Arshad Shaikh looks at the role the media can play in containing the growing climate of hate and intolerance in our country. He also examines the economic cost of this increased hatemongering in our polity and suggests ways to tackle this menace.
The Nazis were masters of propaganda. They were able to engineer the persecution of the Jews through an incessant and cleverly crafted media campaign. Hitler had created a Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda to mould German public opinion and behaviour. The outcome of this anti-Semitic campaign was the incitement of hate and general indifference to the fate of European Jews. We know what followed and how there was an attempt to annihilate an entire religious community through one of the most inhuman genocides in the last century.
Unfortunately, we do not learn the lessons history imparts to us. If we look at the entire media and social media narrative being built in our country, we cannot but be reminded of the dark days of the Nazi era. Almost all the major national TV channels have become propaganda machines to incite hatred and misunderstanding regarding Muslims and Islam.
An entire army of paid full-time social media yodhas (warriors) and professional journalists has been hired to create a negative perception about the Muslim community of India. Typical false allegations levied on Muslims that are peddled by a section of the media include the following: that they are a burden on the country, they are not patriotic, their loyalties lie with the enemy, they are the progeny of those who invaded, and plundered our country, they have a deep hatred for the majority community, they cause social unrest, they engineer communal riots, they cannot accept the national cultural icons of India, they oppress their women, they divorce them frequently and have many wives, their population is growing faster than others and they will soon outnumber everybody in this country, their youth has been radicalised and indulges in terrorist activities. The list is unending and is updated regularly.
Many experts are pointing out that our country has reached stage 6 in the 10 stages of genocide. The stages of Classification (othering), Symbolisation, Discrimination, Dehumanisation, Organisation, and Polarisation have been completed. Although one can argue that genocide won’t happen in India and such fears border on paranoia, it is undeniable that today sections of radicalised right-wing forces have openly called for the genocide of Indian Muslims and they are still roaming scot-free without being awarded any exemplary punishment.
One of the characteristics of Stage 6 of Genocide namely Polarisation is “Hate groups broadcast polarising propaganda”. The way, in which the media juggernaut is rolling against Muslims, there is a serious need to find ways and means to counter this negative propaganda and restore media back to its pristine role as the fourth pillar of democracy and as a watchdog against abuse of power and influence.
We also need to reflect on what is being achieved by all this hatemongering. The nation is paying a huge economic cost for pandering to this ideology of hate.
WHY IS THE MEDIA PERPETUATING HATE?
There are different answers people give to this question. Some say the media has been penetrated by the right-wing and dominated by people belonging to the upper caste majority community. Others insist that ‘hate sells’ while stories of love and communal harmony do not gather the required ‘TRPs’.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that today both TV channels and the print media cannot sustain themselves without advertisement revenue. According to publicly available data, Indian advertisement revenue progressed from `22,100 crores in 2008 to `79,500 crores in 2019 and it is expected to reach `91,500 by 2023. TV channels take 42% of the pie followed by digital (32%) and print (20%).
A detailed analysis on the spending of the government on media ads was done by newslaundry.com and the conclusion we can derive is that the government and the ruling party are major contributors to the revenue generated by the media.
Add to this, the power of the government to punish channels and newspapers through IT and ED raids and harass journalists and editors through the threat of levelling frivolous and unsubstantiated charges under various draconian laws. Only media barons with nerves of steel and extreme moral courage can resist the challenge of maintaining a narrative that is critical of the establishment. Hence, a large section of our media has become subservient to the diktats of those in power and sound as if they are spokespersons of the ruling party.
THE ECONOMIC COST OF HATE
According to the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2022 ranking, a report produced by the Sydney based Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), India holds a rank of 135 among 163 countries. The index measures internal and external conflicts, violent crime, political instability, relations with neighbours, etc. GPI says that the economic cost of violence in India is as high as 6% of its GDP about $646 billion. The report says, “The country experienced an improvement of 1.4 per cent in overall peacefulness over the past year, driven by an improvement in the Ongoing Conflict domain.
“However, India experienced an uptick in the violent crime and perceptions of criminality indicators. These deteriorations coincided with a weaker economy and increases in political instability following the COVID-19 pandemic as well as continued communal violence between Hindu and Muslim citizens”.
The same GPI report of 2017 said: “Violence cost the country nearly $1.2 trillion (₹80.1 trillion) in constant exchange rates, or 9% of its GDP in 2017. This equates to roughly ₹40,000 for every person in India.”
THE MEDIA MUST STAND UP
First, media houses and their owners should find other ways of funding besides advertising revenue that is largely dependent on government ads. The concept of crowd-funding and raising capital through equity-finance must be tried out. Secondly, the media must end its indifference to hate crimes and establish monitoring and evaluation units in newsrooms that track hate speeches and bring them to the notice of the public and civil society.
The media can educate people on how to monitor hate speech and report it to the law enforcement agencies. Social media should be regulated by filtering out hate speech. People must be sensitised about the nature of our multicultural and multi-religious society. We can remain united only by exhibiting a fair level of tolerance and broad-mindedness.
TV channels must restore their operational model from hatemongering debates conducted by celebrity anchors to ‘good-old’ investigative journalism and field stories, where the reporter is the hero and not the anchor. Of course, over and above all this, the media must develop the strength to stand up for protecting democracy and the rights of the weak, the voiceless and the underprivileged.
One is reminded of what NDTV founder Prannoy Roy said after the CBI filed cases against him, “This is not about NDTV, this is a signal for all of us. And the fact that there is no case, but a flimsy, ridiculous, concocted set of facts. They are trying to tell us – ‘We can suppress you even if you have done nothing wrong’. They are telling us – ‘We will fix you even if you are innocent’. Remember that signal and fight it. We must. Be clear it’s a signal for the entire free press of India. Their (government’s) basic idea is crawl or we will come and get you. So stand up, they will never come for you. Mark my words.”