I reproduce the pertinent portion of his question here:
“As far as the media goes, I’d like to dig a little deeper. If you say that they’re biased (and I’m not sure one way or the other about this), why are they biased? Is it because (as a lot of right winger claim) there is a conspiracy between the government, media etc to put Hindus down, or is it because of sheer incompetence, or because people don’t want to hear anything else, or some other reason?”
It has been my policy to carry forward these kind of discussions in my other blog – ‘Freewheeling Discussions (Personal)’, but as this was something I was anyway planning to blog on and also because understanding what follows would not require knowing a background context, I decide to post this here as an independent blog post.
Despite being an atheist, being not at all a fan of the fuzzy concept of ‘Hindutva’, not finding anything wrong with Sonia Gandhi’s being born in Italy, and nor being the one who would want India to ‘rule the world’ as a superpower, I have always felt that the national media appears to be partial towards what it terms the ‘minorities’ (which largely includes the Muslims, the Christians and the ‘lower’ castes) and has an anti-BJP bent. The latter, some people perceive as their being anti-Hindu. This partiality towards Muslims comes in form of making them look victimized more than they would otherwise be, and also trying to cover up, in the process, their harms done to the Hindus. But I have realized that this perception of media bias is seen as “right wing paranoia” by those who seem to share other beliefs (or non-beliefs) with me – atheism, finding Hindutva silly, etc. A fine specimen of use of this nomenclature could be found here – The Spectacular Achievements of Right Wing Propaganda……… (click).
Though since long I have found a palpable bias in the national media (in favor of minorities, which might make it look like anti-Hindu, but need not really be that way), I have not been able to conclude a firm driving force behind such bias.
I will lay down mere speculations for what could be the reasons (and I am sure that they would sound as silly to many as what “lot of other right-wingers say”, but then anyway let me put across my points) [whatever points I make here are applicable largely to the national media, and not necessarily the local media, which have their own individual biases depending what incentives they have and their political affiliations; it should not come as a surprise that media has so much power to influence that many south Indian news channels are ‘openly’ owned by politicians]:
1.The essential struggle for control over media is not so much between the Hindus and other communities, but is between the Nehru-Gandhi family v/s politicians from the Congress and other parties. So, you will see that even minor good things that the two prominent members of this family do, would be highlighted, whereas any of their failures would be attributed to the respective ministries. Hence, primarily the prominent media houses work against the rivals of the Nehru Gandhi family, be it from the Congress party or some other.
a. Sonia Gandhi has never been interviewed on occasion of any Maoist attack or other collective failures of the government (e.g., rising food prices), but her interview had been broadcast with Barkha Dutt even when the Women’s reservation bill was just passed in the Rajya Sabha [it is yet to be passed as a law, so what was the celebration about?].
b. The media house that has done the greatest damage to the repute of rivals of the NG-family has as editor, Tarun Tejpal, who had this – Mrs Gandhi And Her Extra God (click) – to say. Apart from an element of fawning, there is clear indication of desire to bring in religion in matters of administration, when one would assume that politics and winning election are not about such silly things as what the attributes of certain deities are.
c. The manner in which Rahul Gandhi’s trip to Mumbai in wake of Shiv Sena threat to Shahrukh Khan was covered by national news channels. One of the motives could be cheap sensationalism, but I have not noticed any other politician getting that kind of coverage when the fact is many prominent politicians keep on moving in and out of Mumbai. Even his symbolism/gimmickry (you choose) of withdrawing money from an ATM was covered with much enthusiasm. Contrast that with Narendra Modi, who, in Pune (a city in Maharashtra, largely filled with Maharashtrians) had asked as to why despite having a Maharashtrian president would the people of Maharashtra want a Maharashtrian prime minister. That was a more daring and sensible thing to say than what Rahul Gandhi had done, but hardly any TV network had covered the latter. The news had perhaps appeared in the Indian Express, but I am unable to find the link. Will update when I am able to find it.
d. The manner in which all the major news channels had floated around the news that the SIT had ‘summoned’ Narendra Modi in context of March 21. And then when he did not turn up at the SIT office on that day (as it was a Sunday and as basically no such summon had been issued) he was trounced by the news channels accusing him of being arrogant enough to not respect the ‘summons’ of a body instituted by the SC. Later it was revealed that the SIT, being a non-judicial body, did not even have the authority to issue ‘summons’ (which would have to be issued under some Criminal Procedures Code – CrPC, I don’t remember the exact section, perhaps, 62). My understanding is that firstly no such date was determined, yet the TV crew outside the Gandhinagar SIT office had shouted into their mics that Modi had defied the SC and some had gone on to say that he was afraid, as he was guilty. And secondly it appears that, later he had been interrogated as (an expert) witness as he was the CM at the time of riots, and not as an accused – an impression which the media had given. I have two options to choose from to explain this kind of lapse by all major news channels – either it was sheer carelessness or that it was a concerted attempt to malign Modi. Considering the fact that major news channels (NDTV 24×7, TimesNOW, News X, CNN-IBN) had done the same, it is difficult that all of them would have been careless at the same time over exactly the same issue. So, to me the second option seems lot more plausible.
2. Funding from several sources. This might sound the most laughable, but again it is a mere speculation and much weaker than the above explanation. The reason I think so, is because there are innumerable news channels in India, and unlike entertainment channels which can cater to widely disparate kinds of tastes by having completely different programming, news channels show essentially the same news. So, my belief is the ‘number of eye balls’ must be getting significantly divided among all the news channels. In light of this fact, how attractive do the advertisers find news channels? I again assume, not much. In face of which what sustains the news channels? I am not a finances person, but I had learned that NDTV had posted losses in more than one financial quarters. Yet, the cosmetic quality of their presentation has not significantly deteriorated. I posit that keeping employed cameramen, reporters, drivers, news anchors, paying guests for appearances, and all of this in multiple cities and towns must be too expensive an affair. Other than advertising, what incentive do the owners have to keep the channels running? How do they get monetarily compensated? So, perhaps they get foreign funding to insert PoV and to distort news. Of course, this funding could be, but need not be foreign, it could come from several sources within India too. Some could be political parties, movie celebrities, industrialists, etc.
Example: Mass media: masses of money? (click)
3. Creating sensationalism. One thing the media does is to present story in a very partisan manner. It need not be because of some kind of institutional bias, but simply to make the stories sensationalist. Owing to competition, it becomes imperative that the patrons are hooked to the news. This requires that in any story, an easy-to-recognize ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are presented so that people are not bogged down by dry facts. Moreover, the advantage of this approach is that most people would like to identify with the ‘good’ in the story, demonizing the ‘bad’ in the process. It has to be remembered that news media, apart from competing with each other are also competing with entertainment channels, FM radio, networking sites, etc. If the patrons do not feel an emotional connect with the story, they would stop following news, which would further harm them financially. So by meddling with facts, the media manage to create a pure evil v/s good aspects in their story.
a. So many inconsistencies in news reporting of “two lady doctors killing a rape victim’s baby in Raigad”! (click) – a post from my blog dissecting how it is possible to dish out news shoddily and yet make majority of people fall for it (you would be amazed on counting the number of comments and reading their content on the ToI article).
b. These are not Diwali Firecrackers, please! (click) – another post from my blog, where I point out that important issues like success of Pokhran tests were discussed like gossip magazines would, without providing a shred of evidence. My suspicion is, again only to create sensationalism. To gain further clarity on the issue, please do read my responses to Stupidosaur.
c. The Nirupama Pathak case. Even before the autopsy results were announced, her mother had been implicated and made a villain in the entire saga by the media. One of the police officers of Koderma district was shown giving impressive interviews. Along with all this, her boyfriend, who had got her pregnant (of course, guessing that it was not a case of rape but consensual sex) was being shown as some kind of hero. Then, suddenly it was revealed next day that her boyfriend had also been questioned as a suspect. A few days later the news came that the pillow cover (on which saliva stains would remain as it was a suspected case of smothering) and bedsheets had not been inspected. Later it was revealed that the AIIMS, Delhi faculty had felt that the autopsy had been conducted in a very shoddy fashion. Contrast this with the fact that immediately in the aftermath of Nirupama’s death, her friends and teacher had been interviewed, who had made stupid statements to the tune of “she was a strong girl, she could not have committed suicide (so must have been killed by the parents – a very grave insinuation)”. I don’t remember the exact details, but is seems the media had bungled up big-time. So, now there are no follow up news to the best of my knowledge on this. But the reputation of an entire family was tarnished. It was definitely unprofessional and shoddy. There might have not been a larger ulterior motive, but the attempt to spice up the story (“how could parents kill the daughter”-kind) was definitely there despite the lack of evidence to conclude the same.
4. A reason speculated (click) by Atanu Dey:
“If a journalist writing in English wants to be quoted by foreign publications, then he or she has to appeal to the biases of the foreigners and reinforce their prejudices. Otherwise, the foreign press would not touch it. The more shrill a journalist is in denouncing anything that remotely hints at Indian ethos, culture, or pride, the more likely he or she is to get invited to give talks at US universities and other goodies. The term for this phenomenon is “being a house nigger.””
Of course, I might be questioned as to “how I would be sure that the foreign media would want to hear bad things about India?”, but remember, this is just one of the speculated reasons for the manner in which some of the journalists behave.
But till now I have, at best, only demonstrated that there the media resorts to sensationalism, unethical behavior and perhaps institutional bias. But I have yet not addressed why it might seem anti-Hindu.
As I pointed out in point 1 above, it caters to the Nehru-Gandhi family, for the simple reason that it has the deepest pockets of all the political entities with pan-India presence. Meaning, even some of the other South Indian politicians might also have as much or deeper pockets, but at least as of now they do not have any need to have opinion modified at a national level.
So, why would the Congress want to make seem Hindus bad?
I think the Congress does not have any incentive for making Hindus look bad. This looking bad of Hindus is merely incidental. For this the demographics and the resulting constituencies of India are to be considered. Muslims, it is said, tend to vote en bloc. To ensure this they have to be constantly fed with the idea that they are being persecuted and discriminated against (this is partly true also that certain fraction of Hindus discriminate against them, and so do people from other religions, but this discrimination is not Muslim-specific, but an outcome of bigotry that birth-related affiliations result in). But to ensure that they vote en bloc for the Congress and not some other party, the only viable option to vote for has to be demonized. That viable option happens to be the BJP. But how can a BJP government directly go and harm the Muslims? So, it has to be shown as shielding those wanting to hurt Muslims. Of course, in terms of endearing itself to the Muslim constituency, the BJP had hurt its prospects by associating with or perhaps even bringing up the Ram Temple-issue. So, in the process it also needs to be shown there exist sizable number of Hindus who are “out there to get the Muslims”. This is what incidentally (and not as a matter of primary intention) makes the Hindus look ‘bad’. It should not be surprising then that all the major communalist riots seem to be happening only in the BJP-ruled states (Gujarat & Kandhamal), but none seem to be happening in non-BJP ruled states (Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, Miraj in Maharashtra). But obviously, one has to also create an impression that the BJP & some affiliated bodies, like the RSS and the VHP actively support this violence. How can this impression be created? By projecting riots between Hindus and some other community to be selective persecution of the ‘minority’. This impression can again be only created by largely omitting the violence committed against the Hindus. This, I believe, is the reason that the deaths of around 200 Hindus that had occurred in post-Godhra riots in Gujarat are hardly given any coverage. Because, if once that part is also given the prominence it deserves, then people will start questioning the theory that “the BJP and Narendra Modi had organized a pogrom against Muslims”, for surely, 200 Hindus would not be killed by the people who also killed Muslims.
Now, apply the same approach with regard to perceived persecution of other minorities, and the impression we are bound to get is one of BJP and associated organizations being anti-Muslim and anti-‘lower caste’.
But why does the Congress instead not try to appeal to all the Hindus, instead of trying to appeal to the minorities? After all the Hindus are the 80% of the population!
Traditionally, the Congress has been perceived to be secular/pro-Muslim, and they cannot change that image overnight. Because it would be risky to lose 20% of ‘sure-shot’ voter share [because Muslims tend to vote en bloc]. But on the other hand, Hindus are fragmented. To make them rally around one party as one constituency is very difficult. The rivalries between various castes and sub-castes of the Hindu community are so deep that they are almost as strong as the Hindu-Muslim rivalry. The BJP had, perhaps, with some success been able to unite the Hindu constituency and that is why it came to power earlier (or perhaps, Indians could also have been frustrated with the Congress rule). Simply because Congress’ formula is tried and tested, they are reluctant to try new tactics. But in the 1990’s the BJP were the underdogs, they had nothing to lose by trying to unite the Hindus into one single constituency, and somehow they partly succeeded (and could form the government). Because had they tried the same Congress formula of cozying up to the ‘minorities’, then why would the voter instead not vote for the ‘original’ (Congress), instead!
Of course, my entire analysis above is like the ‘Strings theory’ – it might make intuitive sense, but I have no way to prove it empirically/statistically. But I continue to go by it simply, because no other single hypotheses in isolation can explain the aberrant behavior of the media in the instances I cited above.
To summarize: I hope I have been able to accomplish/show the following (not necessarily to everyone’s conviction):
1. Cite instances of unprofessional/biased conduct by the media.
2. Enumerate and somewhat explain the motives and incentives behind the same.
3. That the Congress benefits from current anti-BJP bent of the media (and hence, perhaps provides the much needed incentive for the media to remain thus).
4. In the process of being anti-BJP, the media ends up demonizing Hindus in the eyes of the minorities and also many Hindus themselves.