India’s news TV is out for blood. Primetime debates on TV channels are seeking to whip up a frenzy. By creating religious conflict disguised as political differences, by pitting one religious identity against another day in and day out, TV news channels are, in effect, gunning for a riot.
In this series, which we are calling Bloodlust TV, Newslaundry is going to do precisely that. We will call out programming that’s inciteful, and violates the News Broadcasting Standards Authority’s advisory for covering the lead-up to the Ayodhya verdict. Beyond the Ayodhya verdict, this series will keep documenting programming that goes against media ethics, thrives on inciting communal passions, targets minorities, and indulges in hate speech.
The key purpose of the NBSA’s advisory is to ensure that TV media covers the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir dispute in a manner that upholds the secular nature of the country, and refrains from inciting communal passions.
Consider two of the critical points in the NBSA’s advisory:
The NBSA also states that TV news channels shouldn’t speculate on the Ayodhya verdict and not take sides.
Yet, we found that on the very day this advisory was issued, the majority of the news channels blatantly disregarded it despite the fact that all of them are members of the News Broadcasters Association. Almost all channels speculated on the verdict as well.
For example, Zee News editor Sudhir Chaudhary recited the NBSA guidelines, only to suggest that the best solution would be for a temple to be built at the disputed site in Ayodhya, and that Muslims should agree to such a proposition.
Republic TV anchor Arnab Goswami, while calling for peace, repeatedly criticised lawyers representing the “Muslim side” and called their legal appeals a “craft of distraction”. Goswami, time and again, described the legal defence mounted by the “Muslim side” as delay tactics.
India Today presented a ground report on the day from Ayodhya with its reporter asking panellists to speculate on the verdict and how they would react to it. The panellists included four sadhus, or Hindu religious leaders; Muslim Political Council of India president Tasleem Rehmani; Congress supporter Deepak Kumar Jha; and Shoaib Jamai, who was introduced as an Islamic scholar.
The panellists routinely made incendiary remarks. One of them, Kalpatti Maharaj, declared: “Babur lootera hai…aatankwaadi hai…uska samarthan karne waale aatankwaadi ho sakte hain.” (Babur was a terrorist and his supporters may be terrorists.)
Of all the channels, however, Times Now’s programming stood out for being downright inflammatory.
Times Now carried two primetime shows on the last day of the Ayodhya hearing. At 8 pm, Rahul Shivshankar hosted a debate, titled “Masjid lawyer goes rogue, Is this Lutyens liberalism?”
For context, read the details of the proceedings of the last day of the hearing on Live Law. Here’s the operative part:
The final day of the hearing witnessed some dramatic moments with Dr Dhawan tearing up in court certain maps and other documents sought to be relied on by Senior Advocate Vikas Singh to show the point which the Hindus have believed to be Lord Ram’s place of birth. “You can shred it more”, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had commented.
With this incident having been widely reported and trending on social media, Dr Dhawan subsequently suggested that he had intended to throw away the papers and proceeded to tear them only when the Chief Justice said so — “It was with the court’s permission”. The Chief Justice also agreed that he had said that the Senior Counsel may tear up the documents.
Shivshankar spun these proceedings to claim that the Hindu faith had been desecrated in the court. “The courtroom today was turned into a battlefield. In a violent act, the lawyer representing the Masjid side ripped apart, yes physically ripped apart an 1810 map of the Ram Janamsthan…with this the Masjid side’s lawyer…also virtually tore apart Hindu aastha [faith].” He continued: “Many today are asking if Rajiv Dhawan, a leading light of the Lutyens lobby had dared to rip apart the Quran for instance.”
Shivshankar then set the agenda for the debate: “Are these acts of barely concealed contempt towards Hindu faith the reason why justice has been delayed for so long despite the Hindus saying that a speedy resolution of the issue was central to their faith, their aastha, their belief…their sentiments.” [Emphases added to highlight misreporting and propaganda.]
By essentially claiming that the “Masjid” side had committed a “violent” act, Shivshankar grossly misreported the proceedings of the day. While most media houses described the last day of the hearing as dramatic, there’s no proof of any side indulging in “violence” in the court.
He also drew a false equivalence by comparing what happened in the court to someone tearing up the Quran. The maps and papers shredded in the court were copies from the book Ayodhya Revisited, which was published in 2016; it is not a holy book of the Hindus like the Bhagvad Gita, but comparing Dhawan’s act to desecrating the Quran, Shivshankar willfully incited communal passions.
Times Now’s second offering was no better, with anchor Navika Kumar sitting on a virtual flowing Saryu decked with ghats. The hashtag read #RamMandirCountdown, which implies a certainty that the court would rule in favour of a temple. The ticker flashed assertions like “Delay Justice, Deride Hindu” and “Masjid Lawyer Crosses Line, Goes Rogue In Apex Court”.
Kumar, at some point in the debate, moderated a faceoff between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s spokesperson, Vinod Bansal, and Maulana Rashidi, who she introduced as an Ismalic scholar. Bansal told Rashidi that Hindu Samaj would not tolerate any disrespect, to which Rashidi said the VHP was finished because of its lies.
Sample the exchange:
Rashidi: Kahan hai Vishwa Hindu Parishad? Vishwa Hindu Parishad khatam ho gaya…tumhaare jhooth ki wajah se khatam ho gaya. (VHP is finished because of your lies.)
Bansal: Ek shabd keh dunga aag lag jaaegi maulana. (I’ll say one word and it’ll spark a fire.)
The exchange went on for a while before Kumar cut in, “Yeh poora case to Supreme Court main hai, hum uska legal solution dhoondh rahe hain…agar humain aag lagani hoti, toh 100-150 saal pehle aag lag gayi hoti is mudde pe.” (We are looking for a legal solution, if we wanted to set things on fire, it would have been done 100-150 years ago.)
Navika repeatedly questioned whether the tearing up of the pages in the top court was not a “provocation”. She did not specify provocation to what end.
Shivshankar’s and Kumar’s shows stood out for their incendiary content, although Aaj Tak tried hard to compete with its headline.
On August 15, Aaj Tak put out the following tweet. Roughly translated, it reads, “Our homeland, our Ram, where did the mosque people come from?”
The headline is hugely problematic, to put it mildly. Aaj Tak is routinely called out for putting out such headlines, which pit Hindus against Muslims. On the Desh Tak show that evening, however, this headline was nowhere to be found.
Desh Tak is a regular news bulletin where the anchor presents some of the big news stories of the day and does 10-minute reports on each. That day, the anchor was Nishant Chaudhary.
If you watch the show, it’s merely a factual narration of what went down in the court on October 15. The tweet, which is still up, thus appears to have been a part of what can best be described as an attention-grabbing technique. The thinking is that more people are likely to tune in to the show when they see this.
This is not the first instance when Aaj Tak has done this. Here’s another example:
Both Times Now and Aaj Tak are members of the News Broadcasters Association, but neither have any qualms about blatantly disregarding the NBSA advisory.
In the run-up to the Ayodhya verdict, which is due by mid-November, we’ll be keeping a close watch on such instances and calling out TV anchors and channels that host debates fanning communal hatred. We will also look at panellists across debates and keep a watch on their utterances. A special mention will be for sponsors and brands that power such debates with their money. If you spot something we should watch, tweet to us with the hashtag #BloodlustTV or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Bloodlust TV’. Let’s do this together.
As an example, watch this week’s episode of TV Newsance. From 15:49 min onwards, we give a sample of news reporting that is hyper-partisan and fans communal sentiments.
With inputs from Meghnad S.