The country is witnessing one thing or the other every single day and it’s not normally what we would expect the growth path to look like. As you’re reading this, there are stones being pelted at one place and lathis being used at another, all in the face of democracy. Remember when people called out the silent death of democracy? Well, it feels like the silence has taken the form of loud, deafening noise and people are still choosing to ignore it.
However, this ignorance is not imbibed in people on their own. And nor is this new trend of violence, riots and brutality. It takes an instigating force, provocative statements and misrepresented information to lead to those situations. In times of distress, most people look out towards the media to make them aware of everything that is happening. News media channels are still the most sought-after source of information in this country and there’s no denial to it. But what if that very media chooses to misrepresent facts? Or showcase biased viewpoints? Or use statement and actions to provoke people?
A Government’s duty in a country is to explicitly maintain law and order, among other things. When the government shakes hands with the media and media shakes hands with the government, it is time we realize the problem has begun. And well, for India, the problem started long ago when news channels opted money over the news, government over truth and conspiracies over justice. We’ve come to a place where the Prime Minister is seen as the country and the vice-versa, conveniently ignoring how a country is way larger than its leader. This leads to the problem of what is termed a political divide- if you raise your opinions against the government and its policy actions- you’re a left-wing supporter at best and anti-national at worst. What we’re witnessing in the country is nothing less than this.
At such a volatile time, when media channels choose to portray half-truths and biased scenarios, it leads to deepening of the divide- often ending up triggering unrest and violence. The recent reporting of certain news channels on the Tablighi Jamaat incident represented demonization of the Muslim community in the eyes of the people, triggering a full-fledged communal divide, which actually happened since the country started blaming the Muslim community for the widespread presence of Corona Virus in India and called it their intentional propaganda. The reports presented by news channels and its portrayal was problematic on all grounds and had the ultimate potential to provoke people, hurt religious sentiments and creating a divide. The government, being the exclusive holder of Islamophobia they are, decided to stay put on the matter despite their explicit responsibility to prevent any such nuisance and maintain law and order.
This brought in reports and complaints from various sections of the community calling out those news channels and their irresponsible handling of the fragile situation. Supreme court, earlier this week, held a bench discussing those complaints, not only to call out the news channels but also the government’s blind eye towards them. It is to be noted that the government’s ignorance and lack of action to media channels instigating violence aren’t limited to this one particular incident but ones before and after that.
We all, even though forcefully, have accepted this new form of journalism that consists of shouting and pointing fingers and fighting in the name of debates, but are not ready to accept these media houses reporting provocative statements that can put in danger people’s lives and public property. And the Supreme court had similar feelings. The bench led by Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, “They (TV anchors) can shout anything, in any tenor. We don’t mind that. But we are concerned about broadcasts that can instigate people to riots and violence. There are situations which can take away the lives of people and can lead to violence and destruction of public properties. We don’t know why you are blind to this problem.”
The court contemplated how the government’s handling, or rather non-handling, of these concerning incidents and news is worrisome. As mentioned, time and again, one of the most important responsibilities of the government is to maintain law and order, and stooping in to prevent a particular type of news at that particular point of time to reduce its aftermath is a part of it. And as can be seen, the government has failed miserably at it. The bench also taunted, hinting at current circumstances in the country, “Maintaining law and order in the country is very important. It is as important as providing lathis to policemen. It is as important as any other tool. But you, as a government, do nothing about it.”
The bench also consisting of justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian also expressed how important the government’s power and responsibility prevent particular news as a particular point of time is and how the lack of it has been causing problems in the country. Let’s just say we’re all witnesses to it. The actual problem arises when the reporting is intended to agitate others. The maximum penalty for breaching broadcast rules and their violations goes up to Rs1 Lakh at maximum and the big media houses have no problem throwing Rs1 lakh as a penalty than to issue a public apology for their actions. This gives these money-makers a free pass at whatever they feel like doing without fear of accountability.
The Supreme Court has thus been devising to come up with alternative plans to get in control the news channels and hold the government responsible for not doing its duties as it should.