Media dividing India for TRPs

Ram Mandir is built, Babri Masjid is built, people are declared anti-national and fascists - all in one hour.

 |  5-minute read |   12-03-2016
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There is no doubt in my mind that the free Indian media, mostly fair and sometimes unfair, with all its variants — electronic, online and particularly print — is probably the most wonderful addition to our democratic and constitutional narrative.

When the legislature and executive wings have been found wanting, especially on issues like maintaining rule of law, tackling corruption and communal violence and the judiciary has been circumspect to tread on the path of liberal progressivism, the Indian media has made its voice heard.

Also read: Why journalists can't stand Arnab Goswami

The Jessica Lal case is a classic example of how the media managed to tip the scales of a blindfolded lady justice in favour of what is right. Much of the judicial activism we see in India especially on public interest litigations (PILs) is driven by the media as much as it is by public spirited legal activists.

Confidence

Today, if we have the confidence that riots with the potential to obliterate thousands cannot be orchestrated with the same impunity as they were in the past with covert and overt executive sanction, it is thanks to the alert journalists.

If the soldier stands guard at the border to maintain our territorial integrity from external aggression, it is the pen-wielding (these days camera and mic-wielding) journalist that ensures the maintenance of our constitutional integrity. Together, they complete the physical and ideological conception of the very idea of India.

Also read: When Zee calls my father, the renowned poet Gauhar Raza, anti-national

Unfortunately, night after night some anchor-editors, who fancy themselves as the dispensers of justice and conscience keepers of India, do everything to defile the very ideas they seem keen to protect. As a young Indian, forced to wear his identity as a Muslim on the sleeve far more prominently than that of a civic rights activist or a constitutionalist, I do have some serious bones to pick with certain aspects of our media.

Far too much emphasis is laid on identity and far too little on content — a recipe for polarisation that begins in TV studios and headlines that then plays out disastrously in the dusty by-lanes of our socio-political discourse.

I agree wholly that the media usually reflects deep-seated communal ruptures that already exist in the walls of our society, no matter how much we whitewash it with the paint of "Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb" but in some cases sections of the media, wittingly and unwittingly, are responsible for widening these cracks with a narrative of polarisation, that is fed to audiences irrespective of its palatability. The media not only reflects the nation’s mood but are responsible for building it as well.

Also read: Subhash Chandra failed to convince Zee is not Modi's mouthpiece

Debates

Night after night, for instance I find that pseudo-religious figures, driven mostly by their own petty interests, pecuniary, political and otherwise, masquerade as "experts" on TV debates, for causes they don’t believe in. One bearded "Muslim" expert, one saffron robed "Hindu" expert, one "RSS" expert (for a cultural organisation they seem to have a political view on everything strangely), one "anti-RSS" expert, political representatives of all hues and the 9pm cock-fight begins.

Ram Mandir is built, Babri Masjid is built, people are declared anti-nationals and folks are labelled fascists — all in the course of an hour debate. I have been a participant in many of these "debates". My legal work against hate speech is hardly the reason I am invited on these panels. Truth be told, I am invited for being a Muslim. I may refuse to be part of that narrative which predicates itself on "us" versus "them". Unfortunately, media oxygen will be provided only to those who say something communally inflammable.

If I refuse to stick to the script of "being Muslim", to be a part of this madness at nine, the next person will be willing to be far more rabid and extremist — far more willing to fight for his religion or caste or identity on TV, never for his issues though.

In the battle for TRPs there are dozens in line waiting to become prime-time gladiators in the cause of polarisation.

Also read: Does Indian media want to incite riots and lynchings for TRPs?

Considerations

It is for the 9pm anchor-editor to decide whether some dynastic Owaisi with his poor track record on hate speech and developmental politics deserves to be a voice of the entire Muslim community. Whether a Hindu Mahasabha ideologue who justifies the killing of Mahatma Gandhi can be a voice of nationalism.

Few anchor-editors do follow the voice of their conscience, the rest are guided by extraneous considerations. I once got a call from a coordinator of a leading news channel to argue as a "Muslim" for banning entry of women in mosques and support triple talaq.

I told him that wasn’t the real position of Islam at all and that is exactly what I would like to say on air citing a few examples from the life of the Prophet! In a few minutes, the coordinator called to tell me that the show topic had changed and my services were no longer required. It hadn’t. They had found a willing "Maulana" to dance on their choreographed communal narrative.

I cannot fake my "Muslim-ness". I know many folks who won’t fake their "Hinduness" and advocate a Hindu rashtra just to be on television.

Also read: Why does Arnab Goswami uncle shout so much?

Maybe it’s time the "know it all" 9pm anchor-editor also acknowledged that beyond TRPs and the narrative of polarisation is the idea of India. To that idea we must owe our loyalties.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Writer

Shehzad Poonawalla Shehzad Poonawalla @shehzad_ind

Formerly served with ministry of parliamentary affairs, Govt of India. He is a lawyer, civil rights activist and a Congress party supporter. Views are personal.

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