Media coverage on Covid-19, anti-CAA protests, prejudiced: Report

Campaign Against Hate Speech’s report finds reportage laden with gender and religious stereotypes 

Wages of Hate

A report by Campaign Against Hate Speech titled “Wages of Hate: Journalism in Dark Times finds that the reportage on the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the nationwide protests and demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the National Population Register (NPR), has been deficient in journalistic ethics to say the least.

The report finds that the reporting is laden with prejudice and based on gender and religious stereotypes which vilify the ‘dissenter’ as well as the Muslim. It locates such coverage within the proliferation of corporate-run media outlets which have made newspapers and television news channels beholden to vested economic interests. 

The report has recorded the following recurring pattern in reportage:

1. Individuals are often defamed and subjected to demeaning stereotypes.

2. Reportage on such stories often include speculations without evidence, leading to wild conspiracy theories

3. Hate groups with recorded history are often given substantial space without any critical engagement.

4. Reportage included passionate calls for action, at the expense of the quest for truth.

5. The abandonment of truth is often accompanied by the promotion of mob justice and disregard of due process.

6. Fake news and half-truths are often covered

The report says, “The demonisation of Muslims in the case of the Tablighi Jamaat cluster was in continuation with the media’s characterisation of the anti-CAA protestors as anti-nationals. In both cases, the message from sections of the media was that these individuals and communities were not entitled to full constitutional rights.”

It adds, “During the anti-CAA protests, sections of print and televisual media had directed much energy to delegitimising the protests by terming them as either violent, a conspiracy, or a threat. Such concerted media coverage that utilised hate speech as arsenal gave ample encouragement for targeted violence against dissenters, including university students in Delhi.”

On the subject of the coverage of the Tablighi Jamaat matter, the report pulls no punches while holding reportage accountable for actual violence on the ground saying, “The 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.” It notes, “Firstly the reportage has demonized the Muslim community and rendered precarious their fundamental rights, secondly the reportage has gone on to advocate for the social and economic boycott and finally, reportage in some instances has taken a genocidal turn and called for the elimination of the Muslim community.”

The report takes a close look at the prevalence of hate speech in Kannada media and even delves into the historical background. The report observes that “while progressive voices in the 1970s and 1980s tended to focus on poverty and inequality, they could not respond to the growth of hate groups across the state. The groups organized people and made inroads into the media. Making use of the social power of upper-caste male voices in Kannada media, news began to present a more conservative outlook.”

It adds, “Since the early 2000s, there has been a proliferation of corporate-run media outlets which have made newspapers and television news channels beholden to vested economic interests. While there have been examples of independent news establishments, finance has been a constant struggle for those outside of corporate control. Over the past decade, state and political advertisements have become an important source of revenue, complicating the matter further. The reliance on advertisements, the disproportionate presence of conservative voices in the newsroom, and the organisation by hate groups created an ideal environment for hate politics, biasing the news in favour of political advertisers and against people who might raise a voice against it.”

The entire report may be read here: 

Campaign Against Hate Speech is a collective comprising lawyers, researchers, activists, students and professionals seeking to challenge and confront hate speech by sections of media, public personalities and on social media. It also works to ensure compliance by media companies to law and ethics regarding hate speech. The research team included Kishor Govinda, Swathi Shivanand, Manavi Atri, Poorna Ravishankar, Vishesh Guru, Rakesh Mehar and Apurva Nangia.

Conversations with SabrangIndia co-founder Teesta Setalvad, Shivsundar, Abdussalam Puthige, Suresh Bhat, Sunil Sirasangi helped shape key arguments in the report. Vinay Sreenivasa, Trimurti and Nouman Sadiq helped with contacts and work on hate speech by Clifton D’Rozario and Siddharth Narrain contributed to framing the report.



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