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Judiciarys warning to the media

It is by now a fact known to all, and revealed on several occasions that many of the media entities were given to accepting money from different agencies and political parties in return for vitiating news and thus spreading communalism. A sting operation under the title 'Operation 136' by news portal Cobrapost three and a half years ago is worth recalling in this context. When an incognito representative from the portal, posing as a Hindutva propagandist offered a reward of crores of rupees to some media in return for creating a background in favour of the BJP by spreading Hindutva agenda, many of those fell into that trap, including Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala and India TV. Consequently video and audio clips of the relevant conversations came to light, which laid bare the mainstream media crawling on the knees of the sangh parivar quarters. Operation 136 also revealed the real face of media persons who readily agreed with no hesitation to spread communalism if paid well. Instances also abound of new social media making 'kar seva' for the same divisive forces in a similar fashion. The social media hate campaign that preceded the racial attacks in Delhi last year is only one of them.

These recollections are occasioned now by some remarks the other day by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court NV Ramana. Presiding over a bench, he said that a section of the media give communal colour to news which brings bad name to the country. The bench was hearing of a batch of petitions by Jamiatul-Ulama-e-Hind and others requesting the court to direct the Centre to stop spread of 'fake news' related to the religious congregation at the Tablighi Jamaat's headquarters in Nizamuddin. The petition also sought the court's direction for strict action against those responsible for it. When in end-march 2020 country-wide lockdown was announced without sufficient notice or time for preparations, Tablighi workers camping there were held up in the Markaz. But a media narrative soon emerged branding those among them, who were affected by Covid as super-spreaders, and the propaganda itself became a sharp tool of hate campaign against a whole community. At least one prominent news channel kept on using the epithet 'Tablighi Covid'. Soon, phrases like 'Covid jihad' and 'Muslim virus' started doing the rounds in these media. Not stopping there, they came out with theories that the Muslim minority was deliberately spreading Covid in the country and thus creating insecurity and chaos. And on the basis of these hypotheses, many were put to torture including women, in different parts of the country. In Madhya Pradesh, Jhharkhand, Rajasthan and UP, even those who had not attended the Tablighi conference were subjected to brutal police ill-treatment and mob attacks; many were even denied due treatment. Finally it took over two months before it was proven that the said conference had played no particular role in the spread of Covid. Last December, all the cases registered in this connection were dismissed. It is in this context that Jamiathul Ulama-e-Hind approached the highest court.

Significantly enough, the Chief Justice specifically mentioned nascent social media, about which many had pinned hopes that they would rise as alternative voice midst mainstream media. The CJI also observed that there is no control over fake news and slandering in web portals and YouTube channels. There seemed to be no control on web portals. The new media that should have been an alternative voice were treading the same path as of the mainstream entities. In other words news portals and YouTube channels are functioning as the megaphone of mainstream media and agencies that sponsor them. A cursory look at the current social media platforms would convince us of this. It is not facts but prejudices and hatred that drive these media and the people behind them. And through that they can easily actualise their fascist agenda too. It is in the same country where events like Kumbh mela cause gatherings of lakhs of people facing no blame, that people helplessly held up in a conference venue are being booked and subjected to country-wide hate propaganda on that pretext.

The same drama was enacted during the anti-CAA protests and later during the racial attacks in Delhi. And now incidentally in the context of the political changes in Afghanistan too, a comparable alienation process is fast taking place. Through the belligerent politics under the sponsorship of Hindutva fascism, it may be easy to muzzle minorities. This undoubtedly is a media propaganda that portrays the daily life, beliefs and political expressions of the primary victims of fascism as dangerous. The Chief Justice's warning is about the menace of this media agenda which disaffects those who react to their wishes or predilections by demonising them. For that reason, the media community and authorities alike need to heed the said remarks seriously.

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TAGS:#Tablighi JamaatChief Justice of Supreme Courtnews given colourJamiathul Ulama-e-Hind petitions
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