Whether it’s the Arab Spring which took place in the Middle East or the Gujarat Riots in which thousands of people were killed, it was the media which played the role of a watchdog. Unfortunate events like riots and conflicts leave people confused and hungry for more information. And that’s where the media steps in to provide “accurate, objective and factual” information.
But what happens when media, instead of reporting the conflicts, becomes a part of the dirty business.
We explain it with the help of 6 hashtags:
In any riot or conflict, the media can influence people’s opinions and persuade them to take desired sides. So for instance, if the media wants us to be pro-Hindu and anti-Muslim, their reporting will reflect that opinion as well. And this is not something new. It can be dated back to the late 90s during the Ayodhya crisis. During these riots, unfortunate deaths of Hindus were highly reported, whereas the crimes committed by the Hindus on Muslims went under-reported. Thus, shaping people’s opinion and making them believe that Muslims are the ones who are resorting to large scale violence which is not completely true.
The most important ethic of media ie objective reporting is often compromised upon for mere higher TRPs and views.
Another incident is the 2002 Godhra riots. It was newspapers like Gujarat Samachar and Sandesh which published false, biased and blatant anti-Muslim reports which led to communal violence in 2002. A false story on the front page about Hindu women being dragged by a mob, led to sexual violence against Muslim women.
Today, unfortunately, fake news attracts more attention than actual stories which are true. After all journalism today is merely reduced to more TPRs, clicks and advertisers. False information and hoaxes are spreading across India like wildfire, creating conflicts between communities and religions. With the rise in usage of internet, this fake news travels even faster and reached the rural areas as well, where people believe in everything they are exposed to.
It’s not uncommon for the media to raise the number of deaths reported from a riot for their selfish purpose and to create hysteria and panic. In a hurry to be the first to report the incident, the reporters depend on secondary unverified sources to calculate the number of deaths.
Just recently, a rumour that a gang of men was abducting children in Jharkhand was spread via WhatsApp. Soon, a mob of several hundred people took to the streets and ended up killing seven men, who turned out to be innocent as the rumour was false.
While we all knew about the Nirbhaya rape case and the protests which followed, few of us knew about the similarly brutal- Jisha gang rape in Kerala. The national media is more tilted towards North India than the southern part. Thus, anything which occurs in these areas becomes “breaking news” and is picked up by all the news channels.
In this bias, we might be missing out on more important incidents happening in the small districts or cities. The worst is the North East. Rajdeep Sardesai, journalist and an editor, when asked about this disregarding attitude of the mainstream media towards North-East, he said, “This is mainly due to tyranny of distance.” This pretty much sums up the attitude of the national media towards the neglected areas. So this means, news depends a lot on proximity of where the event has occurred. So the nearer to the news studios, more the coverage.
Also, there are higher chances of the national media covering an incident if there are violent protests and rallies. For instance, the Kopardi rape case was not covered until the Marathas resorted to rallies.
23 people died in the violent protests; 2 Dalits beaten for skinning a dead cow; 7 civilians injured in J&K protests. This is what most of the headlines read today. What’s common in all of them? Violence, deaths, injuries, bloodshed….
Increasingly, the media is focusing on the above mentioned factors to attract the viewers or reader’s attention. Gruesome graphics and visuals, multiple tickers and aggressive anchors have become increasingly common in the broadcasting industry. Such tactics used by the media can instill fear among the audience, while in reality, it might not be as bad as they project it.
The media was looked down upon during the Gujarat riots coverage when they named communities that shouldn’t have been and showed visuals of a street carnage in Ahmedabad.
More and more powerful individuals have started owing larger shares in the media. Media in fewer hands leads to limited often filtered opinions being circulated. Think of this situation. A business tycoon owes a news channel and he supports a particular political party. In some way or the other, his views and bias will be reflected in the news stories covered by that channel. Now, if there is any protest or rally against that political party, the channel will either under report it or show the protesters in a bad light.
India’s biggest TV network CNN-News18 and the biggest news group Eenadu is directly controlled by the richest business tycoon, Mukesh Ambani, who is the chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Limited. So it very unlikely the channel will run stories which he does not agree with.
Indian government, have always acted as gatekeepers of the mainstream media. During the 1984 Sikh riots in Punjab, the government imposed heavy censorship and tightly controlled what was being published or telecasted. The government made it tough for the foreign correspondents to report by not issuing visas. Apart from control, the government made sure that nothing anti-government is being reported. For instance, in reporting the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the media almost turned a blind eye to the plight of the thousands of Sikhs murdered
The media cannot possibly bring about a radical change overnight and stop the communal riots from taking place, but they can definitely help bring change with responsible coverage of such incidents. It is far more important right now than ever before for media houses to realise that they play a significant role during riots by disseminating information to the country.