Excerpt from A preliminary fact-finding report—An Account of Fear and Impunity, prepared by the Youth for Human Rights Documentation, a network of ten lawyers and social activists working in Delhi
A common sentiment expressed by the Muslim community and other civil society members is the partisan role played by the Indian media in reporting the Delhi violence that have left over 50 people dead and hundreds injured. The international press squarely put the blame for the Delhi violence on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hardline policies, especially the
rollout of the Citizenship Amendment Act, noting the culpability of BJP leader Kapil Mishra and his inflammatory remarks. International news also commented on the alleged complicity of the Delhi Police and stated that the Delhi violence is a pogrom that has destroyed India’s international image as a democracy tolerant of multiple faiths and subcultures.
However, global sources were found missing from the reports published by Indian media. On the contrary, a brief analysis of the reporting on Delhi violence by mainstream TV news channels in India shows how they contributed greatly and facilitated the spread of false information to increase enmity between Hindu and Muslim communities.On 24th February 2020, while North-East Delhi was burning, most of the mainstream media was focused on the visit of US President Donald Trump. The violence was but a footnote. NDTV was among the first to report on the violence. As the violence escalated, other media channels started reporting and initial ground reports across channels described the failing of the Delhi police. However, in prime time shows news anchors of Zee TV, Times Now, and Republic TV forwarded a common theory: “The violence was organized by members of the ‘Tukde- Tukde’ gang/Lutyens Delhi with an aim to defame the image of India globally during the visit of Donald Trump.”
Sudhir Chaudhary, in his hour long DNA program on 24th February 2020 mentioned the violence at the end of the program as a passing thought after analyzing the US President’s visit to India. Chaudhary attributed the violence as the work of the ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’.
He reported that on previous occasions when Indo-US ties were being strengthened Pakistan would orchestrate violence to discredit India; however, now the ‘Tukde Tukde Gang’ was doing the same inside the country.
In a subsequent episode on 26th February 2020, he claimed that the reports from the ground revealed Tahir Hussain as the chief architect of the violence. He stated the violence was pre-planned, ready with ammunition and people, and was not a case of action and reaction, but a plan by Tahir Hussain.
Arnab Goswami in his hour long show on 24th February 2020, started the show by questioning the timing of the violence and the Trump visit to India. Throughout the debate references were made to continuation of protests like Shaheen Bagh and the role of Chandrashekhar Azaad ‘Ravan’ as instigators of violence. The show also morphed into an attack on liberals for not speaking out about the death of the head constable.
Further, coverage again peddled the conspiracy theory of the ‘riots’ being timed with the Trump visit. Similar to Zee TV, even Republic pin pointed Tahir Hussain as the primary aggressor and running a ‘riot factory’. Arnab in his monologue started by condemning Kapil Mishra but immediately questioned the ‘moral equivalence’ of blaming Kapil Mishra without seeing the role of Tahir Hussain in the ‘riots’.
The violence was once again questioned for timing and the channel claimed that sources in the Home Ministry stated that opposition parties were at play in instigating the violence.
Tahir Hussain was once again the primary aggressor. Rahul Shivshankar questioned why Tahir Hussain was not surrendering to the police if he was innocent. He further questioned liberals who were not condemning Tahir Hussain.
The Newshour in its programme on 25th February 2020, started the show questioning who was burning Delhi. However, immediately Navika questioned what the opposition had done. Throughout the programme the anti-CAA protests especially Shaheen Bagh was questioned as an instigator causing communal violence.