How an advocacy group is pushing back on Kannada media’s misreporting, bigotry
Media

How an advocacy group is pushing back on Kannada media’s misreporting, bigotry

The Campaign for Ethical Media Reporting is filing complaints to ensure media outlets that don’t adhere to journalistic ethics face the consequences.

By Kapil Kajal

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That sections of the Indian media, especially TV news, are actively inciting hatred, bigotry and even violence is no secret. And they are doing so with impunity because government and industry bodies that are meant to hold them accountable are ineffective, weak, or compromised.

The Campaign for Ethical Media Reporting, or CEMR, is seeking to change that. The advocacy group, based out of Bengaluru, is running public campaigns and using coercive legal means to ensure media outlets that don’t adhere to journalistic standards and ethics face the consequences. For now, they are focused on the Karnataka media.

Most recently, on March 16, CEMR filed a complaint against HR Ranganath, chairman of the media house that owns Public TV, for the Kannada channel’s reporting against Amulya Leona, an activist who was held for shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” at a protest against the citizenship law in Bengaluru last month.

The complaint, given to the District Level Monitoring Committee for Private TV Channels, Karnataka State Commission for Women, and Karnataka State Human Rights Commission, accuses Public TV of making statements violating the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

The human rights commission didn’t admit the complaint, citing lack of authority over private TV news channels. The monitoring committee’s coordinator, Sreeja, who only goes by her first name, said it would be taken up whenever the body convenes in the next three months.

If the complaint is upheld, the TV channel could be directed to run an apology on air for two months, its equipment could be seized, or its broadcast licence could be suspended. Ranganath could also be stripped of his press credentials.

‘Market commodity’

The CEMR comprises activists, lawyers, and academicians who believe that much of the Indian media has become a commodity that’s sold for TRP ratings without any consideration for its impact on the marginalised and vulnerable people. The media, they feel, often feeds caste, gender, ethnic and religious stereotypes that negatively affect how Indians view their fellow citizens.

Although the CEMR was formally launched in 2017, its members have been going after the media since 2014, when they filed the first complaint against TV9 for its shameful coverage of the sexual abuse of female schoolchildren. It led to the news channel broadcasting an apology on air.

In 2016, they filed another complaint against TV9 for “making up stories” about transgender people.

Siddharth KJ, an independent researcher who helped found the advocacy group, said they have since filed complaints against TV channels Praja TV, Prajavani, and Suvarna TV.

‘Deeply offensive’

After Amulya was detained on February 20, the Indian media instantly painted her a villian. Kannada TV channels were no exception, with several anchors whipping up communal hysteria over the incident. Ranganath went further than most. On his show Big Bulletin with HR Ranganath that evening, he said, referring to Amulya, “She should have been punched in the face, and her teeth knocked out, right there on the dais. Letting her on was a mistake. It’d have been fine if her teeth had been knocked out. She could have then been chopped up and thrown away.”

He continued, “Oh, if you bash her head, you won’t find cow dung in there. If she comes out, she should be lynched with cow dung wherever she’s seen. If we hit her, will they file cases? Let them file cases, we’ll see.”

Ranganath declared Amulya had “defiled” the Indian constitution by touching a copy of it, and demanded “strict laws against people like her”.

“If three people like her are chopped up and thrown away, the rest will fall in line,” he added. “That is why, sometimes I think it is better to dispense mob justice, though it’s wrong. The legs of those who get caught [doing what Amulya did] should be cut off and thrown away. And their faces should be bashed in. What kind of people are these?

In a statement, the CEMR said Ranganath’s remarks were “deeply offensive and an open call for violence” against Amulya. “Not only does this put the person’s life in jeopardy, it also causes serious issues of law and order. In a society where women, especially from minority communities, are exposed to extreme hate and even physical danger, this form of public violence and abuse by the media is extremely concerning,” the statement added.

Siddharth said no lawyer was ready to take up Amulya’s case because of the media coverage. It was also the reason for a crowd heckling her father, he added.

Repeated attempts to get a comment from Public TV on the CEMR complaint and its coverage of the Amulya proved unsuccessful. This report will be updated if a response is received.

Losing credibility

The code of ethics and the broadcasting standards mandate that media outlets function as public trustees, seek out the truth and report it fairly with integrity and accountability.

The code requires broadcasters to adhere to the principles of impartiality, objectivity, neutrality while reporting on crime, without glorifying it. They also must not intrude into the private lives of those they are reporting on unless there is an “identifiable public interest” at stake.

By launching into a hateful rant against Amulya on air, Ranganath violated all these principles, noted Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a lawyer in Bengaluru.

The anchor clearly incited violence against Amulya, Mahabl said. For this, she demanded, Public TV must be made to offer a public apology and taken off air for at least two months.

Sylvia Karpagam, a doctor and public health researcher who is a member of the CEMR, described the coverage of Amulya by Public TV as “vicious, sexist and anti-minority” and accused Ranganath of instigating hate and violence against her. “It was not objective reporting but just a continuous call to violence. We as citizens, irrespective of religion, gender, caste and class, must condemn such channels and anchors. They put people and communities at risk of violence,” she added.

Reflecting on Ranganath’s segment on Amulya, Cynthia Stephen, an independent journalist, argued that it likely wasn’t driven solely by malice. “He’s trying to secure his financial status by pleasing the people who have money,” she said. “He isn’t only the one doing this. TV9, Republic TV and Times Now do the same.”

Kapil Kajal is a freelance writer based in Bengaluru and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.

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