A Planned Narrative in Times of A Pandemic

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While the prime minister took recourse to gimmickry, the media unleashed a smear campaign against innocent Muslims putting the onus of the viral spread squarely on the community

Amina Mirza | Clarion India

A CIVILISED society looks to care for every single individual and protect him/her with all the means possible in turbulent times; a morally bankrupt society adds to the woes of its members. This is what is happening in our society in these times of crisis.

While every country in the world is reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak on case-to-case basis, India is the only country setting an example of religion-based reporting. By doing so, Indian media is making a mockery of journalistic standards.

The media is merchandising Islamophobia ostensibly with an aim to cover up the government’s inept handling of the situation and enforcing a nationwide lockdown from March 24 without proper planning.

A mass exodus of migrant and daily wage workers triggered by the sudden lockdown has left behind a trail of death and mayhem along the routes the wretched of the society took to reach their homes on foot. The government and its paid media have used every trick to divert public attention from the tragic developments.

While the prime minister of the country took recourse to gimmickry, the media unleashed a smear campaign against innocent Muslims putting the onus of the viral spread squarely on the community.

On April 6th, 2020, Zee News tweeted that in Uttar Pradesh “four people from Tablighi Jamaat who were tested positive have pelted stones on a medical team”.

Refuting the claim, the police sounded a warning to the TV channel. “You are spreading false and misleading news when neither a medical team nor any ambulance has been pelted with stones in Firozabad district,” the Firozabad police tweeted from their official handle.

The police ordered the erring news channel to remove the post. “Delete your tweet immediately,” the police tweeted.

While the tweet was later deleted by Zee News, its Facebook post and an article on the subject remained intact. As on April 8, the Facebook post had attracted more than 7,000 likes, 2,000 shares and more than 1,000 comments. One can still check it out on the following link:
https://www.facebook.com/ZeeNews/posts/3619817971416070

Access the Zee News article by clicking the link below:
https://zeenews.india.com/hindi/india/up-uttarakhand/four-tablighi-jamaatis-tested-positive-with-coronavirus-in-firozabad-stones-is-being-pelted-by-locals-on-medical-team-who-reached-to-take-them-in-quarantine/664031

The very next day on April 7, ANI, a wire service, took the lead by posting a slanderous tweet against Tablighi Jamaat members on the basis of a false claim which was later exposed by the Noida police from their twitter handle.

The Noida Police tweeted: “@ANINewsUP people who had come in contact with the positive case were quarantined as per laid procedure. There was no mention of Tabligh Jamaat. You are misquoting and spreading fake news.”

The ANI has neither issued an apology nor published a corrigendum. However, it deleted the tweet later.

Further adding fuel to the fire, Smita Prakesh, who heads ANI retweeted: “Be safe noida”

ANI, later, corrected the tweet on April 8 with the police confirming the same.

Meanwhile, wittingly or unwittingly, even reliable media outlets like The Quint started contributing to the ongoing Islamophobia. The Quint posted an article titled “COVID-19: More Than 4,000 Cases in India, Death Toll at 109” dated 6th April 2020, along with a picture of a man with skullcap alluding to Muslim identity being tested for COVID.

The Quint built a very subtle yet a powerful narrative of Islamophobia around the pandemic.

From Quint’s Article dated 06th April 2020
https://www.thequint.com/news/india/coronavirus-outbreak-health-ministry-figures-deaths-cases-6-april-2020

It is not just tweets or articles peddling a false narrative to malign a community. Even the established mainstream news channels like Times Now and The Hindu have come up with posters depicting Muslims as those spreading the COVID virus across the country.

The India Today group came up with an image of a man wearing skullcap to depict a Corona positive patient. After the readers took exception to it, the group erased the skullcap.

Even the liberal The Hindu published an extremely distasteful cartoon on March 26, depicting the image of Coronavirus in a Muslim attire. After a huge backlash on Twitter, The Hindu apologised and refashioned the cartoon removing the Islamic clothing portraying the virus.

The shocking cartoon published by the liberal newspaper, The Hindu

One may ask what is wrong with the false reporting?

With the Indian media not doing their job of reporting the truth and with charade prevailing, there has been a surge in the attacks on Muslims in the name of Corona across the country. RSS activists masquerading as vigilantes were seen harassing Muslims and shutting down their businesses in the name of COVID. They were even asking small vendors with carts to not enter the streets in a move that is being seen as a ploy to weaken the community economically.

The Indian media is treating the minority Muslim community as its canon fodder. By doing so, the media makes a laughing stock of itself in front of the world. The media needs reform. It needs to have accountability, not regulation.

Does India have any law that can hold the media accountable?

How can you take action? Write to the Press Council of India at pcibppcomplaint@gmail.com.

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Amina Mirza is a US-based technology entrepreneur and is actively involved in community activities. She tweets @LuvAminaKausar. The views are personal and ‘Clarion India’ does not necessarily subscribe to them.

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