How Zee and ABP News sowed communal poison

BY JYOTI PUNWANI| IN Media Practice | 20/03/2018
Their coverage of Ankit Saxena’s murder was a master class in hate-mongering. Reporting Communal Issues - Part I
JYOTI PUNWANI on how low they stooped


How many dimensions can there be to the Ankit Saxena story? The young photographer was brutally killed on February 1 by his Muslim girlfriend’s family. His throat was slit as her parents and brother attacked him in the middle of a crowded Delhi street outside his home. His mother, who came to rescue him, was also attacked. All the while, the girl, Shehzadi, was waiting for him at a metro station.

The English press fleshed out the context in which the horrific killing took place. We got a comprehensive picture that told us that the lower middle class, mostly Hindi-speaking neighbourhood where Ankit and his girlfriend fell in love, had enough young Hindu-Muslim couples for this couple not to stand out.

Ankit’s father’s plea not to communalise the killing was given wide publicity. He did not hate Muslims because members of that community had killed his only child, he said. He knew the family; they had been neighbours earlier.

The girl’s family had earlier thrashed a Muslim boy who they suspected of dating their daughter.  So obviously, this incident wasn’t merely a Hindu-Muslim issue, though that angle could not be ignored.

The killing could have been discussed on TV from many perspectives: the problems that hound Hindu-Muslim liaisons, feudal attitudes to daughters, the fact that an ``honour killing’’, hitherto not a widespread urban phenomenon, had taken place in the capital, the way murder was seen as the solution, etc.


Stoking hatred of Muslims

Instead, two of the most popular Hindi channels,  Zee News and ABP News, used the photographer’s killing to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred among their Hindu viewers vis-à-vis Muslims and to target Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the ``secular gang’’, both of whom they accused of remaining silent about the killing only because the victim was a Hindu.

Were these angles backed up by reporting from the ground? Did they reflect the concerns of the parties involved? No.

What these channels used were two tweets, both by Kejriwal’s opponents: Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a SAD MLA from Delhi, and former AAP MLA Kapil Mishra, who was expelled from the party after he made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against Kejriwal.

Sirsa’s first tweet mentioned that Saxena had been killed ``in our own Delhi by so-called `minority and oppressed’ religion.’’ His second tweet requested Kejriwal to announce compensation of Rs 1 crore for Saxena’s family ``like he did for MM Khan.’’ Kapil Mishra tweeted: ``Had Ankit been Akhlaq, my city’s ruler wouldn’t have slept all night.’’

Was it necessary to take note of these tweets while covering the Ankit Saxena story? This is not what the family was talking about. Indeed, when the ABP News reporter went to their house, Ankit’s father told her he was sad at the way news channels were saying ``false things’’ about his son’s death.

"Two of the most popular Hindi channels, Zee News and ABP News, used the photographer’s killing to create an atmosphere of fear and hatred among their Hindu viewers vis-à-vis Muslims and to target Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal"


But that seems to have hardly mattered to the channel.

Surprisingly, even Delhi BJP chief Manoj Tiwari stated that the murder must not be communalized. So why did Zee News and ABP News pay so much attention to the tweets of two lightweight MLAs, both of whom were bent upon communalizing the murder and using it to targeting Kejriwal?

In fact, on both channels, panelists plainly told anchors that their channels were making the murder into a Hindu-Muslim issue for their TRPs.


When anchors turn as hatemongers 

For these two channels, Arvind Kejriwal became the story. ABP News actually opened a show saying the ``badikhabar’’ was that Arvind Kejriwal wouldn’t go to Saxena’s house, but had sent his MP and MLA instead (February 4).The next day, the same channel announced: ``Bada sawaal-4 din baad kyon jaage Kejriwal?’’



Kejriwal became for these channels, a symbol of the ``Muslim appeasement’’ practised by the ``gharwapasi gang’’.  In fact, at the end of a debate that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, ABP News anchor Romana Khan actually blamed ``secular politics’’ for Saxena’s killing, saying this kind of politics had ``sown the seed of hatred and now here was the harvest.’’

In the way they handled the killing, these channels committed offences under Section 153 A by promoting communal enmity and under Section 295 A by outraging religious feelings by insulting religion.

Sample these headlines and statements by anchors on both channels:

``Ankit ko pyar ki saza ya Hindu hone ki saza?’’

``Ankit ke murder par chuppi se Kejriwal banengey Muslimon ke masiha’’

``Kya mazhab dekhkar jagti hai secular gang?’’

``Kya hindu hatyaaon par secular gang ki chuppi ek saazish hai?’’

``Hindu hone ki vajah se ankit ki hatya?’’

``Sare aam beech sadak par gala kaatkar sazaye maut’’

In an ABP News discussion, senior journalist Abhay Kumar Dubey said that the direction of the discussion should be changed, and they should heed Saxena’s  father’s statement not to communalise the murder. At one point, he refused to answer anchor Romana Khan’s question, saying ``I’m not getting into this argument.’’

"In the way they handled the killing, these channels committed offences under Section 153 A by promoting communal enmity and under Section 295 A by outraging religious feelings by insulting religion"


But Khan continued in the style she shares with Zee News anchor Mimansa Malik: viz, ask provocative questions, get the Hindu and Muslim panelists angry with each other, and when the fight becomes too intense, admonish them.

In the ABP News discussion referred to above, titled: ``Badi Behes: Ankit ko Salima ke parivar ne kyonmara?”  

``Hindu activist’’ Jitender Khurana repeatedly ascribed the murder to the mentality bred by the Koran. Khurana’s FB page says he is the founder of the Hindu JagranAbhiyan. Among his latest posts are ``Hail Muthalik’’, a reaction to the acquittal of Pramod Muthalik, Hindu Sene founder, in the Mangalore Pub attack case.

So ABP News knew whom it was inviting for a debate on the sensitive subject of the killing of a Hindu photographer by a Muslim family.  Little wonder that the anchor did not stop him from describing the Koran as a text that preaches violence against other faiths, or asserting that while Hinduism was a religion, Islam could not be called one.

At one point, one of the two Muslim panelists was provoked enough to say that he did not want to mention the stuff written in Hindu scriptures, and indeed he didn’t. But this was the atmosphere of the debate. It finally forced panelist Rifat Javaid (founder of the website Jantaka Reporter) to say that it was debates such as this that led to enmity between Hindus and Muslims.

Indeed, the questions put to the Muslim panelists by Romana Khan made one’s jaw drop: ``Do you follow the Constitution or the Koran? If he’s a kafir, kill him –this is what your religion teaches?’’

In this discussion, Delhi BJP vice-president Rajeev Babbar was sanity personified, maintaining, despite the anchor’s provocative questions, that no one but the girl’s family was to blame for Ankit Saxena’s killing. At one point even he asked why the debate was being taken in a particular direction where entire communities were being blamed. Unable to get any rabid responses from Babbar, Romana Khan would turn to Jitender Khurana and the VHP’s Vinod Bansal.

Interestingly, ABP News Executive editor Vijay Vidrohi (seated at the back, where he could hardly be seen) asked Bansal the tough questions the anchor should have.

On Zee News,  murder was portrayed as representative of the condition of Hindus in the country. In a 40-minute discussion titled ``Muslim vote ke liye Ankit ki hatya par siyasi maun’’, which had two Muslims supporting the BJP line (one was a party member), anchor Mimansa Malik brought in the murder of Chandan in Kasganj, saying he had been killed for raising the national flag (a misleading description - the killing was a fallout of a Hindu-Muslim riot on Republic Day).

She read out a list of Hindus killed by Muslims in the last few months. ``Aur aap kehtein hain Hindustan secular desh hai aur musalman safe nahin?’’ she asked the two non-BJP Muslim panelists indignantly, following it up with: ``Kya hinduo ki jaan ki keemat nahin?’’

"A Google search showed that religion had played no role in what was called the ``serial killing of Hindus’’ by Muslims"


The VHP’s Vijay Shankar Tiwari went so far as to say that if ``Ankit, Santosh, Chandan had not been Hindus, they wouldn’t have been killed.’’

The mischief in this depiction was obvious. First, though one Salim was arrested for Chandan’s murder, an officer had posted on Facebook that it was ``Bhagwa that killed Chandan’’. 

In fact, Malik had no answer to Maulana Sajid Rashidi’s question about what made her so sure that Salim had killed Chandan. He also beseeched her not to compare Saxena’s murder to the Kasganj riot.

Second, a Google search showed that religion had played no role in what was called the ``serial killing of Hindus’’ by Muslims. One had been assaulted by his landlord over rent issues; another was killed by a Hindu with the help of a Muslim; while a third’s killing was the fall-out of Congress- BJP rivalry.


Targeting Kejriwal as an ‘appeaser’

Similar half-truths were telecast about Kejriwal’s reaction to Saxena’s killing. The premise on which both channels attacked Kejriwal was simple, and articulated by his arch-enemy Kapil Mishra: ``Had Ankit been Akhlaq, Kejriwal would have visited him immediately, and given him a compensation of Rs one crore.’’

The channels showed their malafides by refusing to telecast the entire story, reported in the press, that the delay in the CM’s visit to Saxena’s home was because the father was about to leave for Hardwar when Kejriwal wanted to visit him.

Both channels did long programmes on Saxena’s condolence prayer meet, using a video tweeted by Kapil Mishra. 

It showed Kejriwal abruptly getting up and leaving after someone there asked him about compensation, and he replied that this was not the occasion to argue about compensation.As he left, one could hear a male voice saying ``Mr Kejriwal…’’ but the CM paid no heed.

Initially, it seemed as if the person asking for compensation was the father. But the latter clarified on the debate that he was sitting at the back and couldn’t understand why the CM was suddenly leaving.

Zee anchor Aman Chopra tried very hard to goad the bereaved father into saying that he had been wronged and humiliated by Kejriwal, with no success. On the contrary, the father kept praising Kejriwal for the respectful manner in which the CM had met him in his office. All that the anchor could get out of the father was his plea, left unsaid after Kejriwal’s abrupt exit: ``Mr Kejriwal, don’t play games with poor people like me.’’

Here again, the channels’ malafides were exposed by the website Jantaka  Reporter which posted the entire video

The video showed the person demanding compensation introducing himself as a member of a Hindutva organisation and Kejriwal replying that he was in touch with the family, and had told them he would  meet their demands more than halfway. 

Three days after this prayer meet, the Delhi CM’s office wrote two letters to the India Today group and to ABP News, asking them to apologise. 

``The pattern of coverage of the condolence meet clearly shows that your channel tried to give the story of compensation  a communal colour with the intention of disturbing the social fabric of Delhi,’’ said the letter to ABP News.

The letter to the India Today group mentioned its news channel Aaj Tak as well as Mail Today managing editor Abhijit Majumder, and described their ``deliberate and malicious attempt to distort and communalise facts’’. It also asked that Majumder be sacked for tweeting that Kejriwal had left the condolence meet midway after the family asked for the same compensation that ``he paid to Muslim victims.’’

``How is it possible for a newspaper editor to spread blatant falsehood with a clear communal intent without even checking basic facts?’’ asked the letter, which then went on to clarify that Rs 1 crore compensation had been paid to personnel in uniform who died while performing dangerous duties and of the seven recipients of this compensation, five had been Hindus.

One wonders why the CM’s office didn’t write a similar letter to Zee News too.

Both Zee News and ABP News used similar tactics in their debates: out-shouting AAP panelists (the ABP anchor even shut off the AAP panelist’s mike); allowing their Muslim guests to be insulted; and agreeing with the most extreme Hindutva panelists.

Non-Muslim viewers of these channels must have been left with a simmering rage against a community which could ``cut a Hindu boy like a goat’’ and a contempt for Kejriwal’s pseudo-secularism. What of Muslim viewers? They too must have been left with rage, but against the channels.

Kejriwal dashed off a letter - which will probably be ignored. What can an ordinary offended viewer do?


Jyoti Punwani is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.



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