Hindi news channels apply different editorial yardsticks to protests against Nupur Sharma and Agnipath.
As news TV scrambled for convenient terminologies to describe the demonstrations against the anti-Prophet remarks and the Agnipath scheme, they betrayed stark communal bias in how they apply their editorial yardsticks – all in the short span of a week.
When it came to the protests over the Prophet remarks, news anchors called for the thunder of bulldozers and deployed words such as “pattharbaaz”, or stonepelter, and “dangaai”, or rioter. However, for the unrest surrounding the new armed forces recruitment programme, many tried to sympathise with the stakeholders, calling them “protesters” or “angry youth”. Nary a word was said about a bulldozer – increasingly seen as a symbol of state-sanctioned violence against minorities – to rein in Agnipath protesters, no matter the scale of the violence.
In fact, on Friday, when the protests over the anti-prophet remarks were long curbed with an iron fist, and violence pertaining to the Agnipath scheme was beginning to unravel, several anchors were still busy predicting what would happen outside mosques, and if the bulldozers were ready.
Let’s take a look at what prominent Hindi channels said.
The channel, which repeatedly referred to protesters as “dangebaaz” when mentioning the demonstrations linked to the prophet remarks row, termed the Agnipath agitators as “youth”.
Chief editor Sudhir Chaudhary, discussing the Agniveer row on his show DNA, maintained that “our youth is taking out its anger on its own people”.
While Chaudhary made no mention of any bulldozer and pointed to the government’s “inability” in explaining the benefits of the new defence recruitment programme to the angry protesters, his colleague Aditi Tyagi, in a special edition of Taal Thok Ke, batted for demolitions citing the Supreme Court proceedings on Thursday. Though Aditi maintained that it was only about the “illegal constructions'', the dog whistle was not lost with the show being headlined – “kal shukrvaar hai, bulldozer tayyaar hai (tomorrow is Friday, the bulldozer is ready)”.
In a debate on the Agnipath protests titled, “Aakrosh se lathpath, Agnipath’” (soaked in anger, Agnipath)”, Anjana Om Kashyap tried to explain that there were reasons – such as job uncertainty – behind the anger among the “students” on Thursday. On Friday, she asked if “students” were becoming prey to “rumours”.
However, there was no pretence of nuance on her show on Friday, titled “kal jumma hai, aman ka vaada hai (tomorrow is Friday, a promise of peace)”. Unlike her show on Agnipath protesters, Anjana did not waste time in exploring the reasons behind the anger among those who demonstrated over remarks against the prophet last Friday. The voiceover pointed to appeals by Muslim clerics for peace as the primary reason behind peace this week. The show termed these protesters as “pattharbaaz gang” and “dangaai”.
As violence linked to Agnipath unfurled in several parts of the country, Aaj Tak reported on arrangements being made by the UP police in several parts of the state to rein in protests after Friday prayers. “Namaz is about to start. Yogi’s third eye is on those who create nuisance,” the anchor said before asking reporters on ground to give their inputs. This, even as a police station in Aligarh was vandalised in Uttar Pradesh and a train was set ablaze in Ballia, among other such violent episodes linked to Agnipath.
“Are Friday prayers becoming infamous because of stone pelting?” anchor Chitra Tripathi asked in another discussion on the prophet remarks row while talking about the UP police arrangements for Friday prayers. She also batted for bulldozer action citing the Supreme Court’s comments. But such calls for bulldozer justice were absent in the coverage on Agnipath demonstrations.
On his show Aar Paar, anchor Amish Devgan discussed the Supreme Court’s remarks on demolitions and asked if the bulldozer was the biggest weapon against “rioters”. Referring to the prophet remarks row, he asked why no one was worrying about police being hit by stones.
The tickers read “Dangebaaz, bulldozer se savdhan!” (rioters, beware of bulldozers!) and “chala pathar toh daudega bulldozer!” (If stones walk, bulldozers will run!).
But when the same anchor discussed the Agnipath scheme on Thursday, there were no such displays of affection for the police while referring to the violent demonstrations. Amish suggested those with their faces covered were part of a “huge misinformation campaign”. The next day, he listed out benefits of the scheme for the “youth”. Bulldozers found no mention in both the debates.
Compare this to the Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge telecast by anchor Aman Chopra, who actually cited a survey to claim that 77.4 percent of respondents believed that bulldozer justice was right, in light of the Nupur Sharma demonstrations. “Look at these faces. They are the dealers of hate,” Chopra said while pointing to hoardings put up by Ranchi police of protesters. The tickers asked profound questions: “Shukr hai, bulldozer hai? (it’s Friday, are there bulldozers?)” and “shukr ko patthar, shani ko bulldozer? (stones on Friday, bulldozer on Saturday?)”.
Rubika Liaquat addressed both the protests on her show Masterstroke on Thursday. She began with the Agnipath demonstrations, sympathising with the protesters. “The protesters there are mostly boys who have been preparing for recruitments for the last two years,” she said.
However, while talking about the UP police’s preparations for Friday prayers, Liaquat said, “They have been given a manual to deal with rioters,” Liaquat said. The headline read: “Pattharbaaz khabardaar, oopar drone, neeche bulldozer. This was in reference to “jumme waali hinsa” (violence specific to Fridays). The anchor mentioned Yogi Adityanath’s “danga formula” even as the ticker pointed to violence “outside mosques”.
The anchor later tried to assuage the fears of Agniveer protesters while questioning their disciplinary conduct and presented a report on global recruitment models for the armed forces. However, there was no mention of a bulldozer to rein in these protests.
On Ashwarya Kapoor’s show Poochta hai Bharat on Thursday, the violence over Agnipath found a fleeting mention as the anchor seemed more taken by the Supreme Court’s remarks on demolitions. “You can investigate but the bulldozer cannot be stopped,” he said while referring to protesters seeking action against BJP leaders in the prophet remarks controversy as “rioters”. The ticker read: “Yogi ka bulldozer nonstop chalega! (Yogi’s bulldozer will work nonstop!)”.
But on his show on Friday, as violence over the Agnipath scheme rocked several parts of the country, there was no mention of bulldozers as the anchor discussed the protests. Kapoor had strong remarks for the vandalism but at no point called the protesters “rioters”. Similar to News18 India, the channel hinted at the role of a “conspiracy” in the agitation. The anchor also questioned the behaviour of the protesters considering that the armed forces were an “epitome of discipline”.
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