TV News Channels Spreading Hate and Inciting Violence Must be Punished

October 11, 2017

Most Indian TV news channels are not only propagandist, moving editorially in lockstep with the government, they have become dangerous to society as they are inciting violence and mongering hate speech. 


The news environment has been vitiated to an extent never seen before. “Channels have become walls between people and reality, a crowd is being assembled, communal poison is being spread,” said Srinivasan Jain, Managing Editor of NDTV 24x7. He was speaking at a debate, “Don’t news channels generate more sound than light?” organized by the Foundation for Media Professionals at the Press Club of India in New Delhi.

Srinivasan was responding to Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the biggest investor in Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV, and owner of Asianet and Suvarna 24x7 television channels and Kannada Prabha newspaper. Chandrasekhar had remarked earlier that channels like Republic TV are polarising because audiences in India and elsewhere are sharply divided and they perhaps reflect the opinion of their viewers while also shaping them.

Chandrasekhar said TV channels might exhibit a right-wing bias now, but biases were not absent in the media during the previous, UPA regime. Now they have become accentuated. It is not just an Indian phenomenon. “There is no room for a journalist or a politician to take the middle ground.”  As a member of parliament, if he said Aadhar is good, he will get little coverage, but if he criticised it as an invasion of privacy TV networks will flock to him.

The Rajya Sabha MP said neither he nor his media outfits were subservient to the government. Asianet, he said carried the story broken by about BJP President Amit Shah’s son’s business growth after the current government came to power. These were editorial decisions he did not interfere in, which is why he did not hold executive positiona in any of his media organisations.

“I do not have an issue if channels have a bias,” said Raj Chengappa, Group Editorial Director of India Today and President of the Editors’ Guild of India. Even in the past media organizations had their slant. It did not worry him because people can switch channels. Quoting Mahatma Gnadhi, Chengappa said he would let in winds of all opinion through his window but not be swept by them.  Opinionated channels were pandering to a need hence their high ratings.

The change that was being forced upon journalists of his generation was the change that his generation had forced on the preceding one. After 40 years in journalism he thought he had sailed the seven seas. But then he saw the Wright Brothers (whose first flight made history). “Technology has overtaken,” he said. Chengappa welcomed the churn but said journalists must ask why they are doing what they are doing. For him the three important values in journalism were: clarity, credibility and contemporariness.

Srinivasan said newspapers and TV channels were not speaking truth to power. In fact they privileged power over truth. “Ninety percent of TV news channels and 60 percent of newspapers had become propagandist,” he said. Most of the channels were compromised. Many of them blacked out the Congress press conference about the controversy regarding the BJP president’s son’s business growth.

People did not have the choice of news channels because most of the channels were walking in lock-step with the government. They were posing false binaries: Hindu versus Muslim, right versus left, nationalist versus anti-national. The Rohingyas were being projected as terrorists and a security threat to India when the United Nations has said they were people fleeing persecution. The largest number of these displaced Burmese were in Jammu but J&K’s Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti said none of them was found to be radicalised.

When six protesting farmers were killed in June in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, some of these “North Korean channels” (editor and former minister Arun Shourie’s term) led the headlines with news of an “obscure ulema.” Times Now, Srinivasan said, had used a WhatsApp story of a few years ago about the Islamic State’s rate card for converting Hindus to Islam. Both Republic TV and Times Now castigated author Arundhati Roy for saying that even in massive numbers Indian troops would not be able to secure Kashmir,  when she had said nothing of the kind, and, “a fake news factory” ideologically aligned to the ruling party had created the controversy.

Srinivasan said opinion must be separated from facts. There can be various opinions but there cannot be versions of facts to be chosen as per convenience. US President Donald Trump had said that his predecessor Barack Obama was not American by birth; the fact that he is cannot be contested.

In the United State the liberal media was under attack.  President Trump was muddying the waters by calling it “fake news.” But to its credit, mainstream media had not capitulated as in India. It was not giving in. In fact, the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN were putting the Trump Administration under greater scrutiny. And people were rewarding them. The readership/viewership of these media brands had increased and so had their profits.

But chamchagiri was selling in India. For Jain it was a comment not only on journalists but the wider society.     

One of the reasons why channels were inciting violence and mongering hate speech was because there were no consequences. “Media must find a way to regulate itself,” he said. He cited a Times Now headline, ‘How long will Hindus keep quiet,’ on a debate about Kannada writer K S Bhagwan’s comments about Lord Ram.

On the issue of consequences Chandrasekhar said he would pushback aggressively if his reputation was tarnished. He defended the ex parte stay he had obtained against which said in two stories that there was a conflict of interest between him being a Rajya Sabha MP and member of the parliamentary committee on defence procurement when he was himself into defence production. “Journalism is the pursuit of truth, but if there is trespass I have an equal right to pushback,” he said.