How the leading players in the Indian media, loyal to the governing BJP-RSS combine, have been openly peddling fake news, hate and bigotry targeting religious minorities, especially India’s marginalised and dispossessed Muslims and why they have been getting away with murder all these years
S K Husain | Clarion India
GODI (lapdog), bikau (venal), dalal (agent) and bharkau (inflammatory). These are some of the labels with which a major section of India’s mainstream electronic media is identified by a majority of Indians, especially Muslims and low-caste Hindus, as well as the remaining section of the national media.
This chunk of the media, which consists of nearly a dozen 24-hour national and regional TV news channels, is infamous for biased reporting and fanning communal hatred in society. Their journalists and anchors routinely engage in spreading fake news and causing hatred towards the country’s 200 million Muslim community and Islam. They, in fact, nourish Islamophobia. As someone rightly remarked, “the Indian media is not doing journalism but waging a jihad (holy war) against Muslims. It acts like hyenas”.
On one hand, these channels demonstrate a clear bias against the country’s low-caste Hindus, the poor, and less privileged and weaker sections of society. On the other, they promote the agenda of the Hindutva forces including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ruling political wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners in the government, as well as their leaders. They also favour the rich and powerful and promote their interests.
Prominent among these pro-BJP/RSS news outlets are English television channels Republic TV, Times Now, India Today and CNN-News18, and Hindi TV channels Zee News, ABP News, Aaj Tak, India TV, Sudershan News, News Nation and News24 (India). All the above-mentioned titles fit these channels for one reason or the other.
The term “godi media” was coined for these channels by Ramon Magsaysay award winner journalist Ravish Kumar of NDTV. He inherently spoke of the lap of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its lapdogs.
Besides these channels, there are many more news and at least 18 Hindu religious channels in regional languages across India that promote the agenda of the Hindutva forces to establish a Hindu Rashtra (nation) and impose Hindi as the national language all over the plural, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual country of 1.37 billion people.
Among the key reasons why these channels and their anchors so aggressively support the BJP, RSS and Modi, as well as the rich and powerful, are:
1) Absolute majority of the BJP-led NDA in Parliament and its government at the centre and in many states, and growing irrelevance and inconsequentiality of a largely obliterated opposition;
2) Hindu viewership by the BJP’s 100-million-plus primary members and their massive support for the party and government, and the cult-like following of a “monolithic” Modi;
3) A high TRP achieved because of the majority Hindu viewership. (TRP, or target rating point, is a metric used in marketing and advertising to indicate the percentage of the target audience reached by a campaign or advertisement through a communication medium);
4) Funding by big business houses, which might be chummy with a particular party which supports their growth and in return they support that party;
5) Ownership or stakes of certain BJP and RSS leaders, MPs and supporters in some of these TV channels;
6) Owners’ political connections or affiliations with the BJP and RSS;
7) A huge revenue earned from government advertisements which these channels receive in return for their pro-BJP/RSS/government policies;
8) Commercial interests of these channels as business entities rather than as social service non-governmental organisations;
9) Government advisories/directives and restrictions on news presentation;
10) Fear of being targeted by the government for failure to toe the line.
Let’s take a close look at what these Hindutva TV channels are, who owns or runs them and what are their policies.
Republic TV — This news channel was co-founded and is majority-owned by a 47-year-old Assamese, Arnab Ranjan Goswami. He is also the channel’s editor and news anchor. Earlier, he was the editor-in-chief and a news anchor of Times Now and ET Now.
The channel is infamous for its brazen support for the BJP and RSS. Arnab is noted for his opinionated reporting in favour of the BJP and RSS and their Hindutva push across a wide spectrum of situations, including uncritically reproducing government narratives, avoiding criticism of BJP/RSS figures, and presenting their political opponents in a negative light. He very clearly, cleverly and shamelessly shows his bias. No one can beat him in spreading hatred and fake news.
Arnab is the son of Manoranjan Goswami, an army man who later joined the BJP, and a maternal nephew of Siddhartha Bhattacharya, who is a BJP MLA and minister in Assam’s state government.
Launched in 2017, Republic TV was partly funded by, among others, Asianet News (ARG Outlier Asianet News Private Limited), which was primarily funded by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, then an independent member of Rajya Sabha with intricate links with the BJP and vice-chairman of the NDA in Kerala.
Son of an air force officer, Chandrasekhar, however, resigned from the Asianet board after he officially joined the BJP in April 2018 and was elected as a BJP MP.
Republic TV has been accused of propagating fake news and running several news items based on the defamatory tweets posted by certain BJP leaders. It has also been convicted of breaching telecommunication regulatory and news broadcasting rules, leading to censures and subject to a high-profile defamation case by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
The channel is described by experts as a “noisy, chaotic place where coherent debate without shouting, screaming and name-calling is impossible”. Its shows have been dubbed a “battle of babble”, judgmental, brash and hawkish.
It has even been compared to North Korean media for its extreme pro-government affinity and muzzling of dissent, and America’s Fox News which practises biased reporting in favour of the Republican Party.
Prominent among these pro-BJP/RSS news outlets are English television channels Republic TV, Times Now, India Today and CNN-News18, and Hindi TV channels Zee News, ABP News, Aaj Tak, India TV, Sudershan News, News Nation and News24 (India). The term “godi media” was coined for these channels by journalist Ravish Kumar of NDTV. He inherently spoke of the lap of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and its lapdogs
Times Now – Owned and operated by The Times Group (Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited), this channel always wants to go with the winning horse. Previously generally neutral, it has turned pro-BJP since the election of the Modi government. Anchor and managing editor Navika Kumar froths and fumes each time someone is critical of the BJP, but loses her interrogating prowess whenever given the rare chance to interview Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah.
With Arnab, the channel was ultra-BJP and ultra-nationalist; after he left it, it has become a lot more ultra-nationalist and outright BJP supporter. One wonders if this change of stance is because its chairperson, Indu Jain, was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Modi government in 2016.
India Today — Owned by Living India Media Group (India Today Group), the channel was launched in 2003 as a sister channel of the Hindi news channel AajTak. It is one of the four news channels from the TV Today Network stable, the other two being Tez and Delhi AajTak. Aroon Purie is the group’s chairman.
Top journalists associated with India Today TV channel are Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal. While Rajdeep is anti-BJP, Rahul has tried to lean a lot to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). Although India Today is a “fence-sitting” channel, in the last one or two years it has clearly tilted towards the BJP.
Rahul and his India Today team had severely lobbied against the BJP and its students wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP ) over the Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia shooting incidents. He was also quick to point fingers at BJP leader Anurag Thakur and claim that Delhi was sitting on a powder keg.
CNN News 18 is owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, considered close to PM Modi. The channel was originally owned by Network18 Group, which was taken over by Reliance Industries in 2014. The group owns as many as 65 channels
In an apparent punishment for his “biased” reporting in favour of AAP, Rahul was sent on a “sabbatical”. Since his return, he seems to have dropped his determination to follow in the footsteps of Rajdeep and joined the bandwagon of the godi media anchors.
CNN-News18 — This channel is owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries, hence no words are required to explain its bias against Muslims and the less privileged Hindus. This channel was originally owned by Network18 Group, which was founded by businessman and investor Raghav Bahl in 2011 but was taken over by Reliance Industries in 2014.
The group owns as many as 65 channels: one national English news channel, one national Hindi news channel and 14 regional language news channels; three national and one regional business news channels, three Hindi entertainment channels, two Hindi movie channels, two youth channels, four English and Hindi music channels, four kids English and Hindi entertainment channels, four factual entertainment channels, two shopping channels, 14 regional entertainment channels, and 10 upcoming regional news and other channels.
Among the most biased and anti-Muslim and po-BJP/RSS Hindi TV news channels and their anchors are:
Zee News — This is one of the several Hindi, English and vernacular news channels owned by the Essel Group. The channel’s owner, Subhash Chandra, became a Rajya Sabha member with the BJP’s support. Hence, he definitely needs to give something back to the party by promoting its Hindutva agenda and launching an anti-Muslim tirade.
Sudhir Chaudhary is the channel’s editor-in-chief and the anchor of its prime time. He is the Hindi version of Republic TV’s Arnab as he openly supports the BJP, RSS and Modi. A few years ago, Sudhir was arrested for allegedly trying to extort one billion Indian rupees (approximately US$23 million) from the Jindal Group. Since then, some people call him Sudhir “Tihari” because he was lodged in Delhi’s maximum-security Tihar Jail in the extortion case.
Zee News has been involved in broadcasting fabricated news stories on multiple occasions. Most recently, it aired an unverified and false report on the coronavirus and linked it to Tablighi Jamaat, and later expressed regrets for running the false report.
India TV – This channel was launched by Rajat Sharma and his wife Ritu Dhawan in 2004 from a studio in FilmCity in Noida, near Delhi. Sharma is the chairman and editor-in-chief of India TV, a subsidiary of Independent News Service which was co-founded by the couple in 1997. During his college days, Sharma was a member of ABVP. He and the late finance minister Arun Jaitley were very close friends.
India TV is biased, too. It conceals plenty of news that would make headlines. It doesn’t show fake news but is selective in its presentation of news according to its political impact. When Sharma was asked a question about his channel’s integrity in the United States in view of his friendship with Jaitley, he got infuriated. An otherwise calm person, he was all irritated and critical of the person who asked it.
According to tech analyst Amol Raj Pandey, when Sharma “was ousted from his FilmCity office by Century Comm, his new office was completely funded by the BJP. India TV kept on working as BJP propaganda unit after that.” He further says the most important point to show this is — he was awarded Padma Bhushan for literature, although he never wrote a single literary piece. However, he wrote fiction for the BJP during its election campaign.
In 2015, Sharma was awarded Padma Bhushan by the BJP government for his contribution in the field of journalism. Last month, he was conferred with an honorary doctorate in of literature by the Nainital-based Kumaun University. All this explains his unstinted support for the BJP and RSS.
AajTak — Owned by Arun Purie’s India Today Group, AajTak has some of the most poisonous anchors — Anjana Om Kashyap, Rohit Sardana and Sweta Singh — known for their vitriolic attacks against Muslims and spreading communal hatred. The trio routinely indulge in Muslim-bashing, while showcasing a deferential surrender to anything the BJP does.
A former Zee News and News24 journalist, Anjana has been engaged in aggressively propagating Hindutva-centred ideologies and biased reporting in favour of the BJP across a variety of situations. She has spread fake news via her news shows on multiple occasions. A favourite of Modi, she was one of the few reporters who were allowed an interview by Modi in the run-up to the 2019 general election. Rohit Sardana tops the list of the worst journalists sponsored by the right wing.
ABP News — Owned by Bengali journalist Aveek Sarkar of the pro-BJP ABP Group, this channel is the reincarnation of Star News. Earlier, ABP News used to be neutral, but it turned pro-BJP a couple of years ago. This came after the Modi government objected to criticism of the BJP by some ABP News journalists including Punya Prasoon Vajpyee and Abhisar Sharma in their Master Stroke show. After the channel took action against these journalists, Rubika Liyaquat became the commander-in-chief of its news anchors. A former Zee New anchor, Rubika joined ABP News in 2018. A Muslim, she is disliked by many for her angry rhetoric against Muslim leaders called by the channel for debates on TV.
Sudarshan News — This channel disseminates anti-Muslim content and manufactures fake news with communal overtones, earning it tiltles such as “bigot” and “dangerous”.
Its chairman, Suresh Chavhanke, was a long-term RSS volunteer and associated with ABVP. He asserts practicing ideology-driven journalism and prefers that the news programmes over his channel be viewed as opinionated campaigns.
In April 2017, he was arrested for inciting communal hatred through multiple episodes of a flagship programme. Recently, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren ordered state police to take action against Chavhanke for his communal hate speeches.
News Nation –– Owned by News Nation Network Pvt Ltd, this channel’s consulting editor Deepak Chaurasia has an inclination towards the BJP and is known as a puppet of Modi. Portuguese politician and political scientist Bruno Macaes compared Chaurasia’s journalism to Fox News, which has often been criticised for being extremely vocal in its support of the Republicans and President Donald Trump.
India 24 (India) — Owned by B.A.G. Films and Media Limited, this channel is promoted by Anuradha Prasad, sister of BJP minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, along with her husband, Congress politician Rajeev Shukla. Its anchor Amish Devgan has modelled himself on Republic TV’s Arnab and routinely indulges in Muslim-bashing.
All the above channels are pro-BJP because they need government advertisments for revenue to operate. And most of their anchors and journalists are enamoured by Modi’s “superman image ” created by his online fans. As they aren’t bold enough to go against this fan club fearing trolling and reprisals, they find it easy to ride with the wind.
In this media environment, can Muslims expect to be heard and their case to be pleaded by these biased media houses? They have to either put up with this or mull over focusing on creating their own media giants. There’s no dearth of financial and other resources, technical expertise and journalistic talent in the community. All that is needed are sincerity, will and resolve to start own TV news channels.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Singapore. He can be reached at [email protected]