KOCHI: The corporatised media are promoting communalism and nudging a right-wing shift in Indian society, according to Teesta Setalvad, human rights campaigner and co-editor of Communalism Combat.
Motivated by profits, the corporatised media were pandering to the sentiments of large sections of the middle class and urban elites who cheered on the communal divide and cowboy nationalism, she said. “The media have become part of the establishment, instead of remaining a critic of the establishment,” she said.
She said the media had abandoned its role of the ‘fourth estate’ and guardian of democracy. The ‘paid news’ phenomenon, which was fast catching across the country, was a manifestation of the internal rote of the current Indian media, she told The Hindu in an interview. She said ‘paid news’ had been there for some time and suspected that the ‘Narendra Modi for Prime Minister’ campaign launched by certain media organisations during the run-up to the last Lok Sabha election was in fact a ‘paid news’ campaign.
Ms. Setalvad said that communalisation of the media had started in a big way in the early 1990s during the Ayodhya campaign. The RSS and Hindutva activists had infiltrated the media the same way as they had infiltrated the police, government departments and intelligence agencies. The Hindutva forces had also bought over senior journalists and editors to promote their sectarian agendas.
Ms. Setalvad, whose tireless legal battle could expose the connivance of the Modi government during the communal carnage in Gujarat, said there was a drastic fall in Indian media’s professional standards. “Back in the 1970s and 80s, the media could make a difference in society, and journalists were able to stand up to governmental and political power.” Now journalists were not willing to go out and do difficult stories; they were contented with what was handed out to them by governmental agencies or vested interests. The media swallowed whatever the government claimed over the Maoist violence in West Bengal and the Central Indian States. Very few journalists ventured into the Maoist-dominated areas to find out what socio-economic factors encouraged the tribes to join hands with the Maoists. The media had failed to expose the horrible atrocities committed against innocent people in the name of ‘salwa judum.’
Ms. Setalvad said the increasing communal divide in the country was the result of a conscious, long-term effort. To poison young minds, school curriculums were stuffed with communally-coloured lessons. Lessons in history and social studies textbooks gave out a distorted picture that helped to foment hate against minorities. This was most evident in Gujarat.