Media and BJP’s Identity Crisis

Media and BJP’s Identity Crisis

The Indian MSM allowed democracy to be compromised by becoming lapdogs instead of watchdogs of the UPA regime for both of its terms. In this sense, the MSM are accomplices in the mega scams of UPA by staying away from investigating them. In UPA’s 10 years, both PM Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi did not permit themselves to be exposed to scrutiny that democratically elected leaders must be subjected to. Although media was composed of cronies, in 10 years, Sonia Gandhi gave only one or two interviews to the press and never held a press briefing where she independently handled questions. Manmohan Singh’s interaction with the media was similarly extremely rare. The media were willing partners in this charade. The most pernicious outcome of this “arrangement” was that it set a precedent for the power centres in the government to be above answerability and accountability. Given this history, the MSM today are hardly in a position where they can insist on press interaction as a means of accountability of elected leaders.

Such an absence of accountability to a fourth pillar is detrimental to democracy, and the PM, instead of continuing with the practise should do away with it and set up a system such that those elected remain answerable and accountable–not just through one-way interaction, speeches, and monologues–but through a give and take, answering of questions, and interaction.

If one agrees that it is healthy for a democracy where the top leaders including the PM are accountable and approachable, then another issue that needs to be tackled is the party’s apparent identity crisis. How can you communicate and articulate fluently if you don’t know who you are, if you’ve suffered selective amnesia and end up second guessing yourself and floundering-which is exactly what the party seems to doing.

As most democratic large parties end up becoming, the party is not a cohesive sounding unit. Voices like Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj who articulate double standards of pseudo-secular entities in the state governments and media, do so in a manner that can be milked by Modi and BJP detractors. Supporters of these “Hindutva” voices within BJP point out that these voices articulate relevant issues. These are grassroots leaders with a mass support base and know how pseudo-secular standards and policies end up afflicting their constituents. Shouldn’t these local leaders be allowed to tackle and speak about issues of concern to their constituents?

The party’s support base can thus be roughly divided into two groups. One group of well wishers and party supporters says that these “Hindutva” voices must be reined in. This group believes that the mandate for this government is only about development and therefore, only matters which relate to development and the economy need to be spoken about by everyone affiliated with the party, so that the government is able to proceed with governance without distraction from detractors who are looking to brand this government as communal.

The “Hindutva” supporting group thinks that in addition to governance and development, the so-called Hindutva ideology represents the core ideology of the party. The party should not disown or shy away from its own core ideology, they claim, but should instead work towards promoting it and creating a counter-narrative. By not disowning its own manifesto, BJP can reassure its core voter base that it is willing to walk the talk and stands by its Hindu constituents.

In fact, even among the core issues, one could categorize some as non-contentious and non-controversial. For example, levelling the playing-field in areas where previous policies have discriminated against Hindus, is (or at least should be) non-controversial and non-contentious. The party would do well if it could articulate these non-contentious issues and frame a counter narrative. Further, this counter narrative should be pro-actively promoted and acted upon. This would mean either doing away with the RTE or removing the minority clause so that all private players have to conform to RTE norms or none have to. Control of Hindu temples by the government but a hands-off approach for minority places of worship is another such issue that should be considered non-contentious. On the other hand, even though needed in the interests of fairness and justice, issues like building the Ram temple, bringing in a Uniform Civil code, or revoking Article 370, are more complicated since they have the minority community as stakeholders. This second category of issues could be temporarily put on the back burner. Ensuring that the state governments apply laws fairly and prosecute law breakers irrespective of faith is in fact not even a communal issue that the “Hindutva” group of BJP supporters is concerned about. Using this perspective, the “Hindutva” group of BJP supporters does not appear to have unreasonable expectations, as is made out to be.

Certainly, the government and party needs to devise an effective strategy of media management, but it can do so only when it has dealt with its identity crisis. Adding to its own ambiguity on issues of identity, the government (or party) has been receiving conflicting suggestions and feedback from these two groups of supporters, pulling it in opposing directions.

BJP was voted into power for standing up and pointing out that pseudo-secularism exists. The party needs to continue to stand up for righting the wrongs of pseudo-secularism. Even if the pseudo-secular fraternity and even some other well wishers say that the mandate was only for governance and fixing the economy, the BJP cannot disown its own roots and genesis.

  1. Such hypocrisy would soon be exposed by the very detractors who try to portray that the party’s mandate was only for “vikas.” Additionally, such hypocrisy is resented by its core base of Hindu minded people including well-read intellectuals who have been witness to UPA’s pernicious anti-Hindu policies.
  2. This is not a coalition government, one that needs to follow a common minimum programme, but a party that has an independent mandate. If it is being conned into believing or conveniently (out of cowardice/reluctance) assuming that it can either “do” development or do “Hindutva,” the party needs to snap out of this either/or approach and realize that its mandate is for tackling both kinds of issues.
  3. The likelihood of a full majority happening again looks dim, more so after the Delhi and Bihar mega defeats. That’s why it’s all the more imperative that the BJP looks at at-least the “non-contentious” Hindutva issues while it has a complete mandate.
  4. By standing up for who it is, it gains respect from its friends and foes and can make a dent in countering faux narratives to promote its own narrative assertively. This will additionally ensure that its “Hindutva” supporters remain loyal to it and the likelihood of returning to power in 2019 is higher.

Once the party has sorted out this mega identity crisis, the media management issues could be made to fall in place. Concerning media management, it has been suggested that:

  1. Ministers hold periodical press briefings to inform citizens about the progress of projects under their purview. This should be easy to put in place, but for some reason, this has not been happening.
  2. Another suggestion is that, as practised in the past, an official spokesperson of the PMO should hold regular press briefings and conferences to disseminate information and the official government point of view on issues. This too should not be too hard to carry out.
  3. A party spokesperson as a single window for expressing party views through press briefings has also been suggested and this too could be easily done. One wonders why these simple steps have not been taken so far. Even now, 18 months down the line, it is perhaps not too late.
  4. There’s a near consensus among BJP supporters that the party should not send spokespersons to participate in debates on channels that carry out anti-BJP reporting and it is pretty much clear which channels can be put on the list of anti-BJP channels. Laying down terms and conditions on topics of debate or how topics are framed is an important aspect of media management that has been ignored but needs to be prioritized for narrative correction.
  5. The party/government also needs to get its act together with respect to responding to the media’s false stories or factual inaccuracies. The social media cell of the party and government hasn’t appeared to be on top of things here and this needs to be rectified.

Dear Leslie Udwin

Dear Leslee Udwin,

The controversial documentary you made has its share of supporters and then there are those that believe that sensationalizing an unfortunate, horrendous incident for viewership is highly insensitive. Yet others who oppose your documentary go even further and think that there’s a larger agenda that is being served through your documentary, namely that of targeting Indian society and painting all Indian men as perverse.

Rape is indeed the most horrendous of crimes and yes sure it, like all other crimes, is based on the mindset of the individual carrying it out. We don’t need an Einstein or a documentary maker to tell us that people with a specific mindset would do something so horrendous and perverse, do we?

If you look at rape statistics across the world like here, you’d see that India doesn’t feature in the top 5 countries of the world for highest rape cases. Instead the countries listed are: Lesotho, Sweden, St Vincent and the Granadines, New Zealand, and Belgium. New Zealand and Belgium must definitely rank pretty much high on the gender sensitivity scale.

Yet another compilation of latest statistics states that:“The countries with highest rape cases are Lesotho (91.6 per 100000), Trinidad & Tobago (58.4 per 100000), Sweden (53.2 per 100000), Korea (33.7 per 100000), New Zealand (30.9 per 100000), United States of America (28.6 per 100000), Belgium (26.3 per 100000), Zimbabwe (25.6 per 100000) and United Kingdom (23.2 per 100000).” (Source: http://www.wonderslist.com/10-shocking-sexual-violence-statistics/) India does not feature on this list at all.

One older compilation like this one does mention India, but apparently the list is based on the assumption that: 1) there is under-reporting, and 2) a rape is reported every 22 minutes. Under-reporting is definitely a likelihood in the Indian context, but given that we are a democracy with free media, such under-reporting would be far lower than in autocratic regimes and in misogynist Islamist nations. Secondly, assuming a rape being reported every 22 minutes is a correct estimate, one must take account of India’s population figure of 1.25 billion before coming up with rankings. Thirdly, do notice that despite this, countries that rank higher than India in this report are Sweden, South Africa, and United States. These 3 countries must definitely rank pretty much high on the gender sensitivity scale. Doesn’t this prove that the “mindset” related to rape doesn’t stem from upbringing and values relating to gender?

The simple truth is that one has perverts and sick minded people in all kinds of societies, cultures, and religions. In our own “intellectual” and so-called liberal circles, we end up finding filthy minded folks like a Tarun Tejpal (an accused in a rape case) and an R.K. Pachauri (who has been named in a case of sexual harassment at work). One can be pretty sure that both these folks were raised in gender sensitive environments by educated parents.

Why does the United States feature high on the list? The answer is because rape is a crime of opportunity. In permissive societies, women are more likely to venture out alone, frequent bars, stay out late. Given the lower population density compared to countries like India, perverts are more likely to find women at secluded spots. These two factors together provide more “opportunities” for sick minded and perverted individuals. That’s why countries like the United States, Sweden, and Belgium feature so high on the list.

So, mindset and opportunity are the 2 key factors to understanding rape. For a comprehensive understanding of mindset, it would have been good if you had also interviewed rapists from developed nations who were raised in countries that rank high on the gender sensitivity index. Having failed to do that and focusing only on India, one can only conclude that perhaps there’s a larger agenda that is being served through your documentary, namely that of targeting Indian society.

There’s one more very important point that I’d like to make. One Rajya Sabha member who vocally supported your documentary is Mr Javed Akhtar. Mr Akhtar spoke eloquently about the perverted mindset of the interviewed rapist, wherein the rapist blamed the rape victim for “inviting it” by the kind of clothes she wore. One can only agree with Mr Javed Akhtar’s view on this. The irony is that the very foundation of Muslim women being made to don the hijab or burkha, is based on this very same mindset. Mr Javed Akhtar, a Muslim himself, has never spoken against the custom of burkha that is rampant amongst Indian Muslims. The reason is obvious. Critiquing Indian (read Hindu) society is safe but pointing out regressive practices within Islam is taboo in our country. The same double-standard reigns supreme when the Censor Board readily agrees to delete scenes from a film when Christians say their sentiments are hurt, but a movie which ridicules Hindu beliefs (PK) is released without any deletions under the name of free speech and creativity.

This brings us to repressed, misogynist, and autocratic societies such as Saudi Arabia. Can you imagine the extent of domestic and sexual violence and abuse that must exist behind closed doors in regimes like these? Wonder whether your research on rape will ever take you to study Islamist societies which are the epitome of gender insensitivity and women’s repression that you allege as true for India.

Having said this, I’d like to add, that you do have an opportunity to prove that you have no agenda of targeting pre-dominantly Hindu India. All you need to do is make your next documentary on violence against women in the context of Islamist regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

From Faux Secularism To Idolizing of a Terrorist (Ishrat Jehan) Misleading the Nation-II

IV. Absence of Investigative Reporting of Congress Scams

While questions are asked of the kind of reporting biased media do, questions also need to be asked about the kind of reporting they DO NOT DO.

1) A case in point is that of Pawan Bansal’s massive corruption that came to the fore through the CBI. It has been said that the purpose of letting the CBI onto Bansal was for ousting Manmohan loyalists from the cabinet (check this). The consequent sudden clean chit by CBI proves that the CBI was indeed used.

Prior to getting Bansal sacked, the CBI exposed 5 years of misuse of office by Bansal and his relatives and massive corruption and looting through several mechanisms. The question that the MSM needs to answer is how ministers can indulge in 5 years of massive corruption and none in the MSM learn of it until this is revealed by some investigation (even if motivated).

If the smart, savvy, and know-all MSM anchors had no clue about massive scams like CWG, 2G, Coal Gate, Railway Gate, Thorium Gate, Rotting Food Grains, NHRM, and several others happening during UPA 1 and UPA2, are they really fit to be journalists or run TV channels? Why should such inept and incompetent people even be allowed to run media houses? On the other hand, if they did know and did not reveal it to the people, then they deserve to be in prison along with the rest of the Congress scamsters.

The brazen MSM continues to “report” as if such massive scams occurring for years and years while they were winning Padmashris for journalism are “normal”. The swagger and overconfidence when painting the BJP and its stalwarts as communal, comes from the very same “journalists” who lacked efficiency and/or integrity to uncover these Congress mega-scams.

2) Not a single large Indian media house dared to touch the subject taken up by a foreign publication that published that Sonia Gandhi was the fourth richest person with $19 billion in overseas accounts. Neither did they report it and hold debates on it, NOR did they challenge it with your own investigations.

V. Dividing Society for Promoting Congress’ Faux Secularism

The larger scheme of things for the MSM has been to peddle the faux secularism practiced by the Congress party to create and cultivate vote banks of radical minorities. The media has been an active partner in promoting such faulty definitions of secularism by propagating victimhood of radical Muslims so as to divide society and brand the BJP as communal.

To promote a faulty definition of secularism by peddling victimhood is by itself worthy of scathing criticism, but when this is done through means like distortion of facts, promoting fabrications, and withholding of facts, entities that participate in such campaigns must be made to answer.

Defamation laws must certainly take account of deliberate and focused attempts to malign and such entities must be made to face the consequences of their deliberate lies.

The attempt to malign Narendra Modi for Gujarat 2002 (but such attempts seem to have largely backfired) by propagating victimhood of radical Muslims to divide society was done by the media as a part of the larger scheme of peddling the idea of false secularism of the Congress.

Picking only on the Gujarat 2002 riots despite the fact that the country has witnessed severe communal riots both prior to 2002 (including the infamous Nellie massacre where 3300 Muslims were massacred in Assam) and after it (including the recent Assam riots) is evidence of this. Additionally, the media has been largely silent on the Hashimpura massacre that occurred under the directives of a Congress minister in 1987.

It may also be noted that many of the Hindu-Muslim riots that occurred prior to 2002 were more severe in terms of duration they lasted, number displaced, loss of property, and numbers killed, and number of Muslims killed.

Many of the riots happened in Congress regimes and under the watch of Congress CMs but no debates have been held by the MSM to discuss the “complicity” of CMs under whose watch these riots occurred or to discuss competence of these CMs in effective management of law and order to control the riots.

This reveals the MSM’s intention to play propagandists for the divisive Congress party. Fortunately, this larger scheme has been seen through and is constantly challenged by social media activists so that, time and again media lies have been exposed.

Apart from Hindu-Muslim communal riots, the 1984 Sikh Genocide took place after Indira Gandhi’s death, was perpetrated by high ranking Congress politicians but for which the Congress party has, even after 29 years, managed to scuttle the justice process that would have provided closure to the victims and their families.

That the media works as peddlers of the faux secularism of the Congress and encourages divisiveness is even by itself, an extremely dangerous phenomenon.

Under the UPA regime of the last 9 years, there has been a systematic attempt to subvert institutions like the CVC, CAG, CEC, ED, and even the judiciary. The CBI, which never had autonomy has become a “Caged parrot” of the ruling UPA government and instances of its misuse may be hard to count and keep track of.

VI. Implications of Media Coverage Of The Ishrat Jehan Case

Even before the Ishrat Jehan case, the Congress has engaged in devious games of deception such as where “saffron terror” was sought to be implicated.

In the Ishrat Jehan case, the MSM narrative on fake encounters conspicuously omits the number of such alleged encounters in various states and under CMs of various parties. The NHRC figures state that between 2002 and 2007, there were 440 alleged fake encounters in the country, of which 231 were in UP, while in Gujarat there were 4 such encounters that include the Ishrat Jehan and Sohrabuddin cases. Despite Gujarat having a record of very few such alleged encounters, almost all media attention pertaining to fake encounters has been focused on Gujarat.

The narrative fails to point out the Ishrat Jehan alleged fake encounter was cherry picked from as many as 440 alleged fake encounters in the country even though the victim of the encounter-Ishrat Jehan has been named as a proven terrorist by the country’s Intelligence Bureau and even by the Ministry of Home Affairs under a Congress government. MSM media have failed to indicate that such cherry picking amounts to a deliberate witch hunt by the Congress, using its “caged bird”, the CBI for harassing and maligning their bête noire, Narendra Modi

The Ishrat Jehan case symbolizes the dangerous depths to which the media have fallen in their attempts to peddle faux secularism. NDTV’s (partial) report was one such example of biased reporting which was questioned by Kartikeya Tanna here and here and analyzed by Ravinar brilliantly.

The lame response to the questions raised by Tanna, was once again exposed as an attempt at obfuscation and evasion. Read more from Ravinar on Congress-media communal politics on the Ishrat Jehan case here.

What makes the media role as dividers even more dangerous is that their fabrications are now threatening India’s national security and compromising institutions such as the Intelligence Bureau.

The media propagates a faulty definition of secularism that is discriminatory rather than one that would treat all citizens as equal and one that would treat all as Indians rather than treat them as majority, minority, backward caste, upper caste, and so on. A definition of secularism that says that a certain group be treated as one entitled to privileges is divisive in itself.

Unbelievably, the narrative has taken on ominous proportions such that the Indian media are now actively promoting and legitimizing not just radical Islam, but also terrorism, rather than promoting moderate Islam and creating an ethos where moderates can assume leadership of the Muslims in the country. This would be truly useful in helping the community see real progress.  Episodes such as these are but a direct consequence of MSM narratives that condone terrorism in the name of faux secularism.

The problem with definitions and policies that favor one side as well as work for radicalizing that side are that more and more must be given to that side to keep it happy. Demands for quotas and Sharia courts are just some of the possible consequences of the dangerous games that the Congress is playing for vote banks, and which the MSM is aiding and abetting.  Note how such “secularism” has to be progressive constantly.

Progressive secularism is symbolized in how the new face (poster girl) of secularism is Ishrat Jehan’s mother while the former was Zakia Jaffri. From the family of riot casualty to that of a proven LeT operative, as the symbol of secularism, there has been massive “evolution” .

To dignify a proved terrorist as a martyr is not something one would have imagined was even possible and no other so-called “left” “liberal” media in the world has ever condoned terrorism on their own respective lands.

Although it is true that the social media actively challenge and disprove many of the biased mainstream media’s contentions, it is sad that Indians citizens are being consistently and deliberately misled. Indian citizens have to sift through tons of obfuscation before they can glean the truth about current affairs and learn the truth not BECAUSE of the media but INSPITE of it.

Why do Indian citizens not know who Haji Bilal is? Misleading the Nation-I

I. Biased Reporting and Gross Omissions:

Biased reporting by the MSM may have existed before, but biased reporting using fabricated content and factual distortions began perhaps with their coverage of the post-Godhra Gujarat 2002 riots.

Little said about the “trigger”, the Godhra carnage

MSM personalities like Shekhar Gupta, Rajdeep, Barkha, Sagarika, and Arnab must answer why the incident that triggered the Gujarat riots, namely the Godhra train burning carnage has barely been reported, analyzed, debated, or talked about in the MSM (More on Godhra here).

Complete obliteration of the Congress connection to the Godhra carnage

The above personalities must also be asked why the MSM has not conducted debates and discussions on the Congress-party’s hand in triggering the Gujarat riots when the main conspirator and perpetrator Haji Bilal of the Godhra carnage was a Congress party leader when the incident occurred.

If one tries to google the name of Haji Bilal it will be hard to find any mainstream newspaper or TV news channel reports Haji Bilal, the man that triggered it all!  The MSM’s refusal to acknowledge and speak of perpetrators of communal violence acts if they are Muslims and if they belong to the Congress party is thus obvious. Contrast this with the endless and infinite coverage of Muslim “victims” (real or imagined) including Zakia Jaffri and the latest Ishrat Jehan (notwithstanding that the latter had been named as a proven terrorist by the country’s Intelligence Burea and even by the Ministry of Home Affairs under a Congress government).

The failure of the MSM to speak about Haji Bilal and his Congress affiliations, to hold even one independent debate on the Godhra train burning carnage, or name a single Hindu victim from the 58 who were roasted alive in the Sabarmati Express speaks for itself. Compare and contrast with the endless coverage of the Gujarat 2002 post-Godhra riots where 789 Muslims and 250 Hindus died.

II.  MSM Lies

1) The MSM has lied time and again labeling the post-Godhra Gujarat 2002 2-way riots as a Genocide or Pogrom (not to forget it was triggered by a communal violence incident started by a Muslim Congress leader that resulted in the death of 58 Hindu men, women, and children).

Note the faulty labels flung around: A genocide is defined as the deliberate and systematic extermination of a racial, cultural, or political group. A pogrom is defined as an organized massacre.

Can 2-way riots that lasted for 3 days be characterized as either a genocide or a pogrom? How can riots that were triggered by a burning to death of Hindu pilgrims be considered as an organized massacre or a pogrom against Muslims? How can riots in which those rioters who were shot by the police (state machinery) had 60% of Hindus and 40% of Muslims?

Any media group that has used or promoted the two words Genocide and Pogrom in the context of the post-Godhra Gujarat 2002 riots, needs to apologize for using inappropriate words as well as state that the usage was wrong based on statistics and findings of courts and other committees.

If BJP has any self-respect, it must approach courts for objectionable use of these words, even sue for slander, the entities that have willfully been using such labels and fabrications repeatedly.

2) Aided and abetted by panelists like Teesta Setalvad and Sanjeev Bhatt who were later discredited and now face charges of perjury and other serious offences in courts of law, the MSM have promoted lies and fabrications to be repeated over and over again. The onus of checking the credentials of panelists must lie with the media houses that invite them. Moreover, if certain facts are being deliberately mis-stated by these panelists, the onus to point out factual errors must lie with media houses.

Wherever such factual errors have been let pass it is essential to hold that specific anchor/commentator responsible for willful misreporting or irresponsible reporting. Once again, the BJP must gather such instances through videos of debates on various channels collected from 11 years of coverage and seek legal recourse about this willful witch-hunt of Narendra Modi.

Deliberate biases of reporting rather than neutral reporting are an offence when those with such biases distort facts, engage in fabrications and half-truths, and use innuendo and insinuations to spread falsities as propaganda. All MSM entities must be made answerable for each such instance.

III. Protecting the Corrupt And the Incompetent

1) Reporting of these Congress-party supporting media shows how gross failures of the Congress government such as during Assam riots or during the Uttarakhand floods have been consistently played down. Tough questions are not asked to those responsible for mal-governance and the highest most authority of the Congress party is never made answerable or accountable for failures that have led to massive loss of life.

Using euphemisms and terms like “has the political class failed in Uttarakhand” instead of saying has the Congress party messed up in Uttarakhand are just instances of the subliminal mechanisms these corrupt media use to shield and insulate the Congress party from accountability and public wrath.

2) Similarly, even in cases of out-and-out criminality of the Congress through its mega corruption scams, the MSM’s attempts to dignify such condemnable acts, is shameful. Dear MSM, even ordinary non-discerning citizens intuitively understand that some things are beyond debate and most of the looting acts of UPA2 have never even been debate worthy, but deserved to be condemned outright. The MSM’s unwillingness and reluctance to outright condemn looting by the Congress has exposed their hypocrisy to the world. Using obfuscation, technicalities, and legalese where none is needed, the MSM have bent over backwards to protect the Congress from accountability on one hand and public rage on the other.

This kind of kid-glove approach towards Congress’s humungous loot becomes all the more conspicuous when they infinitely outrage over comparatively minor infarctions of those in the BJP.

No doubt, in the process of trying to keep the Congress party from having a sullied image, these MSM honchos have successfully blackened their own faces, but that’s another matter.

 

(To be Continued)

MSM Versus Social Media

MSM Versus Social Media

The MSM versus SM debate

The mainstream media (MSM) versus social media (SM) debate is currently one of the hottest topics of the time.

MSM including print media are predominantly a one-sided medium. Online newspapers were supposedly open for receiving comments but even here, dissenting voices can be stifled and those questioning facts or disagreeing logically often found that their comments never made it to the public domain.

  • SM are popular for expressing oneself on all issues including political ones since these media are perfectly democratic unlike MSM: all voices are heard equally.
  • Additionally, SM are interactive unlike MSM which is a one way street.

These are the obvious factors that can be cited for the growing popularity of SM over MSM.

As elsewhere in the world, in India too, SM has gained as a medium of political discourse, for dissemination of politically relevant information, and as a forum for exchange of ideas between people who share political interests.

The rapid rise of SM as an increasingly popular mechanism of discourse on political content is set in a context.

History of MSM

Historically, print media in India have represented a spectrum of ideologies, with different English language and vernacular publications representing different ideals and ideologies (and consequently representing parties that espouse these ideologies). Many mainstream publications were daringly anti-establishment even during trying times such as the Emergency. While some publications steadfastly espoused one ideology all the time, certain other publications were seen to change their positions and leanings as editors changed and may have had phases of pro-establishment and anti-establishment content.

Additionally, print media content in each publication can be varied and may cover a wide range of ideologies. When one speaks of pro- or anti-establishment content, one refers to the predominance of such content in that specific publication.

The story with television or audio-visual media has been diametrically different, more so, with the English Language Media (ELM). To begin with were the days of Doordarshan, openly a government mouthpiece. Since the Congress party has been the ruling party at the center for 55+ years out of 65 years of independence, one can use the term government controlled media and Congress controlled media interchangeably.

After independent channels were created in the mid to late 1990s, it was felt that television as a medium was now free from the shackles of control of the ruling party. This was why in the first few years, even politically savvy citizens tended to mistake independent cable channels as representing the voice of the watchdog.

MSM Bias

The biased tone and one-sided tenor of reporting by television channels went unnoticed initially and seeped into public consciousness only gradually, but eventually individual citizens began to increasingly notice that the discourse on these channels was biased. Perhaps individuals did not systematically categorize or analyze what was wrong in the reportage but it became increasingly clear that there was a bias in favor of the Congress and against Hindutva forces:

  • Bias against BJP’s definition of seculraism “equality for all appeasement of none”.
  • Depicting Hindutva as bad.
  • Representing Hindu groups as the sole villains without providing a logical basis for such representation.
  • Vilifying Hindu groups and yet not condemning blatantly communal verbiage and actions from Imams and Mullahs.
  • Vilifying BJP as communal while labeling Muslim appeasing parties as secular despite such parties blatantly seeking discriminatory policies

Thinking citizens who regarded themselves as secular began to notice this blatant double standard.

Mechanisms for demonizing and vilifying individuals from the Hindutva side or the party as a whole, included:

  • Framing stories based on distorted definitions.
  • Excessively covering stories that project BJP and its members in a bad light and not covering or barely covering stories that expose Congress mal-governance or misdemeanors.
  • Holding debates and discussions on issues and topics that help demonize individuals from BJP or the party as a whole.
  • Not covering certain topics (such as the Kashmiri Pandit ethnic cleansing of the 1990s and the increasing radicalization in local mosques and Madarsahs) for debates.
  • Inviting panelists who lie about facts and figures and not correcting the falsehoods.
  • Inviting panelists who provide distorted or one sided definitions (for example, of secularism) and not providing the counter view.
  • Inviting panelists who provide distorted or one sided definitions (for example, of secularism) and holding this definition as the correct one and basing all arguments on this.
  • Often the representation of different views is skewed, more so since the anchor is an active participant for one side instead of being the moderator of the discussion.

Innumerable such instances of biased reporting and biased debates have been systematically analyzed at www.mediacrooks.com

Just as in TV reporting, biases in the print media may be gauged by the number of articles that oppose one point of view and promote another, types of stories covered, placement of such stories, etc. A recent measure for example could be by determining how many polemics were written to “debunk” the Gujarat growth story or to condemn Modi and the 2002 Gujarat riots.

Loss of Credibility of MSM

People continued to buy untruths peddled by the MSM for quite some time, perhaps due to the lack of a mechanism to know otherwise. SM has provided this very mechanism through providing a forum where people learn that there are many others who think what they think. Additionally, SM is a source of information and exchange of information helps disseminate it multiple fold.

Loss of credibility of MSM happened when citizens began to notice that the spin was neither random nor co-incidental. The spin was consistently such that the Congress party gained while BJP was at the receiving end.

MSM has been accused of being anti-Hindu but some critics of MSM claim that even that would be worthy of at least some respect if it was merely based on ideology. Critics claim that, on the contrary, what the MSM does is in fact pure business, as it is funded by entities (foreign or domestic) that support Islamism and/or cultivate Muslim vote banks.

MSM Anchors in the arena of Social Media

Until the advent of SM, MSM anchors were complacent in their knowledge that they were gatekeepers of information and perhaps major influencers of opinion as well. These anchors entered the SM arena in the belief that they could similarly dominate this medium and manipulate it as a means of influencing people.

Safe in their studio one-way ‘journalism’ where unpleasant feedback and dissent were kept out, MSM anchors had begun to mistake ‘journalism’ minus fact checks for freedom of speech. They had of course forgotten that like themselves, other citizens also have the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Entering the arena of SM, MSM anchors were in for a jolt. Words that they had forgotten: “accountability” “feedback” “questions” “fact check” “criticism” came back to haunt them. Such has been their suzerainty in TV studios that on SM, any person that expected accountability, provided feedback, asked questions, expected a fact check /correction, or critiqued/criticized began to be blocked on Twitter and such behavior was conveniently defined as abuse. That sections of people on SM spread across different political ideologies actually engage in abusive language is certainly true, but citizens seeking clarifications or pointing out factual errors politely cannot be painted with the same brush as such abusers and trouble makers.

MSM junks its watchdog role

A heavily critiqued administration in many democratic countries would address criticism by discussing governance failures. Policies would be brainstormed and an action plan put into place to address the lacunae.  The UPA dispensation is however not worried about its infinitely poor governance record or even for that matter about its looting coming to light. Such issues are brazened out and shrugged off. As long as the government can continue to remain in power through means fair and foul, they are not much concerned. As long as individuals who participate in scams can stay safe from the arms of the law, all’s well.

The role of MSM in aiding and abetting this approach to governance is considerable, but with the focus on MSM’s BJP bashing and creation of faulty narratives of secularism, MSM complicity in UPA’s undermining of institutions remains largely ignored. We have such low expectations of the MSM that we rarely ask them what they were doing while mega-billion scams were being perpetrated under UPA rule. We almost take it for granted that investigative journalism as a preventive check to corruption and looting is not a part of the MSM function.

Just as we castigate MSM for fabricating stories (especially those of the anti-Modi anti-saffron variety), we also need to condemn them for abandoning their investigative role and letting UPA perpetrate scam after scam. Using ploys such as labeling the PM or the Defense Minister as “honest” despite massive scams happening under their noses, or focusing on “perception” and perception management, rather than on effective action and factual truths, like here, the MSM deftly abandoned their watchdog function. In doing so, they rang the final death knell of their credibility which had already been lost with their anti-Hindu anti-BJP biases during reporting.

This loss of credibility now extends to almost any luminary who espouses the carefully crafted MSM narrative. Not to mention that on close inspection, many such luminaries presented as ‘objective critics’ have a finger in a government doled out position or pie…almost always.

With MSM’s near abandonment of its watchdog role, the undermining of institutions has been an ongoing process by UPA and over time, scuttling investigations to safeguard kingpins and chief beneficiaries of mega scams of unbelievable proportions has become routine. Name the institution and it appears to be compromised or to be controlled by compromised elements in cahoots with the government.  Institutions such as the CAG that stand up to the government are accused of being allies of the opposition and are undermined through an adamant refusal to act on their suggestion.

The Congress party and SM

This strategy has suited the Congress party thus far, but with the inevitability of elections either later this year or in early 2014, among Congress rank and file and Congress-supporting MSM entities there’s trepidation regarding the growing influence of SM to vent and inform against Congress corruption and mal-governance.

To counter the growing support for BJP, and to contest citizens that voluntarily support BJP, the Congress party began an exercise of looking for paid volunteers as seen here and here. For enlisting support for this endeavor, registration was sought (see this).

After all, desperation is the mother of changing the status quo.

The I&B Minister Manish Tewari said: “the ministry hopes that engaging people in dissemination of government policies and programs at various social networking sites and other spaces on the internet could give much better results.”

More on this here.

Parallels are bound to be drawn in this approach of paid SM volunteers for propaganda with the routine allegations of paid MSM.

It was the thousands of falsehoods propagated a thousand times that prompted a spontaneous citizen’s movement on SM. Surprisingly, even this fact that BJP support is largely spontaneous and constituted by individual elements not officially affiliated with the party is now being distorted.

An important principle of selling is that one must believe in the product one is selling/promoting, which is why social media has been effective for BJP/Modi. Therefore, it remains doubtful how much benefit the Congress party can reap from this strategy.

MSM outreach to SM

This brings us to the recent outreach effort by NDTV’s Vikram Chandra which resulted in this episode of the Big Fight.

Was this outreach effort in the nature of a “Know thy enemy” (Know the Congress’ enemy) exercise? Only, the “enemy” here is the common citizen.

Those representing the BJP point of view on the debate were so effective in exposing Congress falsehoods that they could even be role models to some of the ineffective BJP spokespersons on TV debates. Makes one wonder: Is the BJP top leadership using social media to influence citizens or is the converse true?

To conclude, it appears that SM activism is here to stay. How much it affects electoral outcomes in the near future remains to be seen, but we are at the threshold of history in the sense that a major entrenched establishment, the MSM has been shaken from the status quo.

A Tangled Web

Sequence of Events:

Despite mainstream media’s efforts to confuse and obfuscate issues, the sequence of events that began with morphed videos as a means of inciting a certain community, leading to attacks on individuals from the North East in some cities; riots in Mumbai, Lucknow, and other cities; and a panic-led exodus of North Eastern Indians from many cities is now well known. In many cases, individual attacks and threats led to panic and the resultant exodus. In other instances, rumors through SMSs that suggested large-scale violence against North Eastern Indians prompted fear, panic, and exodus.

Celebrity media journalists first insinuated that right-wing Hindu groups were behind morphed videos and SMS that ‘incited’ the community in question into attacking North East Indians and running amok in Mumbai and Lucknow. Later, it was learned that the chief source of morphed videos was a website from a neighboring country in the North West. For a good expose on how insinuations were flung around, please check the six-part expose (links to Part 2 and Part 3 provided here).

The source of morphed pictures and videos was confirmed as the neighboring country while circulation through mass SMSs was carried out by some anti-national elements from India, as evident from this arrest in Coimbatore. Thus, when it was seen that it had no links with Hindu groups, celebrity media journalists then insinuated that the rumors to spread panic and encourage the large-scale exodus from cities of North East Indians originated from saffron sources. It was insinuated that since these saffron groups were running help lines for, assuring safety and security to, and providing food at railway stations to the fleeing North Easterners, such rumors were being spread by these very saffron groups to project themselves in a good light. However, even after extensive investigation, not even a single saffron source has been found to be connected with SMSs that spread panic. Instead, so far, the ‘incited’ community that engaged in violence against North East Indians (for which arrests have been made in some cities) was also found to be spreading panic through SMSs (as evident from arrests made in Bangalore and Pune. Some additional links for these are here).

Hate Speech and Free Speech:

What exactly is hate speech? In addition to the following links, the Internet provides adequate information on what constitutes hate speech in India and the world.

Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection….Neal Boortz

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist…Salman Rushdie

Censorship as a Response to Breakdown of Law and Order:

Given the history of the UPA2 in attempting to curb and censor free speech, the mass breakdown of law and order was once again deemed to be an opportune ‘rationale’ for blaming as well as censoring social media and targeting what they call ‘hate speech’. (In the past, in December 2011, Kapil Sibal had raised the issue of controlling ‘blasphemous’ content on social media. At that time, it was learned that what was considered blasphemous was content that portrayed Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh in a poor light as well as content that would hurt the sentiments of communities. Later again in April this year, in the light of the leaked video of the then Congress spokesperson Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the issue of censorship was once more raised spurring debates on where to draw the line between privacy and censorship.)

Most of the mainstream media intellectuals did not question the basis where speech is the culprit and violence in ‘reaction’ is permitted without condemnation. Media celebrities failed to point out that the censorship policy is based on the assumption that rioters are entitled to riot. While most from the Indian mainstream media were silent or defensive of censorship there were some healthy responses to the clamp down that came from outside. For example, Dean Nelson (@DelhiDean) tweeted “The casual way web content has been blocked without notification or explanation begs serious questions of the world’s largest democracy”.

There is then the question of differentiating between speaking/writing the truth and deliberately spreading canards spread with the intention to incite. Can truth, however harsh, constitute a hate speech? This is a question that needs to be addressed. The distortion and re-writing of history in India, which has been rampant is just another example of curbing truth by labeling it as a ‘hate speech’. Attempts to distort even recent history such as the mass exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from J&K shows that the Congress party along with its Media Enablers has redefined hate speech as ‘presenting facts that portray members of a certain community in a poor light’. It is lamentable that none of the media celebrities and self-christened liberals ask the question: Should truth be censored?

A Tangled Web:

What lies at the root of the situation we find ourselves in?  The question is how did India get here in the first place?

Oh! what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!—Walter Scott

Divide and rule policies were initiated by the British while they ruled India. Post-partition, for the obvious and now scarcely undisguised goal of ensuring a vote bank, the Congress party (which has been in power for 55+ of the 65 years of India’s independence, and which is currently in power for the last eight years) has, ensured that secularism be understood as policies and actions that please and favor the largest religious minority group in India, namely Muslims.  

In propagating that policies like repealing Article 370 or enforcing a uniform civil code (UCC) are ‘communal’ issues, the Congress party has arrived at a twisted definition of secularism.

An intelligent debate on the UCC, for example, would reveal that, for laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheriting property, etc., such a code would include best practices drawn from laws across the world and would not be Hindu laws imposed on other groups. Best practices are those that ensure gender equality, and the Indian Constitution does guarantee equal treatment to all citizens irrespective of gender.

Similarly, on the repealing of Article 370 in J&K (which, includes Ladakh with a near equal Buddhist Muslim population, and Jammu, with a majority of Hindus) as was envisaged by the creator of the Indian Constitution, Dr.  Ambedkar, a healthy debate is essential.

The thesis propagated by the Congress is that issues like the UCC and revoking Article 370 in J&K pertain only to the Muslim minority, and not to the country as a whole. Modern democratic states where citizens follow one law of the land and settlement and property ownership rights are uniform across states strengthen the national and social fabric. Separate laws for separate groups and different settlement policies in different states tend to breed (and in the Indian context have bred) separatism.

Another issue with the Muslim appeasement approach is that it assumes that the radical amongst the Muslim community (Imams/Mullahs that currently control the discourse) represent and speak for the whole Muslim community. This assumption is rarely questioned if at all.  Politicians collaborate with radical elements from the community so as to control thought processes and attitudes of a large segment of the Muslim population. Reports of certain Imams being extremely close to top Congress party leaders are an open secret.

A political party is of course expected to devise strategies that ensure its repeated electoral success, but this specific strategy of twisted secularism selected by the Congress disregards the basic principles of equality of all before the law and separation of religion from state. This approach also works towards preventing the mainstreaming of the Muslim community and instead breeds ghettoization. This means that many Muslims are kept away from mainstream education which would enable them to think for themselves and not vote blindly as per the diktats of the local Imam of their mosque. Such alienation from mainstream exposure and education also perpetuates a spiral of poverty and victimhood, easily exploitable by: 1) certain community leaders with vested interests, 2) Imams/mullahs, and 3) by the political party seeking electoral leverage from this state of affairs.

However, what is questionable is that the mainstream media and English language media has shied away from taking on Islamic fundamentalism head on. Like domestic abuse victims with the Stockholm syndrome, these media celebrities dare not speak up against the increasing radicalization among Muslims,  and also try to restrict truth from being spoken by others by labeling it as ‘hate speech’.

The Secularism Conundrum and is the so-called Liberal Left Really Liberal and really Left?

I recently watched a video clip of a ‘We The People’ episode that dealt with Muslim identity. Participants included Shahrukh Khan, Soha Ali Khan, Kabir Khan, Karan Johar, and Zakir Naik and another Imam, along with others. After one of Shahrukh’s comments about Muslim identity, Barkha Dutt had quipped, ‘But is it really so simple?’ Perhaps if religion and governance were really and truly separated and if there were equal laws and policies for Indians across religions it could all have been simple.

The Indian Constitution intended that all Indian citizens be treated equally in all walks of life. The Constitution’s Directive Principles for State policy spoke about a uniform civil code to be instituted shortly. Not only was this directive principle ignored, but somewhere along the way, Haj subsidies for Muslim pilgrimages crept in but none for Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish, and Jain pilgrimages. Likewise, Muslim religious education institutions-Madarsahs became heavily subsidized by the government. At one stage, George Orwell’s famous quote ‘All are equal but some are more equal’ was considered an outlandish joke that could never touch a vibrant democracy like India. Later it began to be applied to corrupt politicians who broke laws but slipped away using the heavily flawed judicial system in the country. Today, the statement ‘All are equal but some are more equal’ undoubtedly additionally describes the status of Muslims in India, who are privileged citizens in a country that, sadly, was created for Hindus.

The media anchor who posed the above question on simplicity appears to have a rather simplistic definition of secularism, as have her fellow journalists belonging to the mainstream media. Implicit in their reporting is the implied definition of secular–Standing for Muslim demands (no matter how unfair and unjustified the demands are) is being secular. Speaking out against discriminatory policies that benefit Muslims at the cost of other communities, on the other hand is non-secular or communal.

However, even when the implied meaning is evident from the tone of their political commentary, the proponents of this kind of secularism do not provide an honest definition of this kind of secularism, for, in doing so, they would have to admit that it is discriminatory, unfair, and unjust. If they were to provide an honest definition, such ‘secularism’ could be defined simply as Muslim appeasement. Knowing that under Imam directives, a large number of Muslims tend to vote en masse; secularism as it is defined today in India can be defined as Muslim appeasement to harvest Muslim vote banks. Muslim vote banks tip the balance due to their en masse voting (block votes). Opportunistic political parties vying for block votes eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of this brand of so-called secularism. What, however, is not easy to either understand or digest is the role of mainstream media to a) NOT question the innate unfairness of this brand of secularism, and, b) to in fact propagate this kind of secularism.

India is a country characterized by corruption, chaos, and confusion. One more characteristic of the country is how terms like ‘secularism,’ ‘left liberal,’ ‘right,’ and ‘minorities’ have been loosely bandied about without a thought to what they really should mean.  As a result, in India, they have taken on meanings that are rather different from what they were originally created to describe. This sullies the discourse on fair legislation, equality of citizens across religions, a need for uniform laws, etc.

 Defining Secularism and Minorities:

Given the uniqueness of the Hindu non-evangelical ethos, vis-à-vis Christian democracies, the terms and labels ‘secularism’, ‘left liberal’, and ‘right’ cannot be directly lifted/borrowed from the west to imply the same politico-social dynamics in India as they would, there.

In fact, even for western democracies, the term secular is used to describe a government that treats all its citizens equally and fairly, for it indicates a separation of state and religion. Additionally, in the west, the term secular applies predominantly to collective entities such as the state or government and may also describe policies or governance but is rarely if at all used in the context of individuals. In India, however, the term ‘secular’ is additionally used to describe individuals (politicians, celebrities, etc.,) who tend to be ‘minority’ friendly. Then again, in the Indian context, the term minority or minorities has come to mean the Muslim community. Hence, a secular individual is one that is friendly to the cause of Muslims. (Ideally, the term minority should define a host of communities including Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians, Jews, and others, but that is not the case.)

If the term secular were used in its correct and original spirit, it would describe qualities such as ‘all encompassing,’ ‘inclusive,’ or ‘pluralistic,’ but in India it has come to connote rather the opposite by implying Muslim friendly. In fact, when the term secular is used to define ‘all encompassing,’  a Hindu individual becomes more of a Hindu when s/he is secular (inclusive), but a Muslim individual will no longer remain a true Muslim when s/he is secular (pluralistic/inclusive). By the Muslims’ holy book, being inclusive and being a Muslim is a contradiction in terms. How can a true Muslim  look at individuals of other faiths as symbols of universal humanity—for, as per their holy book, all individuals of other faiths are non-believers or ‘kafirs’ who need to be discriminated against, intimidated, eliminated, or converted to the ‘one true faith’ that is Islam. The secular conundrum arises from the difference in the way the two faiths look at genuine inclusiveness or secularism.

There is then the concept of free speech that is an implicit component of a modern democracy. However, Islam and free speech are not compatible. Amongst many European leaders who have become vocal opponents of multi-culturalism in Europe, Geert Wilders is one, and his argument about how Islam and democracy are not compatible can be seen here.

Defining Left Liberal Intellectuals:

Are They Liberals?

This in turn brings us to individuals from the mainstream media who have christened themselves as the ‘Liberal Left’ or even as ‘Left Liberal Intellectuals’. Any intellectual would see the inherent contradiction between secularism and Islam at both the macro and the individual levels, and both in terms of tolerance and free speech. An intellectual would also clearly also see that Hinduism provides an innately secular ethos, but apparently the breed of ‘‘Left Liberal Intellectuals’ in India do not, and if they do, they would rather not discuss it.

Even without consulting a dictionary, one can fathom that the term liberal means generous. Liberals are supposed to be generous in thought. What is supposed to differentiate Liberals from others is their generosity in accepting different beliefs.  

Multiple questions arise from the notion or principle of acceptance of diverse beliefs and faiths. When a Liberal tolerates other beliefs, would s/he tolerate intolerance? Would they tolerate the implicit intolerance of Islam? Any individual true to their principles would see the inherent contradiction of tolerating intolerance, but apparently our mainstream media notables do not. Perhaps it would help if they at least cared to debate or discuss the issue but there is an ominous silence from these intellectuals.

Then again, it appears that these self-christened Liberals have restricted the principle of acceptance to religious beliefs. A self-christened Left Liberal is therefore accepting of all beliefs however bigoted they may be and therefore includes Islam/Muslims in this acceptance. Why then, do they not extend this courtesy to beliefs other than those of the religious kind? Why not be equally accepting of ideologies divergent from their own?  

When it comes to practicing acceptance of views and ideologies that are not religious per se, self-christened Left Liberals portray a streak of intolerance. Thus, they are quick to dismiss the right-wing ideology on the basis of its alleged intolerance. So, a) the intolerance of Islam is acceptable to them but not the alleged intolerance of right-wing ideologies. b) Their own intolerance when it comes to right-wing ideology contradicts the definition of a Liberal as an individual that respects all points of view and beliefs. If intolerance of any kind is so despicable to this breed, it is surprising that they engage in radical intolerant behavior when it comes to right-wing groups. Similarly, if intolerance of any kind is so despicable to them, how can they willingly embrace and espouse the Muslim cause that is founded on an inherent intolerance?

Consistency of principles requires that they would reject the intolerance of Islam as well as the intolerance that stems from radical right-wing ideologies or embrace and accept both as part of a multi-faith multi-ideology society. Also true Liberals would choose to co-exist with divergent ideologies in a multi-faith multi-ideology society and not themselves engage in intolerant behavior that includes belittling, labeling, name calling, stigmatizing, or refusing to engage in discussion with right-wing ideologues. A large group among the right-wing are merely questioning of the inherent intolerance of Islam.

Based on the above, the title Liberal to describe these political commentators and media personalities is fallacious. These are radicals that choose to blindly and eagerly support Islam’s intolerance, while engaging in a studied hate campaign against those that question Islam’s compatibility with democracy, using labeling, stigmatization, ranting as mechanism.

Do they represent the interests of the disenfranchised?

The Left is by definition expected to represent the interests of the disenfranchised or the poor. However, our mainstream media are notoriously pro-Congress-establishment. The Left is supposed to be pro-poor and pro-people but coverage during the Anna Hazare anti-corruption movement amply showed how mainstream media went overboard to discredit the movement through discrediting its members, alleging ulterior motives, and being overly concerned about what they called the ‘subversion of democratic institutions’. A real ‘Left’ media would have encouraged and supported a people’s movement where people’s pressure groups get to influence policy and pressurize an errant government to bring a stringent anti-corruption legislation in the face of numerous scams of humongous proportions.

If there is any doubt that mainstream media are mere minions of the Congress establishment, you can check this, this, this, and this. There is a reason why mainstream media are no longer trusted and social media are increasingly taking over the dissemination of information as noted here and here.

If there are any doubts about mainstream media being elitist, perhaps this story would be very telling.

Clearly, the self-imposed title of ‘Left’ is also a misnomer when it comes to our media notables.

Can the notable from media be called ‘intellectual’?

Stories abound about the rotten state of the media. Check this one out. For another story on shoddy journalism, check this out. Perhaps, intellectual is not quite the word either.