The Dirty Game Pro-Hindutva TV Channels And Their Anchors Play
Owned and operated by pro-BJP/RSS media houses and personalities, these 24-hour factories of fake news spew the venom of hatred against Muslims and other religious minorities while promoting the Hindutva protagonists' agenda of a Hindu ‘rashtra’(nation).
By SK Husain
(Special to India Tomorrow)
Godi (lapdog), bikau (saleable), dalal (agent) and bharkau (inflammatory).
This is how a major section of India's mainstream electronic media is labelled by most Indians, especially Muslims and low-caste Hindus, opposition parties and their leaders, as well as other sections of the national media -- all because of its brazen support for the ruling party, its ideological parent and the government.
This chunk of the media, which consists of more than a dozen 24-hour national and dozens of regional television news channels, is known for biased reporting, manufacturing and spreading fake news and falsehoods, and causing communal and social strife in the country's pluralistic society. Their favourite targets are Muslims, including Kashmiris.
On one hand, their journalists and anchors routinely engage in spreading hatred towards the country's 200 million Muslim population and Islam, thus nourishing Islamophobia. On the other, they promote Hindutva -- an ideology that seeks to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life -- spearheaded by the right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary volunteer organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), its ruling political front Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the latter's National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners in the government, as well as their leaders.
As ThePrint news portal journalist Zainab Sikander remarked, "the Indian media is not doing journalism but waging a jihad (holy war) against Muslims and Islam. It acts like hyenas". These channels "add jihad to everything, which bigots on social media then use to target individual Muslims", she says.
The above channels are also accused of having a clear bias against the country's low-caste Hindus, the poor and downtrodden, and less privileged and weaker sections of society, while favouring the rich and powerful and promoting their interests. Almost 80 per cent of the Indian media is biased, arrogant and opinionated. Most of the news channels are propaganda based, portraying the BJP and RSS as only nationalists and the rest all as anti-nationalist or terrorist.
Prominent among these pro-BJP/RSS news outlets are English television channels Republic TV, Times Now, India Today, Wion and CNN-News18, and Hindi TV channels Zee News, India TV, AajTak, ABP News, Republic Bharat, Sudershan News, News Nation and News24 (India).
All the above-mentioned titles fit these channels for one reason or the other. The term "godi media" was coined by Ramon Magsaysay award winning NDTV journalist Ravish Kumar, who inherently spoke of the lap of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and these channels.
Besides these channels, there are many more news and at least 18 Hindu religious channels in regional languages across India that promote the agenda of the Hindutva forces to establish a Hindu rashtra (nation) and impose Hindi as the national language all over the pluralistic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual nation of 1.37 billion people.
Riding the waves
These channels are loyal to the BJP/RSS because they need government advertisements for revenue to operate. Most of their anchors and journalists are enamoured by Modi's "superman image" created by his online fans or 'bhakts'. As these channels aren't bold enough to go against this fan club fearing trolling and reprisals, they find it easy to ride with the wind.
Here are some key reasons why these channels and their right-wing anchors, who compete with one another to be the loudest Modi supporter, unabashedly throw their weight behind the BJP, RSS and the rich and powerful:
1) absolute majority of the BJP-led NDA in Parliament, and its government at the Centre and in many states;
2) growing irrelevance and inconsequentiality of a largely obliterated opposition, including the 215-year-old Indian National Congress;
3) viewership by the BJP's 100-million-plus Hindu primary members and their massive support for the party and government;
4) cult-like following of a "monolithic" Modi;
5) high TRP achieved because of Hindu viewership. (TRP, or target rating point, is a metric used in marketing and advertising to indicate the percentage of the target audience reached by a campaign or advertisement through a communication medium);
6) financing by big business houses which might be friendly with a party that supports their growth and in return they support that party;
7) ownership of or stakes held by certain BJP and RSS leaders, MPs and party supporters in these channels;
8) owners' political connections or affiliations with the BJP and RSS;
9) huge revenues from government advertisements which these channels earn in return for their pro-BJP/RSS/government policies;
10) commercial interests of these channels as business entities rather than as social service non-governmental organisations;
11) financial aid granted to channel owners and awards conferred on them and their journalists;
12) government advisories/directives, and restrictions on news presentation;
13) fear of being targeted by the ruling party and government for failure to toe the line.
Let's take a close look at these channels one by one -- who owns or operates them and what are their policies -- and their journalists and anchors.
Republic TV -- This news channel was co-founded and is majority-owned by a 47-year-old Assamese, Arnab Ranjan Goswami. He is also the channel's editor and news anchor. Earlier, he was the editor-in-chief and a news anchor of Times Now and ET Now channels.
The channel is well-known for its brazen support for the BJP and RSS. Arnab has been accused of opinionated reporting in favour of these parties and their Hindutva push across a wide spectrum of situations, including uncritically reproducing government narratives, avoiding criticism of BJP/RSS figures, and presenting their political opponents in a negative light. He very clearly, cleverly and shamelessly shows his bias. No one can beat him in spreading hatred and fake news.
Arnab is the son of Manoranjan Goswami, an army man who later joined the BJP, and a maternal nephew of Siddhartha Bhattacharya, who is a BJP MLA and minister in Assam's state government.
Launched in 2017, Republic TV was partly funded by Asianet News (ARG Outlier Asianet News), which was primarily funded by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, then an independent member of Rajya Sabha with connections with the BJP and vice-chairman of the NDA in the southern Kerala state. Son of an air force officer, Chandrasekhar, however, resigned from the Asianet board after he officially joined the BJP in April 2018 and was elected as a BJP MP.
Republic TV has been accused of propagating fake news and running several news items based on the defamatory tweets posted by certain BJP leaders. It has also been convicted in the past of breaching telecommunication regulatory and news broadcasting rules, leading to censures and subject to a high-profile defamation case by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
(Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami (left) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi)
Arnab always allows BJP leaders to speak for time endless but stops the other party leaders when they are speaking. He shouts like hell for nothing. That's why this channel is described by experts as a "noisy, chaotic place where coherent debate without shouting, screaming and name calling is impossible". Its shows have been dubbed a "battle of babble", judgmental, brash and hawkish.
It has even been compared to North Korean media for its extreme pro-government affinity and muzzling of dissent, and America's Fox News which practises biased reporting in favour of the Republican Party.
Times Now -- Owned and operated by India's largest media company The Times Group (Bennett, Coleman and Company), this channel always wants to go with the winning horse. Previously generally neutral, it has turned very much pro-BJP since the election of the Modi government. Any criticism of the BJP is narrated as “anti-nationalist” and any individual challenging or demanding answers from the party is labelled “anti-Indian”. Rahul Shivshankar is the editor-in-chief.
The channel's anchor and managing editor Navika Kumar (who is now group editor, politics, at Times Network) is a loudmouth. She "froths and fumes each time someone is critical of the BJP, but loses her interrogating prowess whenever given the rare chance to interview Modi or Home Minister Amit Shah". It is said that with Arnab, the channel was ultra-BJP and ultra-nationalist; after he left it, it became a lot more ultra-nationalist and outright BJP supporter. One wonders if its support for the BJP now is because its chairperson, Indu Jain, was awarded Padma Bhushan by the Modi government in 2016.
India Today -- Owned by Living India Media Group (India Today Group), this channel was launched in 2003 as a sister channel of the Hindi news channel AajTak. It is one of the four news channels from the TV Today Network stable, the other two being Tez and Delhi AajTak. Aroon Purie is the group's chairman. A fence-sitter though, India Today has in the last one or two years clearly tilted towards the BJP.
Key journalists associated with this channel are Rajdeep Sardesai and Rahul Kanwal. While Rajdeep supports the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress ideology, he is anti-BJP and a bit more critical of Modi. Rahul on his part has tried to lean a lot towards the AAP.
Rahul and his team had severely lobbied against the BJP and its students wing Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) over the Shaheen Bagh and Jamia Millia Islamia shooting incidents. He was also quick to point fingers at BJP leader Anurag Thakur and claim that Delhi was sitting on a powder keg.
In an apparent punishment for his "biased" reporting in favour of the AAP, Rahul was recently sent on a "sabbatical". Since his return, he seems to have dropped his determination to follow in the footsteps of Rajdeep and joined the bandwagon of the godi media anchors.
CNN-News18 -- This channel is owned by billionaire Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries. Hence no words are required to explain its bias against Muslims and the less privileged Hindus. This channel was originally owned by Network18 Group, which was founded by businessman and investor Raghav Bahl in 2011. It was taken over by Reliance in 2014.
The group owns around 65 channels: one national English news channel, one national Hindi news channel and 14 regional language news channels; three national and one regional business news channels, three Hindi entertainment channels, two Hindi movie channels, two youth channels, four English and Hindi music channels, four kids English and Hindi entertainment channels, four factual entertainment channels, two shopping channels, 14 regional entertainment channels, and 10 upcoming regional news and other channels.
CNN-News18's anchor Amish Devgan has modelled himself on Republic TV's Arnab in shouting and arrogance, and routinely indulges in Muslim bashing and spreading fake news.
(Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani(extreme right) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi)
Wion (World is One News) -- This channel is operated by the Essel Group, which also owns nearly two dozen Zee channels. The group's chairman, Subhash Chandra, became a Rajya Sabha MP with the BJP's support. Hence no need to say as to where its loyalties lie.
Among the most biased and anti-Muslim and po-BJP/RSS Hindi news channels and their anchors are:
Zee News -- Part of the Zee Network, this is one of the many Hindi, English and vernacular-language news channels owned by the Essel Group. The channel's owner, Subhash Chandra, became a Rajya Sabha member with the BJP's support. Hence, he is apparently now paying back to the party by promoting its Hindutva agenda and launching an anti-Muslim tirade.
Sudhir Chaudhary is the channel's editor-in-chief and the anchor of its prime-time news. He is the Hindi version of Republic TV's Arnab as he openly supports the BJP, RSS and Modi. A few years ago, Sudhir was arrested for allegedly trying to extort one billion Indian rupees (approximately US$23 million) from the Jindal Group. Since then, some people call him Sudhir "Tihari" because he was lodged in Delhi's maximum-security Tihar Jail in the extortion case. He never criticises the BJP, RSS and Modi, and behaves as an unofficial spokesman of the ruling party.
Zee News has been involved in broadcasting fabricated news stories on multiple occasions. Most recently, it aired an unverified and false report on the coronavirus and linked it to Tablighi Jamaat, only to later express regrets for running the false report.
India TV -- This channel was launched by Rajat Sharma and his wife Ritu Dhawan in 2004 from a studio in FilmCity in Noida, near Delhi. Rajat was born in Old Delhi's Sabzi Mandi (Wholesale Vegetable Market) area, where he lived with his parents, six brothers and one sister in a 100-square-foot room. Rajat is the chairman and editor-in-chief of India TV, a subsidiary of Independent News Service which was co-founded by the couple in 1997.
His channel is alleged to be biased, too. It is accused of concealing plenty of news that would make headlines. It doesn't show fake news but is selective in its presentation of news according to its political impact.
During his college days, Rajat was a member of ABVP. He all the time praises the NDA government. He and the late finance minister Arun Jaitley were very close friends, which speaks volumes about his affinity with and inclination towards the BJP. It is said that once, in the United States, he got infuriated when a person questioned his channel's integrity in view of his friendship with Jaitley. A usually calm person, he got irritated and criticised the questioner.
According to tech analyst Amol Raj Pandey, when Rajat "was ousted from his FilmCity office by Century Comm, his new office was completely funded by the BJP. India TV kept on working as BJP propaganda unit after that". He says that most importantly, Rajat was awarded Padma Bhushan for Literature by the BJP government, although he never wrote a single literary piece. "However, he did write fiction for the BJP during its election campaign and as propaganda unit."
In 2015, Rajat was awarded Padma Bhushan by the BJP government for his contribution in the field of journalism. In March 2020, he was conferred with an honorary doctorate in literature by the Nainital-based Kumaun University. All this explains his unstinted support for the BJP and RSS.
AajTak -- Owned by Arun Purie’s India Today Group, AajTak has three of the worst right-wing anchors in the Indian media -- Anjana Om Kashyap, Rohit Sardana and Sweta Singh. They are notorious for their vitriolic attacks against Muslims and spreading communal hatred. They routinely indulge in Muslim bashing, while show deferential surrender to anything the BJP does.
A former Zee News and News24 (India) journalist, Anjana has been engaged in aggressively propagating Hindutva-centred ideologies and biased reporting in favour of the BJP across a variety of situations. She is said to have spread fake news via her news shows on multiple occasions. A favourite of Modi, she was one of the few reporters -- one of them being Sweta -- who were allowed an interview by him in the run-up to the 2019 general election. Her evening programme Halla Bol (Raise Your Voice) features politicians and community leaders who are given time to speak depending on their affiliations with various parties and groups. Pro-BJP/RSS guests are given more time to speak.
Rohit Sardana tops the list of the worst journalists sponsored by the right wing. In his prime-time show Dangal (Wrestling), he and co-anchor Sweta pit people from different walks of life, politicians and religious personalities, especially Muslims, against one another. Their favourite topics are Hindus vs Muslims and Islam, Hindu temples vs mosques, Kashmir and Pakistan. In these debates, Muslims are generally portrayed as villains.
Another anchor, Vikas Bhidauria, is known for tweeting fake news. In a recent case, he tweeted the video of a disabled Muslim man at a petrol station reaching for his pocket to make a payment and dropping something on the ground. In his tweet, Vikas asks: "Did he purposely drop the note or it fell by mistake? What could be his intentions?” His tweet drew hundreds of thousands of views and thousands of retweets, as many people speculated that the man intentionally dropped currency notes to spread coronavirus infection.
ABP News -- Owned by Bengali journalist Aveek Sarkar of the pro-BJP ABP (Anandabazar Patrika) Group, this channel is the reincarnation of Star News. Earlier, ABP News used to be neutral, but it turned pro-BJP a couple of years ago. This came after the Modi government objected to criticism of the BJP by some ABP News journalists including Punya Prasoon Vajpyee and Abhisar Sharma in their Master Stroke show. After the channel acted against these journalists, Rubika Liyaquat joined ABP News and became the commander-in-chief of its news anchors. A Muslim, she is disliked by many for her angry rhetoric against Muslim leaders called by the channel for debates on TV. Some even call her a BJP dalal.
Republic Bharat -- This sister channel of Republic TV is funded by the BJP and RSS. Its anchor Sucherita Kukreti conducts prime-time show Mahabharat, which is on the pattern of AajTak TV's prime-time debate show Dangal. A female version of Arnab, she can be compared to Rubika and Anjana, too, in shouting and spitting the venom of hatred against Muslims.
Sudarshan News -- This channel allegedly disseminates anti-Muslim content and manufactures fake news with communal overtones, which has earned it titles such as "bigot" and "dangerous". Its chairman, Suresh Chavhanke, was a long-term RSS volunteer and associated with ABVP. He asserts practising ideology-driven journalism and prefers that the news programmes over his channel be viewed as opinionated campaigns.
In April 2017, Suresh was arrested for inciting communal hatred through multiple episodes of a flagship programme. Recently, Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren ordered state police to take action against him for his communal hate speeches.
News Nation -- Deepak Chaurasia, the consulting editor of this channel, which is owned by News Nation Network, is inclined towards the BJP and is known as a "puppet" of Modi. He always makes fun of all the political parties except the BJP and its allies. He sometimes tries to be like Arnab, shouting like him in debates. He is notorious for his over-the-top coverage of news issues and for being uncritical of the BJP government. Portuguese politician and author Bruno Macaes compared Chaurasia’s journalism to Fox News, which has often been criticised for being extremely vocal in its support of the Republicans and US President Donald Trump.
News24 (India) -- Owned by B.A.G. Films and Media, this channel is promoted by Anurradha Prasad, sister of Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, along with her husband, Congress politician Rajeev Shukla.
-- The writer is a former journalist associated with The Straits Times, Singapore. The views are personal. He may be contacted at [email protected]