The I&B minister has told TV channels to refrain from airing communal statements, but what about DD?
“Doordarshan is committed to providing quality content. And several steps have been taken for the creation and acquisition of high quality programmes,” Anurag Thakur, union minister for information and broadcasting, told the Rajya Sabha earlier this month in response to a question by Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut. “According to BARC ratings, DD channels have maintained an even level in their categories as compared to private channels.”
Is this claim of quality content rooted in fact? Are DD channels on a par with private players?
You might nod approvingly in answer to the second question if you catch Do Took, a show on DD News hosted by its senior consulting editor Ashok Srivastava. And if you are familiar with what plays on private TV news channels, you would know that answering yes to the second question almost inevitably means the answer to the first is no.
Not only is its content targeting religious minorities and opposition parties similar to the “news” telecast on top private TV channels, Do Took mirrors their style as well. Sample a few headlines:
“Jharkhand Ka Islamikaran?”. Jharkhand being Islamised?
“Ab Sanatan Dharm Nishaane Par?” Is Sanatan Dharm a target now?
“Accidental Hindu Kaun?” Who is an accidental Hindu?
DD News is run by the state broadcaster Prasar Bharati, which, as an autonomous institution, is expected to act in accordance with constitutional values and in service of the country’s unity and integrity. In May, Prasar Bharati released a 20-point programme code for All India Radio, DD News, and its digital platforms. The third point states that anything that “contains an attack on religions or communities, or visuals or words contemptuous of religious groups or which promote communal attitudes” is not permitted.
In April, the I&B ministry had issued an advisory to TV channels asking them to refrain from communal and sensational language.
Yet, when BJP leaders earlier this month questioned why Jharkhand’s Urdu schools had Friday as their weekly day off, Zee News ran a show headlined “Jharkhand Ke Schoolon Mein ‘Islamic Rule’!” while India TV titled their show “Jharkhand Ke Schoolon Mein Shukravaar Ki Chhutti Par Bawaal, Nishikant Dubey Ne Bataya Islamikaran Ki Saazish”. Do Took was not far behind. Srivastava headlined his show “Jharkhand Ka Islamikaran?” and repeated the BJP’s talking points without question.
He repeatedly flashed Dubey’s allegations that Jharkhand was being “rapidly Islamicised” and that Bangladeshi Muslims were “infiltrating in huge numbers” on screen. “My question today is why the holiday is on Friday and not Sunday,” Srivastava asked. “Who is administering the potion of Islamisation to Jharkhand?”
To “debate” the question, he had assembled journalist Indukant Dixit, political analyst Shivam Tyagi, Congress leader Vijay Kaushik, and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chief Priyank Kanoongo – a panel dominated by voices aligned with the ruling party’s worldview.
During the Uttar Pradesh election earlier this year, Srivastava’s show gave private news channels a run for their money, with headlines like “Jinnah Jitayenge?” and “Jinnah Par Takraar, Pakistan Par Pyaar”.
It’s the sort of communal dogwhistling that also fuelled private channels that election season. Aaj Tak ran a show headlined “Jinnah Ke Sahare UP Mein Karenge Raj?”, while the headline on India TV was “Jo Kare Jinnah Se Pyaar, Wo Kaise Kare Pakistan Se Inkaar?”. News18 also broadcasted an episode titled “UP Chunav Mein ‘Jinnah’ Wala Daanv!”
Do Took doesn’t only go after Muslims. It frequently targets non-BJP governments besides.
When Nitish Kumar walked out of his alliance with the BJP and formed a new government in coalition with the RJD, news about rampant crime in Bihar – “Jungle Raj” – returned to TV headlines. DD News joined in.
“Bihar Phir Jungle Raj Ki Or?” a Do Took headline asked. Is Bihar returning to Jungle Raj. Compare this to “Bihar Mein ‘Jungle Raj’ Ki Waapsi?” on ABP News and “Jungle Raj: Patna Mein Apradhion Ke Haunsle Buland, Dindahade Chhatraa ko Maari Goli” on India TV.
In 2020, when BJP president JP Nadda was allegedly targeted in West Bengal, DD News called it “Mamata Ka Jungle Raj”, as did private TV channels on the basis of statements by BJP leaders.
Notably, a previous AIR broadcast code, which prohibited “attack on a political party by name”, does not find mention in the new rules issued in May.
During the UP election, DD News essentially acted as a publicity arm of the Adityanath government. Newslaundry reported at the time how the channel passed off BJP affiliates as common citizens praising the government.
In April, Do Took sought to bust the “Kejriwal model” of the Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi on the basis of videos made by BJP leaders of schools and mohalla clinics. There was an empty chair on Do Took that night, symbolically reserved for AAP, and specifically Kejriwal, who Srivastava claimed was scared to answer his questions.
Talking about this turn of DD News, a journalist associated with the channel said, “Hindu-Muslim debates were never done before on DD News. It’s a new thing. Apart from Do Took, it is unlikely you will find something like this on any other programme. Opposition and opposition governments were never directly targeted before.”
Srivastava told Newslaundry he was too busy to talk to us. This report will be updated if we receive a response to a questionnaire sent to him.
Mayank Kumar Agarwal, who is responsible for reviewing the quality of DD News content as the channel’s director general, didn’t respond to our questions either.