A report on the communal violence that devastated northeast Delhi in 2020 says “anti-Muslim prejudice” was a “running thread” on TV news channels around the time.
The TV media projected the protests against the Narendra Modi government’s citizenship law, particularly at Shaheen Bagh, “as conspiratorial and violent”, says the report titled “Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020”. It was put together by retired judges Madan B Lokur, AP Shah, Anjana Prakash, RS Sodhi, and former bureaucrat GK Pillai.
“The open accusations of criminality made against anti-CAA protesters, first as a block, and then against individuals, were highly irresponsible, particularly given the extent to which accusations were shaped and spread. In a signal of the gravity, the Delhi High Court was compelled to give stern warnings against the conduct of any kind of ‘media trial’ and directed the police to stop leaking documents or leads in cases concerning individuals to media sources,” the report says.
The report includes a content analysis of six leading television news channels – Republic TV, Republic Bharat, Times Now, India TV, Zee News, Aaj Tak. “Our analysis of the episodes selected across the six channels reveals that these instances of violence were employed to build a broad narrative to vilify the anti-CAA protests. The coverage appeared to portray the protests as single-handedly responsible for the unfolding violence,” the report points out.
The report cites a segment from Republic TV that aired on December 16, 2019 and notes that it was “punctuated with flashing text, such as ‘Using Rights Excuse for Riots?’.” The anchor repeatedly called the protesters “potential terrorists” who were trying to incite communal violence.
A Zee News show telecast on January 27, 2020 was titled “Kya Ab Shaheen Bagh Jaane Ke Liye Visa Lagega?” Do we need a visa to enter Shaheen Bagh now?
“In the show,” the report says, “the anchor compared Shaheen Bagh to conflict sites like Kashmir and Syria in an attempt to characterise the protest site as violent and aggressive.”
It also mentions an Aaj Tak show, Halla Bol, which aired on February 10, 2020 and where a panellist declared, “If Hindutva is being sent to the grave, then the country’s traitors can also be shot. The anchor did not respond to this violent content.”
Commenting on the language used by the news anchors, the report states, “The language of anchors and panellists, and the phrasing of the visual tools on these shows, reveal the antagonistic messaging and sensationalist style.”
It further says, “The refusal to engage with the stated position of the protests also prevented these channels from providing an informed and journalistically defensible critical commentary on different facets of the protests, if that was the channels’ intended objective.”
A weekly guide to the best of our stories from our editors and reporters. Note: Skip if you're a subscriber. All subscribers get a weekly, subscriber-only newsletter by default.