“Whipping up an enraged environment, planting ungrounded fears of the anti-CAA protests, and creating vindictiveness against the Muslim community, where a forceful end to the protests may appear valid” appear to have been the larger outcomes being pursued by several mainstream English and Hindi TV news channels, notes a report authored by four retired judges and a former Home Secretary of the central government.
The report, titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020’, says that a media analysis done by them shows how “anchors and panelists used insulting, pejorative words – terrorist, jihadis, dangaiyon (rioters), traitors – to describe Muslims as violent and anti-national.”
The Quint had earlier on the details and key takeaways of the committee's report.
The committee that authored the report consists of Justice Madan B. Lokur, former Judge of the Supreme Court, Justice AP Shah, former Chief Justice of the Madras and former Chairman of the Law Commission, Justice R.S. Sodhi, former Judge of the Delhi High Court, Justice Anjana Prakash, former Judge of the Patna High Court, and G.K. Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India. Justice Lokur was the chairperson of the committee.
Describing their methodology, the authors note, “We identified six news channels with the highest viewership – Republic TV and Times Now which are English channels, and Aaj Tak, Zee News, India TV, and Republic Bharat, four Hindi news channels. We then identified episodes from selected primetime shows that featured debates on the CAA and related issues. The selected primetime shows were Halla Bol (Aaj Tak), DNA (Zee News), Poochta Hai Bharat (Republic Bharat), Haqiqat Kya Hai (India TV), The Debate (Republic TV), and India Upfront (Times Now).”
The report further states that members of their research team selected a total of 326 episodes of these shows telecast in the months under study, constituting approximately 243 hours (14,580 minutes) of broadcast time.
The report says that the committee’s content analysis “is based on verbatim quotes by anchors and panelists from the viewed episodes, as well as words used in episode titles, flashing text, and hashtags.”
What the Report Says About Media Coverage of the Anti-CAA Protests
The report notes, “Anchors and panelists repeatedly referred, dismissively, to Muslims as “they” or “these people”, alluding to a supposed unified “they” as a religious block with designs against Hindus or the country. In tandem with hostility towards the Muslim community was the equation of the supposedly violent and conspiratorial nature of the anti-CAA protest movement and protesters. Again, antagonistic terms were coined and repeated – “tukde-tukde gang”, “danga brigade”.
There were repeated instances where panelists used such offensive terms or expressed calls for violence, with no rebuttal from the anchors to challenge misrepresentations or denounce the violent calls.”
According to the report, here are some of the factors which demonstrate the positioning of the channels.
Vilifying Anti-CAA Protests as Overwhelmingly Violent
“The entire protest movement in Delhi, with a concerted focus on Shaheen Bagh, was shown as violent, conspiratorial, and communal. Various essential elements of the anti-CAA protests, including their substantive demands and peaceful sit-ins, were left out of the narrative, as was any comment on police violence.”Citizens Committee Report
The report adds, “Following the events of December 15, these channels uniformly cast anti-CAA protesters in a specific light. Words like “vandals”, “rioters”, “potential terrorists”, “anti-national”, “tukde-tukde gang”, “victimizers”, “cowards”, “blackmailers” and “dangerous” were repeatedly used to describe the anti-CAA protesters.”
Citing an example, the report notes, “An episode of Republic TV’s primetime show, The Debate, aired on December 16, 2019, was punctuated with flashing text, such as, “Using Rights Excuse for Riots?”, and ran the hashtag, #RightsNotRiots. In the episode, the anchor repeatedly called protesters “potential terrorists” trying to incite communal violence.”
Uncorroborated Visuals and WhatsApp Messages
The report stated, “The episode of Poochta Hai Bharat (Republic Bharat) on December 27, 2019, centered its messaging around uncorroborated visuals and WhatsApp messages.
The moderator made the following statement while showing visuals of Muslim protesters: “jo log dara rahe the ki shukravar ko dange honge, poore Hindustan ne aaj unhen dara diya. (Some people were threatening that there will be riots on Friday, they have been silenced by the entire Hindustan.)
The anchor also read out a WhatsApp message that said: Jihad karna shuru karo, India Gate pe milenge, hockey aur baseball bat leke aana. Police par toot padna, khoon-e-shahadat karo. (Start doing jihad, we will meet at India Gate. Bring a hockey and baseball bat. Attack the police. Be martyrs.)
The show also ran the following text of an alleged WhatsApp message as Breaking News on the screen: “Jihad karna jayaz hai, shuru karo. (Jihad is justified, start it.)""
Critiquing the coverage, the committee’s report said, “The genesis of the statements of threats of impending riots, or any evidence in connection to the protesters shown, were not provided. Similarly, there was no description of the origins or authenticity of the WhatsApp messages that were being displayed prominently.”
Provocative and Inciting Comments Made by Panellists and Anchors
The report says, “In some instances, hateful content was facilitated by these news channels through an uncritical acceptance of inciting comments made by panelists invited for discussions. In other instances, provocative and inciting remarks were made by the anchors themselves.”
In an episode of Poochta Hai Bharat (Republic Bharat) on 5 February 2020, communal statements by panelists were not discouraged by the anchor. The panelists said, “If Hindus don’t vote as Hindus, then there will be Shaheen Baghs in all Mohallas (colonies) of Delhi...Otherwise, there will be a steady crop of terrorists through Shaheen Bagh...As Hindus they should vote for the BJP.”
Another panelist stated, “in desh ke gaddaron ko beech sadak mein goli maarni chahiye, Shaheen Bagh mein khade karke goli maarni chahiye. (The traitors of this country should be shot in the middle of the streets, and should be shot in Shaheen Bagh.)”
In another episode of Halla Bol on 10 February 2020, a panelist, who was a BJP state MLA said, “Wo joote khayenge, aur kagaz bhi dikhayenge (These protesters will be beaten and will also have to show their documents)” which was followed by a remark from a panelist who said: “Agar Hindutva ki qabar khud sakti hai to desh ke gaddaron ko goli bhi lag sakti hai (If Hindutva is being sent to the grave, then the country’s traitors can also be shot).” The anchor did not respond to this violent content.
Smearing Anti-CAA Assertion as Islamic Radicalisation
The report argues, “An important strand of the vilifying narrative used by these channels was to show anti-CAA protests being imbued with designs of Muslim extremism, backed by Islamic extremist groups. The language of attacking Hindus, of waging jihad, was used to embed the Hindu-Muslim binary with Muslims as aggressors.”
An example cited was in an episode of DNA (Zee News) which aired on 26 December and was titled “Kashmir se UP Pahuche Expert Patharbazo ka DNA test (DNA Test of Expert Stone Pelters from Kashmir who have reached UP)”. The episode claimed that a range of actors – Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the Popular Front of India (PFI) and “expert stone pelting groups from Kashmir” – were funding and “training” anti-CAA protesters for violence, taking the examples of Delhi and UP.
These significant claims were not backed by any tangible information or evidence.
“The bogey of an Islamic fundamentalism aiming to destroy the country, using anti-CAA protests, and Shaheen Bagh particularly, as their cover, continued to be propagated on these channels.”Citizens Committee Report
Delegitimising Protests Through Unsubstantiated Conspiracy Theories
The report says that the channels in question “further framed the protest movement as a homegrown conspiracy with violent motives, hatched either by the Opposition, or by international actors.”
Examples quoted in the report:
“In an episode of DNA (Zee News) on December 25, the anchor accused the “tukde-tukde gang” of attempting to promote and motivate violence through social media, seemingly in cohort with anti-CAA protesters on the ground. There is no information on who makes up the tukde-tukde gang.”
“On January 3, 2020, an episode of Poochta Hai Bharat of Republic Bharat castigated the Opposition for playing politics around the CAA. It insinuated that the Opposition encouraged violence. The episode ran with the following titles: CAA pe vipaksh ka jhoot benakaab…jhoot ke dam par vipaksh ki raajneeti…hinsa failayi to hisaab do. (The Opposition’s barefaced lies on the CAA…The Opposition’s politics are on the basis of lies…Be accountable for the violence spread.)
Flashing text during the show referred to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis as part of those inciting violence without any evidence to back this claim, and stated, “Pakistan se aaye desh jalane wale...dilli hinsa me 15 Bangladeshi. (People from Pakistan have come to burn the country...15 Bangladeshis present in the Delhi violence.)””
Criticising the coverage, the report said, “Beyond insinuations, these tremendous claims of a larger conspiracy planned by the Opposition, foreign players, and Muslims to destabilize the Modi government and the country were not backed by any objective information. Muslim protesters were reported as being ill-informed about the law and misguided by people acting against the nation’s interests. Of particular note is the type of language being constantly repeated to manipulate public opinion to a certain slant. In the absence of cogent substantiation of any kind, the channels seemed to be airing groundless opinions that were aimed to malign the protests.”
Calls to Forcibly Shut Down Anti-CAA Protests
The report notes that there were instances in mid-February 2020 “where muted calls to violence against protesters were made.”
“These were couched as necessary to prevent riots or mass violence the protesters may be hatching. In an episode aired on February 17, 2020, on Poochta Hai Bharat (Republic Bharat), the anchor made the following remarks: “Is desh ki janta Shaheen Bagh ke khilaf hai...dharna band karna padega warna ukhaade jaoge...jab tak dange na ho, ye log chup nahi honge, ham dange nahin hone denge. (The people of this country are against Shaheen Bagh...You’ll have to stop the protests or else you’ll be uprooted...Until there are riots, these people won’t shut up, we will not let riots take place.)”
Another episode of Poochta Hai Bharat ran with the title “Shaheen Bagh ke Bahane Hinduon ko Bhadkaya Ja Raha Hai (Hindus are being provoked on account of Shaheen Bagh).””
In its conclusion of the media coverage analysis, the report notes, “Anti-Muslim prejudice is a running thread through the conjoined narratives attempting to cast anti-CAA protesters, Shaheen Bagh particularly, as conspiratorial and violent. Expressions of prejudice, stereotypes, hyperbole, and baseless comparisons underpinned the claims made. The open accusations of criminality made against anti-CAA protesters, first as a block, and then against individuals, were highly irresponsible, particularly given the extent to which accusations were shaped and spread.”