Sunday, July 11, 2021

Death of Journalism: How Indian media remains soft on right-wing hate speeches and extremism, even refuses to report

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

The headline may seem harsh but it’s true. In fact, it was unimaginable till a few years ago that we would be witness to the situation where hate speeches that have the potential to disrupt the social fabric would be delivered on a regular basis and media organizations would not be willing to report.

Imagine, a politician in central India gives speech in front of public and he openly gives a call to stock arms and indulge in attack and arson, yet, no major news channel or paper mentions it, though the video is available and complaint was made to authorities in this regard.

Within a couple of days, another youth delivers a speech in a public event, around 700 kms away [in Haryana], threatening to shoot the ‘Nawab of Pataudi’. The video is available, it was shared, but there was ‘pin drop silence’ from mainstream media.

The same media that talks about ‘Nawab of Pataudi’ day in and day out, covers his family like Paparazzi. But despite users on social media, expressing outrage, not a single TV channel or paper wrote a word on this ‘hate speech’.

Sometimes out of 50–100 major publications, barely one reports that too in a way that it dilutes the speech or avoids mentioning the worst part. Oh yes, there is another incident recently. Down South, a third case of extreme hate speech took place. 

A legislator created a song ahead of a Muslim festival and the song spreads hate against the community, in fact, in the song he gives a clear message — threatens to ‘bury them alive’ (sic) and in this case too, no one has reported it — not a single newspaper or channel.

It’s indeed phenomenal. So how this 'code of silence' has come into being? The cover-up and more than this, the ‘understanding’, that no one will write about it, lest the world gets to know about the level of hate speech and radicalization in our society.

That’s the same media which casually publishes unverified content, does stories based on mere claims, churns out reports after reports on the basis of hearsay by putting an exclamation or question mark in the headline and it even reports things that were never said.

How media covers up right-wing extremism, hate speeches and ignores growing radicalization in society

When ‘maha panchayats’— grand gatherings are held and such hate is spewed, and media doesn’t even focus on these speeches or tends to ignore or just write a bit in a passing mention, it raises serious questions on Indian media setup.

How can such a big cover-up take place? That, major news organisations avoid reporting when hate speeches lead to panic, fear and even violence. Due to failure of media, there is not adequate pressure and neither cases are registered, nor culprits brought to books.

In case after case, officials say, ‘we don’t get information’ or ‘no one has complained to us yet’. It is, of course, because the participants at such conclaves are aligned to the right-wing and the party sympathetic to them, rules many of the states.

But inaction of administration or silence of politicians aside, the issue is that how media has developed this system of not focusing on such extremism and the decision to not report these incidents. It’s clear that the right-wing doesn’t want the incidents to be known. 

That media outlets considered left-liberal or centrist too avoid, shows that there is a clear feeling that it will show us in poor light and hence it must not be reported. Worse, many of the leading journalists who avoid these cases, don’t even want others to write. 

The moment there is a video or a social media post, the veteran journos appear with the advice — ‘don’t give publicity to the chap’. This is weird because when things don’t get reported, there is even less chance of any official taking cognizance. 

And, if it is not reported, it’s easy to deny in future and say that, ‘nothing happened, who said it, bring proof’. Do they want these hate preachers to continue their work without any hindrance? Why else, they don’t write and stop others too from writing about such horrific speeches that are becoming a regular feature!

Quite consistent with the line that documentation of hate crimes and hate speeches is not liked. Hindustan Times had suddenly stopped its tracker and the editor had left the group. There are few outlets other than ‘mainstream media’. On social media, ‘reporting groups’ get active and accounts that document have been targeted and suspended.

Is media aim to allow fanatics to continue activities on one hand & on the other hand ensure that this doesn’t get reported or documented. Sharp management. It’s not new. Just that the speeches are now more common. In fact, it was the same earlier also. Almost twelve years ago, a leader gave an inflammatory and divisive, hate speech in UP.

He said a lot — from open threat and allegedly inciting violence. The journalists didn’t mention the horrific part. When asked, why you didn’t write, the reply was like, ‘oh I missed’ or ‘which part?’ Even after forwarding the video or the part, there was no change in story. 

So this issue has been there in ‘mainstream media’ in India for long. Just that there was no social media and it was difficult to keep track, then. The composition of newsrooms, the people who don’t want ‘own society to be blamed’ or seen as radical, try to hush up and remain in denial, even at the cost of objectivity and fairness in journalism.

It’s a majoritarian society and this is reflected in media, more in newsroom composition. It doesn’t want others to know that such things happen and that there is such level of ‘hate’ in the society, hence it zealously tries to conceal and hush up, even if it’s immoral and unjust.

Clearly, it is a complicity of epic proportion. Apparently, there is a strong belief that ‘our people can’t be fanatic like ‘others’, and if they are as we see them turning into monsters, it’s better to not write about them because this will affect our image’.

In fact, reality is opposite. By telling the truth, you won’t be defaming own society or nation, rather, it will be a self-correcting path, it will ensure that fanatics are pushed to boundary, exposed and brought to books. However, if you feel that reporting about their acts, would affect your own image, then it’s a huge mistake. 

Because, this will have far-reaching consequences for the society, faith and the nation. You can also read this report at the Medium. It's titled, 'If media stops reporting hate speeches and ignores growing radicalization in society, it shuns its duty, becomes complicit'.