Some news channels appear to be suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. There is a baffling insistence on repeating themselves and repeating themselves, and repeating themselves — oops, see, it’s catching.
If you are a regular viewer of Hindi news channels, you will be much struck, if not dumbstruck, by the obsession of channels such as Zee News, India TV, News18 India or News Nation — among others — with the Tablighi Jamaat.
Tablighis replaced Pakistan
Such is the hold Tablighis have on these channels, that they have achieved the impossible: displaced Pakistan as their primary target.
It is just over a month since we saw the first reports of Tablighi Jamaat members streaming out of Delhi’s Nizamuddin West colony, from the local markaz. They were quarantined but other members, who had left the premises earlier, had spread out across India, often taking the coronavirus with them. Last week, the Union health ministry said roughly 30 per cent of the total cases in India could be traced back to the Tablighi Jamaat congregation.
The figures are so stark that nothing more needs to be said.
But that hasn’t stopped some news channels. In the last month, they have pursued the Tablighi and its leader Maulana Muhammad Saad with single-minded determination.
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Channels have gone to extreme lengths to include Tablighi into their reports (is it a keyword that helps drive viewership?). Last week, a News 24 report on Ayodhya being coronavirus-free noted that even the ‘Jamaatis’ in the city had tested negative.
Aaj Tak, Sunday, referred to the Prime Minister’s Mann ki Baat in which he asked the public to stop spitting. The anchor brought up the Tablighi Jamaat — there have been unsubstantiated reports of Tablighi patients spitting in the quarantine facilities — as though they are the only people who spit in India.
Such is the power of this rumour that on Tuesday, the BJP MLA from Deoria defended his ‘advice’ to not buy vegetables from Muslim vendors, on the basis of complaints that they spat on the vegetables.
From Monday to Wednesday, News Nation, which has led the charge against the Tablighi, has been hunting for Maulana Saad. Anchor Deepak Chaurasia said with some exasperation, Tuesday, “Maulana Saheb, hain kahan?”
News18 India and ABP joined News Nation alleging that Tablighis were misbehaving in a Kanpur hospital. The channels said they demanded biryani, meat — this is another popular story, true or untrue, making the round on Hindi TV news.
Zee News played an audio clip of a nurse at Delhi’s LNJP Hospital who claimed that she had been assaulted by Jamaati patients. News18 India’s ‘Bhaiya ji Kahin’ discussed the religion of the street-side vendors.
And on Monday evening, India TV discovered Jamaatis hidden in different states of India — it claimed 400 were hiding in UP, Bihar and Maharashtra.
Stigmatisation of Muslims
There was one positive story: Tablighi Jamaat members, who had recovered from Covid, have donated plasma to help possibly cure others. News 24, CNN News18 and News18 India were appreciative, India TV, however, acknowledged the gesture but added, sarcastically, “Jamaat have gone to do something good”. Zee News said, “Khoon ka dharm”.
Tuesday saw another spate of reports: India TV said Jamaatis had infected children in Kanpur madrasas and reported on Tablighi Covid-19 carriers in Pune.
News18 India wondered if Maulana Saad was about to be arrested, while ABP ran a story on the Tablighi leader in Pakistan Tariq Jamil, who had apparently made derogatory statements about women in the presence of Prime Minister Imran Khan. And News Nation remained in hot pursuit of the elusive Muhammed Saad.
These reports may be true; however, do they convey the latest news on the coronavirus that viewers need to know about when even over 30,000 cases have been reported in the country?
Or do they, instead, stigmatise the entire Tablighi community and, by extension, Muslims?
The latter point is important.
One example why: On Monday, Zee News reported that a delivery person boy, Usman was turned away by a customer in Mumbai. The boy Usman shared a video in which he is apparently saying that he was being turned away because he was a Muslim. The customer claimed he saw Usman touching his face and got worried. The Zee anchor sided with the customer.
Channels also reported on vendors and shops with ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ written on them.
Just over a week ago, the PM Narendra Modi had has advised against stigmatising a community: “Covid-19 does not see race, religion, colour, caste, creed, language or border before striking…” he said in a post on LinkedIn. This week, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat declared, “We should not blame the entire community for the mistakes of a few individuals.’’
Clearly, some Hindi news channels are not listening to either leader.
The Bulandshahr incident was reported by several news channels but lost steam, almost immediately after it was reported that they were murdered by an allegedly drunken villager.
Cut to the coverage of Palghar on 20 and 21 April: it was the main report all day on TV news and led to debates across leading English and Hindi channels — and it’s still being talked about, even though over 100 people have been arrested. Tuesday saw questions raised on News X, Republic TV and News Nation about a ‘conspiracy’…
Of course, Palghar was a horrific lynching, but in Bulandshahr, it was a murder. The difference is that TV channels accepted what authorities said in the latter but are questioning them on the former.
Does this strike you as odd?
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