When the entire world is fighting against coronavirus, the Modi government is now trying more hard to suppress and control the media in order to cover their mistakes and ignorance that has led the virus to spread more rapidly. According to the reports, right before he imposed the lockdown in the country, PM Modi met with top news executives and instructed them to publish inspiring and heroic stories of him being the saviour of the nation.
In the time span of a few months that we all have spent in the lockdown, we have carefully witnessed the behavioural change of media. Seeing the drastic moves made popular media platforms, a question that arises is if media biases is new to this regime or not.
The first newspaper in India was the Bengal Gazzette started James Hickey. It was until the freedom struggle paced up, newspapers mostly published content in British interest. With onslaught of the independence movement, journalists well projected national interests using newspapers as a medium not only to further freedom struggle but organize mass movements. However, things changed after independence.
Modern day journalism finds its roots in post emergency media which was largely corporate driven. Press was more or less ‘content controlled’ under Congress rule. Earlier than national emergency, it was 1962 Indo-China war reports of which were declassified only in 2014. Multiple press organizations were created in this period, but with no common social issue and increased competition, the zeal to work for national benefit died.
Is the media responsible for inciting violence?
Media misreporting, biasness, or fake news has been largely responsible for inciting violence all over the world. So has the case been with India where three incidents;
- 1947 Jabalpur Riots,
- 1969 Gujarat Riots,
- 1980 Moradabad Riots;
cost many lives in the name of communal violence. The Mandwi massacre in Tripura in 1980 is an example of ignorance and media bias. The reports were manipulated to show only the anti-non tribal riot while the sufferings of the majority community at their hands was conveniently ignored.
Remember the 1984 Sikh riots much endorsed the Gandhi dynasty? Prior to the riots, the coverage of Operation Blue star the media was carried out such that the entire Sikh community was held responsible (Ahmed, 2010). The killing of Indira Gandhi resulted in the media showcasing the entire Sikh community as villains. This worsened the situation and ended up killing an estimated 3000 Sikhs in the violence that followed.
The Bhopal Gas tragedy that also occurred in 1984 did not witness media incited mob violence but silence. Under the Congress leadership, local media remained mum about the political failures that led to the incident while international media let loose Union carbide stating India’s lack of safety standards (Livemint, 2014).
How has Media behaved since 2014?
Back then in the emergency period, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi suppressed the media for publishing truth. So is the case today where our present prime minister is also suppressing the media to establish himself as a saviour of the country.
In August 2018, ABP News anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai wrote an exposé for The Wire’s Hindi website, detailing the grave degree to which the situation had deteriorated in India’s newsrooms. Bajpai said he was asked not to make any mention of PM Modi on his programs. He also revealed that the government had employed 200 staff to monitor the media and send directions to editors on how they must report on the prime minister’s activities.
The BJP has also been brazenly selective in handing out TV licences to new applicants, controlling who enters the fray. Republic TV, partly owned its own parliamentarian Rajeev Chandrasekhar and helmed Arnab Goswami, a popular, pro-establishment anchor known for his filibustering style, was given immediate permission in 2017 to launch a channel.
A sting operation an outfit called Cobrapost showed that some 25 of India’s leading media organisations, including giants like The Times of India, The New Indian Express, and the India Today Group were willing to participate in propaganda for the BJP. Other outlets recorded in the sting, even agreed to spread communal hate in return for cash from the ruling party.
The bitter truth is that because of the suppression the authorities a large section of Indian media has become biased and a “lap dog of the government instead of a watchdog to the society”.