The media at present has stooped to the lowest of lows when it comes to reporting issues and representing facts. And if you’re a fresher at a local newspaper, just how deep the rot runs will be made clear in almost no time.
You will witness how narratives are framed and built inside newsrooms via news from WhatsApp, Facebook and TV channels. You will witness the kind of hate-mongering that the bigots sitting behind keyboards in an editorial section indulge in that is far more toxic than you would ever expect from journalists.
I was an intern at a English local daily in my city. During the orientation speech, the bureau chief said: “Keep your bias away from journalism. That’s how we work here altogether. Also, here you do what we ask you to do.”
It took me two seconds to understand what he meant.
Just then, a senior correspondent tore right past the golden rule of journalism that had just been laid down to reveal his own deep-rooted biases: “Why do these pseudo-intellectuals have no stand on the killing of right-wing leaders? Why do they need to disguise themselves as secular leaders when all they do is religious conversion? Wait for a Muslim to be lynched and they will come out with all their energies on the street.”
This was my very first brush with their “stay away from bias” standpoint.
While reading a newspaper, he continued: “These students need ‘freedom’ from India, from our culture… What is the point of staying in this country when you want freedom? This land gave you food and shelter and in the end you sympathise with militants and raise anti-national slogans on your campus? Why not they leave this country and find shelter in Pakistan?”
Have I heard that last sentence before? On news channels? From some loud politicians? Or from some chest-throbbing Hindutvawadi?
That episode was only the beginning of the hypocrisy and hatred that had still yet to be entirely unveiled.
There was a local case in the outskirts of our city where six minor girls returning from a fair were abducted and allegedly raped by three-four young boys. When this news came to the desk, one of the correspondents yelled, “It was not rape, just ‘casual molestation’. Few media houses are setting trends by exaggerating a minor issue into a headline. This news might not be longer than 200 words.”
This sort of approach towards rape was often seen for women who are from marginalised backgrounds, since they are not the “perfect victim” for the reporters, which means such cases are many times underreported. The environment inside such newsrooms, I realised, reflected exactly the same apathy that exists in society.
Caste before class
Of the 13-14 people working at the daily I was at, only two of them (excluding me) were women. This was an office space where six-seven men would sit in office giggling over sexist jokes while chewing tobacco.
These same upper caste Brahmins, Bengalis and Marwari men sat together writing news about minors and reporting about women and child issues while making sure their elite bias found its way into every copy.
The editor-in-chief always welcomed himself in the office with the aroma of incense sticks and by reading some religious scripts aloud. He’d also always ask people straight up: “Which caste do you belong to?”
In fact, what news a person would select intrigued him about the caste backgrounds they came from.
While stories on violence against women were taken up lackadaisically, the marginalised inside office were also not spared from being at the receiving end of micro-aggressive casteist and sexist comments.
Reporting CAA and NRC
When anti-Citizenship Amendment Act rallies in nearby cities started to take off, the employees of the daily offered an astonishing perspective: “The Muslim population in that town has increased widely. Under BJP’s government, they had fear among themselves but after BJP lost in the state, they seemed to have wings. Burning vehicles and destroying public transportation are the only way they can create chaos and unrest in the state.”
The racial slurs they used for minorities – especially SCs, STs and Muslims – didn’t just suffocate me but also made clear the hatred these men, so-called editors and reporters, carried in their hearts. Religion and caste was the only perspective through which they would overview any issue in the state.
One reporter stated that protesters in Shaheen Bagh are being paid Rs 500 as though it were a fact and not a manufactured falsehood meant to serve a narrative.
I immediately knew where the news was from – thanks to Amit Malviya and the team, people these days have no qualms in believing propaganda that is constructed upon loose, untrue grounds of sexism and Islamophobia.
Islamophobia in the office was mostly rewarded with laughs and applause. “Ye Musalman toh hote hi hai atankwaad badhane ke liye. Inka sirf ek hi maksad hai, ‘bacche paida karo’ (The Muslim community only aims to increase terrorism. Their only motto is to have more and more kids).”
Hearing this bigoted view made me question whether I was sitting at a media house or among a group of unthinking, brutish right-wing goons.
The discussion, at which the bureau chief was present, continued when a senior correspondent said, “All the Muslim women sitting in protest at several locations of India are illiterate and have no knowledge about CAA or the National Register of Citizens. Just a few of the students from Jawaharlal Nehru University have come to lead the protest and are trying to increase the number of women participating.”
My stint there showed me how the reporters and editors I interacted with were not only biased, but also that their perspective was limited to the ‘truth’ they were being fed on social media and by a few select TV news channels.
As such, as it would be obvious at this point that these ‘journalists’ only followed sources online that fed them information that fed their bias. Then these flagbearers of journalism would then continue on with their crucial role of amplifying bigotry.
At no point would they fact check, question their own bigotry or privilege, empathise with minorities. Instead, they were openly ecstatic about not being part of India’s oppressed population.
Say ‘hi’ to the local dailies bringing you 15-pages of propaganda each morning.
Astha Sheenu is a journalism student who spends her time discussing social taboos when not writing about them.”
This article was first published on Feminism in India. Read the original here.
Featured image credit: Reuters/Jitendra Prakash