Inciting a communal free for all

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Media Practice | 09/07/2017
Television shows on West Bengal’s communal situation did their best to pit Hindus against Muslims,


The News Broadcasting Standards Authority’s Code of Ethics and Broadcasting Standards  (for what it is worth) has a significant omission.  There is nothing there on guidelines to be followed by TV channels in reporting situations of communal violence.

If the print media was noticeably restrained in the first days of  reporting the communal outbreak at Basirhat in West Bengal it could be partly because there are clearly enunciated guidelines on this formulated by the Press Council.  And out of long-ingrained habit there is still considerable hesitation in naming communities.

The sum total of the PCI guidelines is that the reporting should not incite one religion against the other, make false or uncorroborated allegations or generally be of such a nature as is likely to provoke further violence.

The Press Council of India also appealed to the media to refrain from publishing/telecasting pictures of mangled corpses or any other photographic coverage which may create terror, or revulsion or ignite communal passions among people. There were no corpses to show (one person was killed) so the Zee news reporter offered instead a guided tour of burnt shops.

“Sensitive and provocative headlines should be avoided. Journalists are under an obligation to report in such a manner which does not incite or aggravate tension between two communities.  When reporting on issues of communal violence, it should be taken care that the report should not incite one religion against the other, make false or uncorroborated allegations or generally be of such a nature as is likely to provoke further violence.”

"Journalists are under an obligation to report in such a manner which does not incite or aggravate tension between two communities."


The TV and digital version of newspaper headlines is headlines on the TV screen and Twitter hashtags. Times Now put out the following tweets which speak for themselves:

Mamata Banerjee even wanted to open a Muslim specific hospital: Dr. Sambit Patra, BJP #MamataBlamegame

No one speaks for the Hindus and someone has to do that: Dr. Sambit Patra, BJP #MamataBlamegame

Navika kumar was asking, Hindus don’t count in Didi’s world? #HindusDon’tCount

Zee News offered its own hashtag, #RiotRaj

Then we come to the business of  reporting in a way which does not incite one religion against the other, or make false or uncorroborated allegations. Forget reporting, take a look at the anchoring:

Arnab Goswami on Republic TV on July 5: “Non-stop from epicenter of communal violence. Ugly story of polarlisation under Mamata’s watch.” Three of the six panelists are from the BJP or an affiliated organization, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch. Including a central minister, Babul Supriyo.

Big Chief asks the panel, “is there a communal situation in West Bengal or not?” “Being a Hindu in Bengal is a crime,” says Babul Supriyo and Goswami jumps on that gleefully, goading Mulsim panelists to respond. Later we are told that radical islamists are on the loose in Bengal, and that there is a media clampdown on communal incidents there.

"The bar is definitely being lowered for what is permissible in TV broadcasting if shows like this attract no censure."


The show airs several examples of Muslim appeasement in the state.

There were 3 occasions when the Calcutta High Court reprimanded CM Mamata Banerjee for minority appeasement:

  • In restricting the immersion of durga idols during Durga Puja,
  • For giving stipends to maulanas,
  • And for creating reservations for Muslims in medical  entrance tests.

Somebody says on the show that police in the state get orders to act depending on whether the victim is a Hindu or a Muslim.

The state budget allocation is Rs 2800 crores for madarsas. But only 2000 crores for tourism and for infrastructure. (Fact check, anyone?)

The bar is definitely being lowered for what is permissible in TV broadcasting if shows like this attract no censure.  But Republic TV is not the first off the mark on alleging communalism in West Bengal.

This year so far has seen several programmes, since there has been recurring tension.

On January 26 this year was published this video on the Zee site with this charming headline:

“Zee news Anchor sudhir chaudhary Tight Slap to Mamata banerjee for spreading hatred towards Hindus at dhulagarh howrah West Bengal”.

Chaudhary is asking, “Samvidhan ke rahate huae bangal mein shariye wale soch kyon?” (When there is a Constitution why is there Sharia

type thinking in West Bengal?)

Six months down the line Arnab Goswami is telling a Muslim panelist on his show,  “We are a secular country there is no Sharia law in this country.”    Pitting one community against another is becoming fair game on TV.

On a Times Now show  with a hashtag #NoMamataForHindus the reporter asks a  “TMC (Trinamul Congress) insider” a series of leading questions. “Have you heard anti-Aryan slogans. Aryans go back?” He hasn’t heard them, but thinks his son heard something.

Did TMC MLA Dipendu Biswas trigger violence in the area?”  He then says  the TMC insider  claimed that it was Biswas who triggered the violence in the area. But in the video you do not hear the man being anywhere near so categorical.  Try and  extract the evidence you want to hear.

In March this year ABP News ran its Ghanti Bajao programme on the subject of competitive communalism in West Bengal between the TMC and RSS. It examined RSS allegations against the TMC,  even as it repeatedly ran pictures of Mamata praying among Muslims with her head covered. It spoke to RSS leader Dattatrai Hosbale who said the Hindu population in West Bengal is afraid.

The reporter sets out to examine if the charges leveled by RSS are true. Is the population balance between the two communities in the state changing? Figures on the show confimed that that it was. The Hindu population has come down, the Muslim population since the 1950s has gone up. Academic Rakesh Sinha, says the refugee influx from Bangladesh is continuing.

What about schools? Is the state government keen to shut down RSS schools for doing religious teaching? Is it giving incentives to madarsas? Both were found to be true. But it ends with the wisdom offered  by a senior journalist who says the RSS certainly has an agenda for the state which sends 42 seats to the Lok Sabha. In 2019,  they will need fresh pastures to gather votes from. And the organization has begun to prepare the ground. Shades of its earlier record in Assam.

Are some TV  channels doing their bit too, then, to prepare the ground?


Sevanti Ninan edits The Hoot




The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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