Exposing the watchdog

Sometimes when an investigation vindicates a certain state of affairs that is already publicly known, it still generates shock. And this is what has happened with the Cobrapost sting on 17 media outlets in the country which shows them agreeing to push polarising stories for money when urged to do so by an undercover journalist. The video of the sting operations, which is yet to be checked for authenticity, shows the representatives of many of these media companies ready to accept cash, and not raise a bill for that amount. Some of the major media outlets named in the sting include DNA, Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, India TV and ScoopWhoop.  In the videos, the journalist has posed as a votary of the Hindutva agenda and appears to have succeeded in prevailing on the media houses to toe a “soft Hindutva” line. Also, many senior representatives of these companies are seen willing to run content that would have shown the top Opposition leaders in a negative light.

Though it will take time before the sting itself is confirmed to be authentic,  there is every reason to believe it. For it seems to have confirmed what is already widely suspected. And who knows it better than the people in Kashmir who over the years have been subjected to a systematic demonization of the worst kind. On Kashmir, the news channels have run jingoistic programming which has contributed to othering of Kashmiris. After every incident in Kashmir,   television anchors work themselves into a frothing rage and rally public opinion against the people of the state. 

The channels also simplify the fiendishly complex issue of Kashmir. The result is abetment to revenge in Kashmir than a search for solution to the deepening crisis in the state. The news debates have pushed the ongoing deaths, injuries and their fallout into the background. Few people in India seem to be bothered about the killings in the Valley. Far fewer about the loss of eye-sight in one or both eyes by the scores of youth – majority of them teenagers. Little to no attention has been paid to the human rights violations by the security forces. One can hardly expect broadcast of the videos of the bereaved relatives, or the distraught parents. There are no discussions slamming the role of the Army and no call for action against the soldiers in case of human rights excesses.

It is now apparent that the outrage is selective and generally dictated by the TRPs and to put it bluntly by a very communal and nationalistic outlook. This is such a tragic state of affairs for the media. What it shows is that the news and the outrage in India follows an implicit hierarchy: it merits playing up only when deemed to be politically correct and fitting the narrow ideological framework of today’s India.

Is this demeaning portrayal of a people also dictated by the considerations of cash or by manipulation of interested unseen forces? After Cobrapost investigation, one can no longer discount this possibility. The sting should thus provide an occasion for the media to introspect and take firm steps to regain its credibility. It is a moment of reckoning.


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