A report titled ‘Wages of Hate: Journalism in Dark Times‘, analysed coverage by Kannada newspapers and TV channels which are popularly read and watched in Karnataka. The report noted that individuals are defamed, speculations are published without evidence, and mob justice is encouraged over due process in their news reporting. The report was published by The Campaign Against Hate Speech, a voluntary group of lawyers, writers and activists.
The report found instances of hate-speech in the coverage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests and the reportage on the Tablighi Jamaat related coronavirus cluster by the Kannada media this year.
“The coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat cluster escalated hate speech by several notches, going beyond dehumanization of the Muslim community in some instances to issuing calls for boycott as well as genocide,” the report stated.
The report found patterns of communalised reportage of COVID-19 in Suvarna News that aired a show terming coronavirus as ‘Tablighi virus’ on April 10 while Star of Mysore, a newspaper, published an editorial titled ‘Bad apples in the basket’ that seemingly called for genocide.
The report added that vilification and persecution of the Tablighi Jamaat attendees during the pandemic resulted in numerous cases of boycott and physical violence against ordinary Muslims across the country.
“In India, since at least 2014 the role of the media has been to manufacture consent by normalising vigilante violence and hate crimes unleashed by ‘gaurakshaks’, cultural police, and lynch mobs. Media houses use narrative ploys such as casting suspicions against victims and blaming them, providing an impression of threat to a ‘Hindu way of life’, claiming ‘hurt’ Hindu sentiments to create an atmosphere of consent regarding violence against minorities,” the report contended.
The report also highlighted the media coverage of two incidents in Muslim-dominated localities in Bengaluru. The first incident occurred in Padarayanapura in April and the second occurred in KG Halli and DJ Halli in August.
“Media coverage of these two incidents of violence indicate that for Kannada TV news channels, in particular, stereotyping and vilification through hate speech has become the norm rather than the exception. If government response to the violence has been to order indiscriminate arrests and treating the issue variously as a communal and as a law-and-order problem, judicial response to hate speech in the name of news coverage has been non-existent,” the report stated.
During the anti-CAA protests, sections of print and televisual media had directed much energy to delegitimise the protests by terming them as either violent, a conspiracy, or a threat, the report noted.
While covering the arrests of the three Kashmiri students over a video of them allegedly singing ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in February, Public TV’s popular anchor HR Ranganath urged people in Hubballi to inflict physical violence on the accused by saying, “Cut off their legs if they try to ever set foot on the ground.”
The Karnataka High Court observed on April 20 that no prima facie case of sedition was made out against the students and they walked free in June after the police failed to file a charge sheet within the stipulated time.
The same channel, while covering the arrests of Amulya Leona and Ardra Narayanan, referred to the duo as ‘Pak Pishachigalu’ (Pakistan’s devils). The duo’s faces were also stamped with seals which read ‘anti-national’.
TV channels in Karnataka also telecast death threats issued to student protesters. A Sri Rama Sene member offered Rs 10 lakh as reward to anyone who kills student protester Amulya Leona on February 21. The report examined that this statement was presented on Suvarna News, another TV channel, as a ‘warning’ and the threat that they not be released on bail as a ‘request’.
Amulya Leona was arrested in Bengaluru in February after she said ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ while speaking at a protest against the CAA but she was not allowed to complete the context in which she said so. Ardra Narayanan was arrested a day later after she held a sign saying, ‘Muslim, Dalit Kashmir, Trans, Adivasi, freedom, freedom, freedom, now.’
“It framed protests, dissent and those accused of sedition as objects of hatred and even of violence, thus leaving them open to life-threatening danger. It also allowed for a convenient framing of an us vs them rhetoric where the anchors adopt a self-righteous attitude as self-appointed guardian of the nation.” the report said.
Additionally, the report studied the patterns of ownership in nine TV news channels – TV9 Kannada, Suvarna News, News18 Kannada, Digvijaya News, Public TV, Kasturi News, BTV, TV5 and Raj News – and seven newspapers – Vijaya Karnataka, Vijayavani, Udayavani, Prajavani, Kannada Prabha, Samyuktha Karnataka, Varthabharati. It also focused on the coverage in selected news channels and newspapers.
It added that wider diversity in media houses, forms of internal regulation and prosecution of FIRs which invoke hate speech are ways this development can be addressed.