On National Press Day, this piece is an attempt to highlight the lack of verification in mainstream media, and the rise of alternative journalism.

“I want this Government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism,” so said Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, well after he came to power in 2014 on a wave of optimism.

As circumstances have changed, so has the Modi Government’s media strategy. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) oriented, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), often known as the “Modi Government”, faces weakened economy, communal tensions, and unemployment across the country. To shed light elsewhere, they have resorted to hijacking the country’s once free media.

The Government has not created an official state-run news service, but instead relies on independent news organisations to peddle its economic narrative, chastise a Muslim minority, and prey on Hindu anxieties in the country.

In order to achieve this, the Government often relies on media networks called in slang as Modia or Godi Media like Zee News, India TV, Aaj Tak and Republic TV. Out of all, Republic TV appealed to the worst of the Indian media’s characteristics. It was loud, brash, and theatrics mattered more than civil discourse. And sadly, is one of the most viewed channel in mainstream media.

Take this segment for an example articulated well in The Diplomat, it says, “Goswami begins a fiery tirade against Waris Pathan, a member of the legislative assembly for the All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (India’s only large-scale Muslim political party) in which he attacks Pathan for refusing to stand for the national anthem. On eight separate occasions in a mere 30 seconds, Goswami yells some version of ‘Why can’t you stand up for the national anthem?’. He proceeds to claim that he knows why Pathan does not stand. Goswami’s answer? According to Goswami, Pathan is an anti-national.”

If you don’t believe me that all of this is just a facade to distract the gullible audience from pressing national issues to communal politics, and India’s mainstream media is empowered and free, here are some facts which clearly justify — India is ranked at 140th of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index 2019.

As per a statistical survey conducted by Peeing Human, in the past 202 debates held at Zee News, Aaj Tak, News 18 and India TV collectively had 79 debates on Pakistan, 66 debates on attacking opposition, 37 debates praising the RSS and Modi, and not one debate on economy, unemployment, education, women’s safety, healthcare or even the farmer’s crisis, which encompasses 10 suicides by farmers everyday.

A sting operation done by the media house Cobrapost revealed that nearly two dozen media houses were willing to promote a Hindutva agenda and influence coverage for the 2019 elections. Simply put, media channels that are willing to play along find a lucrative payday and increased access by a Government that refuses to hold press conferences.

The BJP’s social media online troll army remains untouched. As Bloomberg noted, the troll farm, referred to as the BJP’s IT Cell regularly sends out death and rape threats to female journalists. A notable case is Barkha Dutt, who is not only viewed as being against Modi’s agenda, but is one of India’s only journalists who provides alternate perspectives on hotbed issues. The social media army is also used to stoke communal hatred, spread fake news, and intimidate those who would take a stand against Modi.

All these facts become much more horrific when realised that media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy and not the slave of political propaganda.

There has been a rise in the need and establishment of alternate media. Alternate media is just like the left to mainstream rightist media. The proliferation of alternative journalism in India has happened, say experts, in the past five years with an attack on fundamental freedoms and a realisation that a space for uncensored information had to be created at personal cost as it were.

Alternate journalism paves way for unbiased, factual and verified news to be provided to mainstream media.

Taking an example of media coverage of Kashmir after scrapping of the Article 370. While Aaj Tak and India TV celebrated this decision and called the lockdown “peaceful”, independent channels like The Quint, Brut India and The Wire broadcasted the true harsh reality of this dictatorial rule.

YouTube channels like Dhruv Rathee’s, take time and space to explain and analysis of political decisions. His videos on the reality of air pollution in Delhi, India’s economic crisis and the Ayodhya verdict are dedicated to provide holistic information from all narratives, based on facts that he even cites in the description.

It has also made news much more accessible, and easy to comprehend. EIC’s outrage series on YouTube provided news in the second most entertaining way possible, appealing to a large audience. First obviously being a debate on Yogi Adityanath’s barber.

Patriot Act by Hasan Minhaj, A Netflix series brings light to many hidden issues of national and international relevance. The episodes on Student Loans, Sudan Protests, Indian Elections, and Censorship have been essential in their awareness movements.

Hence, the need for alternative journalism is real. How long would people depend on one anchor at one channel (obviously talking about Ravish Kumar) to prove them with news, not a narrative but news?



Feature Image Credits: Chhavi Bahmba for DU Beat.

Graphic Credits: Kunal Kamra.



Chhavi Bahmba

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India is slowly inching its way into making its mark on the global and anarchical realm of international politics. But in the hustle, bustle, and glamour, has the Republic of India lost touch with what makes it a Republic?

A Republic is typically defined as a nation wherein the people are the key stakeholders in the governance of the
country; a nation where the citizens are empowered to rule themselves by choosing their elected representatives,
legitimised by the Constitution. It was on the establishment of the longest written Constitution of the world, the
first Republic Day was celebrated on 26th January 1950.

Talking about how much context matters, the Constitution of India is ever growing and ever evolving, despite being one of the most rigid and absolute texts to have come into acceptance. The authors of this book entailed in its pages, modern concepts that are still relevant to this day. This statement, thus, begs the question: Even after 69 years of India being a Republic, has the current political scenario backtracked the sovereign, and reduced it to mere power politics?

Sovereign state boundaries exist for a reason. It is the demarcation and the geographic separation of land that makes a country a nation-state. But the true meaning of a nation-state, seems to have been lost on the citizens of this country, who have forgotten what their duties and responsibilities are. Its essence is adrift on our political leaders,
who are bound to be the representatives of the grassroots, but in status quo, are sadly only illustrative of the few who
dominate the wealth and the banks.

The protection of the sovereignty and dignity has been one of the top most priorities, coming out of shackles of colonialism. Yet there is still a Kashmir in India, supposedly housing the fantasy of a heaven on Earth, where the honourability of each citizen is questioned everyday due to political games and disputes. Yet, there is still a North-East in India, where voices seem to never be heard.

To say that the State has failed its citizens, is a convenient scapegoat that can be applied to any prevalent
government in power. To say that the citizens have not been wise in choosing their representatives, is also essentially
conveying the same sentiment of shrugging off the blame. Alas, what choice are the people left with, when None
Of The Above (NOTA) has no legitimate effect in the political structure. In our electoral system, NOTA has no electoral value. Even if the situation emerges where NOTA gets more votes than any candidate in the elections, the candidate who has secured the highest number of votes after NOTA will still hold office. This expression of rejection through casting your vote guarantees no accountability,since it does not constitute a re-election or change in candidacy. The very fact that NOTA is emblematic is the dreadful reason why it cannot be successful in an illiterate and puerile democracy like ours, where charisma and ascendancy are given more significance than one’s ability to introduce and implement affirmative policies.Is India, truly a Republic? A Republic where the voters are robbed of the right to express their dissent? Are the citizens then, really empowered to choose?
Our democracy is scattered, lacking structure and the focus that is vital to rebuild this great nation’s glory.
Maybe the need of the hour, is the introduction of a Machiavellian Prince in status quo, a strong individual who cannot be reckoned with, to get us back into track. To a time when we were not broken, were not colonised. To a time when there was supposed peace. I wonder when that time will come. I wonder, when sisterhood among differences will prevail. I wonder.

Bhavya Banerjee

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