In an interview with CM Yogi Adityanath, Sudarshan News editor referred to politician Asaduddin Owaisi as a ‘virus who infected pigs’.
Hate and deceit are firm pillars of a section of India’s television news. While some shoulder these pillars in crisp suits and refined English, others don’t bother. Take Suresh Chavhanke, whose channel Sudarshan News is unabashed in its two-point programme of anti-Muslim hatred and pro-BJP broadcast without any pretence of fair reportage.
Sudarshan News often has the support of Koo, the social media app that markets itself as the desi answer to Twitter, and has sponsored shows on Chavhanke’s channel.
On Friday, Chavhanke interviewed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, two days before the state goes into its fifth phase of polling. False data and bombastic claims were on the platter, but what stood out were the slurs directed at Asaduddin Owaisi, the member of parliament from Hyderabad and the chief of All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen, or AIMIM.
Towards the end of the 34-minute interview, Chavhanke asked Adityanath: “You did great work during the Covid crisis, handling a small virus so seriously. But a seven-foot tall, three-foot wide virus from Hyderabad came and infected the pigs here. How will you save your state from that?”
Yogi smiled. “We have good arrangements to deal with whatever kinds of viruses show up,” said the CM, who set aside Rs 2.68 crore in ads for Sudarshan News in 2020-21.
Chavhanke’s dogwhistle was not only directed against Owaisi but also the Muslim community. He implied that Muslims in UP – nearly 20 percent of the state’s population – were “pigs” whom Owaisi was trying to “infect”. Yogi, their elected representative, seemed amused. His pathetic answer clung to a smile, as if he had unleashed brilliant wit at the viewers.
The animosity was coupled with misinformation. The most glaring was the CM’s claim that according to the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE), unemployment in UP hovered around 18 percent in 2016-2017, when the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party was in power, and had fallen to 3 percent under his Bharatiya Janata Party government.
The numbers are fabricated. According to CMIE, the unemployment rate in UP oscillated between 2.1 percent and 6.7 percent in 2017, averaging 3.6 percent throughout the year. In 2021, CMIE data showed that the metric swung between 4.1 percent and 6.98 percent, averaging 5.1 percent. So there were more jobless people in UP in 2021 compared to 2017.
But while politicians are known to be economical with truth, calling Owaisi a “virus” took the flailing discourse on TV news to a new low. Owaisi, whose party won five seats in Bihar during the 2020 assembly elections, is contesting from 100 seats in UP, which has a 403-seat assembly – AIMIM has fielded at least 11 Hindu candidates. Earlier this month, there was an assassination attempt at the Hyderabad MP. The attackers claimed to be affiliated with the BJP.
One brand that featured prominently in Yogi's interview was Koo. Its logo zoomed in at multiple points in the show (like this) with Chavhanke standing beside it. The screen flashed: “Watch every big news report from Sudarshan News on Koo,” calling the channel and its editor-in-chief the “bold voice of nationalism”.
The interview started with the channel’s bulletins; snippets of news are called “Koo headlines”. Asked if the app had partnered with Sudarshan News, Koo founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna told Newslaundry that he’ll have to check with his team. “Different news channels use Koo in different ways,” he said.
While Koo has been trying hard to disassociate itself with Hindu supremacy, the app’s spurt in India is driven largely by supporters of the BJP, who cringe at Twitter flagging or taking down their misleading and abusive tweets. Under the banner of a “free-expression platform”, Koo lets hate proliferate. Journalists who have observed the platform closely write that “Hindu supremacism runs wild” on the app, where “hate speech against Muslims…flows freely, driven by some of the government’s most hardcore supporters”.
On TV news, Koo has other friends, notably NDTV. While one would never see, say, a Sanket Upadhyaya draped in saffron and cursing minorities, Sudarshan News has a different claim to fame. It has been unapologetically anti-Muslim for years, serving sickening cocktails of communal paranoia and false news on a daily basis.
For this reason alone, Radhakrishna’s claim that his app doesn’t understand “left” or “right” is questionable. Marketing Koo on the shoulders of Chavhanke’s bile against Owaisi and Muslims puts him to the right and also in the wrong. The app’s sponsorship of Sudarshan News tells us that the decline of media discourse in India is not driven by reckless anchors and shrewd politicians, but also by “apolitical” entrepreneurs.
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