Opinion: Distorted facts, Islamophobia and Indian media.
The country is in the grip of an unprecedented crisis. Coronavirus is running rampant all across the realm and in times like these we tend to turn towards news to provide us with the necessary information. But Indian news channels have not failed to disappoint us even in such desperate times.
On the first day of 21 days long lockdown, when the entire nation was drowning in panic and fear, Navika Kumar of Times Now was busy chatting with Saif Ali Khan about how he was spending time in lockdown. And Navika Kumar is not alone in this, ever since the COVID-19 got a good hold of India, a number of TV anchors found it very apt to focus more on celebrities and their perspective of this.
When the major question was ought to be "How are we going to fight this?" Or "If we have enough medical resources?" Bhupendra Chaubey of CNN-News18 was busy asking Poonam Dhillon if she still washes hands even when she is completely on her own.
We have always been told, it is the journalists that seek to find out the truth and question the authorities for their decisions.
Journalists have a responsibility to bring into light what has been in darkness, at the kernel of journalism lies the responsibility of voicing the voiceless. But the poor of the nation are still deprived of this privilege, their stories and struggles fail to come into the light. The worrying images and videos of daily wagers flocking to their hometowns barefoot that surfaced exposed the ugly reality. At a time when daily wagers were walking hundreds of kilometres, with starvation staring them straight into the eyes, a number of news channels turned towards celebrities to maintain their TRP and boost the people's morale. No one raised the necessary questions about these poor people who did not even have the privilege of staying at home.
What is difficult to understand is why did these news channels take the responsibility of entertaining the public? The public has a variety of channels to switch to when requiring entertainment. Certainly, people don't switch to news channels to make them feel relaxed in such troublesome times.
We also witnessed Aaj Tak playing Antakshari on the day when the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in India crossed 1,000. In times like these, it becomes very important to report and inform the masses about the crisis. But looks like a certain section of media has decided to save us from the virus by informing us less and less about it.
Since the pandemic has hit India, the media has stopped posing the right questions altogether. When Kanika Kapoor tested positive for COVID-19, every news show was blatantly blaming Kanika for being careless. No doubt she was careless and irresponsible to not self-isolate herself but no one asked the necessary question – "Why was a party organised when the world is in the grip of a pandemic?" The party Kanika Kapoor attended was organised on March 15 and by this time the danger of coronavirus was hovering large over the world.
Diseases like these are considered to be levellers, they don't discriminate. But some of our anchors do know how to convert a pandemic into a communal issue. When the Tablighi Jamaat case happened a lot of news channels presented it as an Islamic conspiracy against the Indian nationals. Out of 4000 cases, almost 1500 were linked to this jamaat, hence, it became one of the many hotspots in the country. This gave news anchors a full-fledged opportunity to return to their usual habit of communalizing every possible issue. While Arnab Goswami declared it a "deliberate" and "well-planned conspiracy", India Tv said things like " Corona Aaya, Maulana laaya". News Nation and anchor Deepak Chaurasia went an extra mile, one declared Muslims as "corona bombs" while the other called it "Talibani Jamaat" respectively.
It was very wrong on the part of the Jamaat to organize such a large gathering amidst a pandemic and there is no reason they should be defended. But is it not wrong on the media's part to give this a communal angle? When the entire world is facing such a serious health crisis, Indian media is polarizing a pandemic and spreading bigotry when this is something we least want right now. Also, at the same time, are we as viewers interested in gaining facts instead of getting served this bigotry? The Ministry of Home Affairs had been screening all foreigners since February 1st. So, how Tablighi Jamaat invitees were allowed to enter the country from COVID affected countries like Indonesia and Malaysia? No one asked this and why should you ask questions when you can simply paint an issue with communalism and get your viewers all happy and content.
But the job of journalists is not to gift a religion to a virus but ask important questions and provide correct information.
When some people questioned the police about their inability to stop the congregation, Zee News anchor Sudhir Chaudhary came forward and tried to explain the reason behind this inability. He said "The Delhi Police was scared to go to the Markaz like every city has an area where the police hesitate to go, Nizamuddin is that area of Delhi" he legit painted the entire neighbourhood of Nizamuddin West, which is a Muslim dominated area as a "dangerous".
A certain section of media blatantly infringed Supreme Court's instruction to maintain a sense of responsibility and not instil fear. They recklessly went on fanning flames of communal disharmony by spreading fake news about the Jamaat and Muslims in general.
Zee News Uttarakhand tweeted that stones were pelted on a medical team in Firozabad that went to take COVID-19 positive Jamaatis. Firozabad Police declared it to be fake.
Old videos that were by no means related to the Jamaat were constantly circulated to defame the entire community.
No journalist is asking "Why doctors do not have sufficient PPEs?", " Why our testing rate is exceptionally low?" except a few.
At a time when the media should pose questions about the health of the doctors and nurses that are busy serving the nation or why the daily wagers weren't safely transported to their homes before the lockdown, they are busy singing, entertaining, or their most favourite – communalising.
This sort of behaviour in a time of such serious health crisis is not only disappointing but also bizarre. It is certainly alarming how a certain section of media has converted a pandemic either into an event of singing and merry-making or a religious issue or both. At the present time, the least media can do is to inform people correctly about the cases and what the government has been doing to tackle this. So, the masses understand the gravity of the situation and how much prepared we are to fight the dangers of this virus.