Indian newsrooms breed Islamophobia ahead of state elections

Indian newsrooms breed Islamophobia ahead of state elections
Continuing its commitment to target Muslims, Aman Chopra, Editor at News18 India, hosts the daily primetime debate show “Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge,” in which Chopra conducts hate-fuelled anti-Muslim debates, further polarising the nation.

For several years, the quality of journalism emerging from Indian television news debates has been at an all-time low. Prominent news outlets openly promote hatred against religious minorities, hold live news debates, and target and vilify the Muslim community. 

These news debates take place during primetime and have a large audience – this medium has greatly contributed to the country’s growing ‘anti-Muslim’ hatred, making Muslims feel like second-class citizens. TV news debates have contributed to the country’s rampant Islamophobia; the rot has infiltrated so deeply that it has become extremely difficult to control its spread.

Hate fuelled debate against Muslims

Continuing its commitment to target Muslims, Aman Chopra, Editor at News18 India, hosts the daily primetime debate show “Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge,” in which Chopra conducts hate-fuelled anti-Muslim debates, further polarising the nation.

In the last few months, Chopra conducted around 36 anti-Muslim debates on his primetime show. 

“Hate fuelled debates on Indian channels is a continuous process – people are fed hate step by step – debates become brazen during the elections, but it’s done throughout the year,” says young journalist Alishan Jafri who has been reporting hate crimes against Muslims in the country.

Such debates are not confined to a few channels; they pervade the entire ecosystem. These programmes primarily aim to widen the discord between Hindus and Muslims; they do not hold the regime accountable for widening communal hatred, but rather assist the government by making the hatred more accessible to society.

Such programs are deliberately made to revolve around the current news cycle. 

Chopra’s “Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge” debates in recent weeks have been centred on the upcoming state elections – primarily revolving around the “Hindu-Muslim” binary – for example, the shows listed below were conducted specifically to target one community.

“There are various channels through which hate can be spread, such as movies, memes, Twitter – Youtubers earn a lot by abusing Muslims, they have lakhs of subscribers who support them, mainstream media is not an exception, first an agenda is set on social media – as in the case of ‘Covid Jihad’ – then it is taken over by mainstream media – they run it over months. Anti-Muslim hatred has evolved into a full-fledged cultural industry in India; hate culture is not limited to politics; anyone can engage in it,” Jafri said to Maktoob.

Anti-Muslim debates ahead of elections

Chopra recently conducted a debate titled – “A Grand Alliance Against Hindus?” – the promotional banner posted by the channel showed – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on one end, and Maulana Tauqeer Raza, the leader of the Barelvi group, who recently announced his support for the Congress on the other. The promotional banner sent a frenzy across Twitter – many accused Chopra of peddling the BJP’s Hindutva narrative. 

Almost a week ago – Chopra also hosted a debate titled – “Scare away Hindus and Join the Party” – the banner posted by the channel showed Akhilesh Yadav and other Muslim leaders like Nahid Hasan – in his monologue Chopra continuously used the term “Hindu” – he said – “Nahid Hasan is accused of Hindu exodus in Kairana.”

In December 2021 – Aman Chopra again held a show named – “They will harm Hindutva, Will Hindus vote for them?” – Chopra in his lead said that everyday Hindutva and Hindus are abused – and if people speak against Triple Talaq, Terrorism, or extremism they are called Islamophobes – Chopra went ahead and questioned that “whether there is an attempt to spread Hinduphobia in the country ?”

In November 2021 – Chopra’s debate on “They’ll make you fear Hindutva and spread Hinduphobia?” The poster again had PM Narendra Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath on one end and Rahul Gandhi and Salman Khurshid on the other – Chopra began then show by saying that he wants to give lessons on Hindutva and Hindu to Rahul Gandhi – he went on to say that Hindutva and Hindu are co-related, “Hindutva has united the society, Hindutva is nation’s sanatan culture, Hindutva is our nation’s identity, Hindu and Hindutva complete each other,” Chopra said in Hindi. 

The anchor went ahead and also used the term “lynching” and said – “there has been an attempt to lynch Hindu ideologies and Hindutva.”

These channels sell their programs by claiming to protect ‘Hindus,’ a narrative set by the ruling regime and diligently processed by primetime anchors.

Letter to Ambani

On 20 January, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM) has appealed to Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) chairman Mukesh Ambani to immediately stop the anti-Muslim hatred propagated through the “News18 India” channel owned by his company.

In a letter to Ambani, AIMMM president Navaid Hamid stated that the nature of the hate debates on News18 India “Desh Nahi Jhukne Denge” amount to a genocide campaign against Muslims. 

“These are not normal debates with political, cultural, or social connotations, but are unfortunately mixed in a poisonous anti-Muslim agenda,” Navaid Hamid said.

The letter also stated that the debate show is “vicious and malicious” – and full of “false and misleading” narratives.

“It is aimed to create an atmosphere of hatred against Muslims,” Hamid stated.

Hamid also pointed out that News18 India is crossing all limits of impartial journalism, and violating journalistic ethics.

“Debate shows on News18 India – are indeed full of distortion, prejudices, hatred, and ill-will against the Muslim commuinty per se. Also, the character of hate debates the channel runs, if scrutinized, cannot escape the scrutiny of “anti-genocide campaign,” Hamid added.

Fake news peddlers

In November 2021, Chopra conducted a debate on his show a day after a video of a Muslim man working in his Ghaziabad restaurant surfaced on social media. Rightwing social media accounts falsely accused the man of engaging in “Thook Jihad,” a false theory advanced by Hindutva supporters that Muslims spit on their food. 

Chopra discussed the fictitious practice of ‘riwaz-e-thook,’ (tradition of spitting on food), while peddling baseless allegations against Muslims. However, after independent fact checkers debunked the theory, the channel quietly removed the debate videos from the internet, reported Clarion. 

Another news channel Sudarshan TV, Suresh Chavhanke owns the company, which is based in Noida. Chavhanke has innumerable times appeared on his show- warning viewers that there is a conspiracy to turn India into an Islamic nation. 

In August 2020, The Delhi High Court stayed the broadcast of a contentious show scheduled to air on Sudarshan TV, with its promotional material casting doubt on the presence of Muslims in civil services. 

In 2020 – Chavhanke, who has a history of spreading false and misleading news, including with a communal slant released a trailer for a series on this topic on his ‘Bindas Bol’ show, during which he said – “How did the number of Muslims in the IAS and IPS suddenly increase?” What is their secret to achieving the highest marks and ranks in one of the most difficult exams? What would happen if the ‘Jihadis of Jamia’ became your district collectors and secretaries in ministries? This Friday, watch our biggest expose on ‘Naukarshahi jihad’ (bureaucracy jihad).” reported The Quint.

Zee News senior anchor Sudhir Chaudhary on his show “DNA” in June 2020 allegedly borrowed the deeply communal term from social media and ran a complete show propagating various types of jihad in the country. In the program, Chaudhary, showed his viewers a jihad diagram propagating various types of jihad in the country categorising them as soft jihad and hard jihad. 

According to Jafri “since 2016-2017, anti-muslim hatred has become common, anti-muslim slurs have been used on TV, and new vocabulary surrounding Muslims has been crafted on these channels, which has directly benefited the BJP in elections. Other political parties have been silenced as a result of the general anti-Muslim sentiment.”

According to India Tomorrow, there are 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 pluralistic, multi-religious, multicultural, and multilingual nation of 1.37 billion people.

News anchors hitting a new low

According to The Hindu – in September 2020, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) requested the Supreme Court to make its code of ethics against airing malicious, biased, and regressive content applicable to all TV news channels

“The NBA affidavit is in response to an order by the Supreme Court on September 18 to suggest measures to strengthen the self-regulatory mechanism to prevent or penalise airing of communal or derogatory content in the electronic media,” The Hindu stated.

While TV news has a self-regulatory mechanism in place to monitor hate content, there is no evidence that the guidelines are followed.

Indian media comes under three laws –  the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1955 (television), the Press Council of India Act of 1978 (print and digital), and the Information Technology Act of 2000. (Digital).

“Media has now become a party, their work is to disseminate the ideologies of the ruling regime to the public, media has become a propaganda tool for the ruling party, they’ll work for whoever is in power, this is an alarming situation for the country,” says Dr. Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas, National President of Welfare Party of India. 

Ilyas goes on to say that the media is hastening the saffron party’s ideologies by bringing in Hindu-Muslim debate. 

“Media is 90 percent responsible for communalism; they have a massive reach, and this influences people’s minds,” Ilyas adds. 

“The media never discusses real issues affecting people, which is a sad reality,” Ilyas said. 

According to Ilyas, hate speech should not be limited to events such as “Dharam Sansad,” if the media is doing the same thing.

As per Jafri, the agenda is set not only by political parties but also by the media. 

“In the Bulli Bai case, accused Neeraj Bishnoi’s father stated that Neeraj was radicalised after watching a certain news channel. It’s not how one becomes radicalised – in the end, so much radicalisation will result in something terrible, and everyone will be affected. The goal is simple – to demonise Muslims and criminalise them,” added Jafri.

“We don’t expect the government or authorities to take action against such shows, but we expect the Supreme Court to take action against such cases,” Ilyas said.

Such kind of toxicity in news studios – is now spilling on streets – resulting in attacks on Muslims – making them vulnerable, as we saw in the case of ‘economic jihad’ – a conspiracy hatched by Hindutva group to target Muslim livelihood. 

Arshi Qureshi is an independent journalist based in Delhi.