The fringe element is in our living room

BY SEVANTI NINAN| IN Media Practice | 30/11/2015
In the intolerance debate, TV channels have been stoking the Hindu-Muslim fires.
Is this reporting or inciting, asks SEVANTI NINAN


One has had this sneaking suspicion for a while. Having stoked the intolerance debate and kept the pot simmering, the media finds controversies around religion too good to let go of. They can barely mask their joy with outrage when one more person in some part of the country pipes up and says something stupid. Gotcha! You actually said that? Now watch me flog it.

And so it was on Sunday (November 29) that a Muslim cleric in Kerala who said that women could never equal men, that they were only fit to ‘deliver children’ and that gender equality was ‘unIslamic’, became an eye popping story on Zee News. An hour or so later, it was the main debate on NewsX.

Why is he being given so much importance thundered the anchor. Just who is giving him importance, you wanted to thunder back, besides you, Zee News and your comrades in anchordom?

“Only unequivocal condemnation of what this man has said will suffice!... He is so influential that he can influence local polls,” the anchor went on fuming.  

The same Sunday night religion and its oddballs were big all across the channels.  Barkha Dutt was stirring up her NDTV audience on the issue of the Sabarimala temple’s allergy to menstruating women. Dibang was talking to Baba Ramdev about his world view on ABP News. Sudarshan News was doing a loop with Aamir Khan’s statement of November 24 at the Ramnath Goenka Awards.

Yogi Adityanath on Aap ki Adalat---recycling a 15-month old show 


NewsX was onto the Kerala cleric. Rajat Sharma was serving up Yogi Adityanath on Aap ki Adalat. Why was he asking questions about love jihad now? Because it was a recycled show, only 15 months old. Is IndiaTV so hard up that it has to do this to its viewers? Or is it because, since everybody is on the lookout for Hindu outrage to flog and they couldn’t come up with anything else, they dug out an old programme?

Last Tuesday, after Aamir Khan said what he did, you could surf channel after channel and watch them leap on it. You see potential and you go reaction hunting.  A sadhvi in one studio, a mahant in another, being prodded for more hate speech which is then played out endlessly.

Sudarshan News, which calls itself ‘the world’s first socio-patriotic channel’ and is run by a portly gentleman called Suresh Chavhanke from, was on a different trip last Sunday (November 22). It was shortly after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Ashok Singhal had passed away and the voice-over suggested that the best tribute to his memory would be to build the Ram Mandir after all. “It would create pressure on the BJP.” 

This Sunday, post-Aamir, Sudarshan News was intoning a list of "traitors" and giving its reasons: Aamir Khan, Farooq Abdullah, Azam Khan,  Arundhati Roy, Shabana Azmi… “Yeh sab gaddar dushman Pakistan ke pratinidhi ban kar yahan aa rahe hai.  Bureau report, Sudarshan News.” (All these traitors are coming here as representatives of Pakistan.”)

What happens when the fringe element happens to be an entire TV channel? Is there really a  News Broadcasting Authority around, you wonder.  Does it act suo moto or sit around waiting for someone to be offended?

The mainstream channels are doing their bit too, to feature religious figures more than they need to. If ABP News had Baba Ramdev this Sunday, it had the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind’s Mehmood Madani last Sunday (November 22) for its prime time Press Conference show where journalists from other media are invited to ask questions.

Anchor Dibang’s opening question: “Madaniji aapka kya rai hai is intolerance ke mudde par?”  (What is your view on the intolerance issue?) The man gives his views, perfectly reasonable ones. At one point he says “Don’t keep talking to me about Musalman. Talk about governance.”

But Dibang hasn’t got him there to talk about governance. He persists. More charming questions follow:  Musalmanon ke liye behtar pradhan mantri kaun – Atal Bihari Vajpayee ya Narendra Modi? (Who is a better prime minister for Muslims - Vajpayee or Modi?) Which is the bigger misconception about Muslims –that they do love jihad, or that their mardarsas breed terror?  Whom should  Muslim leaders be like - Azam Khan or Assaudin Owaisi?

These are rapid fire questions with a prize to be won by the Maulana in the chair, should he perform creditably. Games played by a secular media?

The question Madani was asked is echoed in the series of questions  Anant Goenka asked Aamir Khan during the Ramnath Goenka awards ceremonies. “Of late Aamir, the last five-six months, artists have been getting up and taking a stance…So you are endorsing the way there was a protest…Are you agreeing with the protest, do you think it is called for, is it premature…”  To which he gave the response which we all now know of.  The actor didn’t come up with his wife’s fears straight off, or on his own.

Similarly journalists ask Shah Rukh Khan if he will return his award (at a press conference on his 50th birthday). Then you ask Salman Khan what he thinks of Shah Rukh’s answer. This third Khan doesn’t bite, but you get the point. It is a fishing-for-copy question.

Sure, this controversy makes good copy. But at what price?



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