Citizenship Amendment Act, with thousands taking to the streets in protest over the last two days. From hundreds of protesters who tore copies of the Act at Jantar Mantar on Saturday to crowds that occupied the road in front of the Delhi police headquarters protesting the violent crackdown on Jamia Millia Islamia University’s students — the anger is snowballing. 

With most media houses based out of Delhi, broadcast vans and reporters throng protests and marches in minutes. It gives them sound bites and visuals that are tailor-made for a resource-starved, fast-paced, news cycle-obsessed broadcast medium. 

However, at both the protests on Sunday, anger and frustration against the media was palpable. They were heckled, mobbed and called names. Graffiti was inscribed on broadcast vans, and journalists were chased away by protesters. On Monday, an ANI reporter and cameraperson were covering the protests near the gate of Jamia Millia Islamia University when they were assaulted.

The anger and hostility against the media is not new or unique. TV media is derided, mocked and boycotted at most protests by students and civil society groups. And for good reason. 

Over the last few years, the TV media has gone to the dogs. It has played a crucial role in stroking the narrative against students to delegitimise their dissent and protest. They have blatantly spewed violence against students, labelled them anti-national and Pakistanis, and blindly toed the government’s line to not upset those in power. 

Protesters block, chase, and paint graffiti on an India Today broadcast van.

Anchors like Sudhir Choudhury, Arnab Goswami and Amish Devgan have left no stone unturned to label student protesters as “anti-national”. It’s a template now: cover the protests, use visuals to claim that the students shouted “anti-national” slogans, and delegitimise their protests.

We all remember what happened in Jawaharlal Nehru University in 2016. Zee News mischievously edited a video of a protest on the campus to claim the students had shouted “anti-India” slogans. A Zee News journalist later resigned over the channel’s coverage of the JNU protests. At Newslaundry, through Newsance and our reportage, we have made it a point to highlight the bigotry and propaganda peddled by TV news channels. 

That said, this trend to chase and mob TV reporters should be condemned and discouraged. I was at the protests at both Jantar Mantar and the Delhi police headquarters. I saw reporters from Zee News and News X mobbed and chased away in a way that was worrying. While there were people trying to stop others from doing so, the situation had a striking resemblance to a mob about to turn ugly.

These are field reporters who are not only just doing their job but have little say in the agenda and positions their editors take. Stopping reporters from doing their job sets a dangerous precedent.

Protesters scuffle with a Zee News reporter at Jantar Mantar with chants of ‘Godi media, go back’.

In a world where politicians and social media have made the world more polarised than ever, who decides which channel should be welcomed and which one deserves harassment? This only accelerates the loss in the credibility of the media — yet another dangerous precedent in a democracy. In a world of IT cells and WhatsApp University, we need the media more than ever to cut through the clutter and put out the facts. Distrust between the media and society brings harm to both sides.

At the police headquarters protest, I spoke with Naresh Biwani, a journalist with India News. I pressed him on whether he identified with his channel’s labelling of students and protesters. Biwani said, “We can’t decide what the agenda is going to be. We shoot and send the feed to office. It’s only when we go back home we find out how it was used.” 

Biwani was evasive when asked if he had taken this up with his editor, but what he said is representative of the relationship between reporters and those who call the shots in the newsroom.

Naresh Biwani of India News at the protest.

I have many TV reporter friends who vehemently disagree with the agenda-setting primetime debates that play out on their channels. They often try to register their disagreement in editorial meetings but we all know the strict hierarchical structure of TV newsrooms. The decisions about a channel’s agenda and editorial line come down to who is the face of the channel, or who funds it. At a time when media layoffs are widespread and the industry is struggling to be financially viable, reporters don’t have the luxury to only work with organisations they are ideologically comfortable with. So, they do their reports and leave the rest to their editors. They have little control over what the editor does with their reports. 

Obviously, this isn’t true of all reporters. But my point is that reporters chased and heckled on the ground have little power over the propaganda disseminated by their channels. Harassing them only emboldens the anchors in the studio, providing fodder for their agendas. 

Needless to say, the responsibility for a healthy relationship rests both on the media and the society it serves. The TV news ecosystem needs to look inward. And when it comes to protests, boycott channels, call them out for what they do every day if you want to — but don’t harass the person on the ground for doing his job. 

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