By Shivaji Sarkar
It was not the failure of two spokespersons alone but the channels which tarnished the image of the country
“He is absolutely senile old man, senile old man, you are moron, you are absolutely senile, shut, shut up you are uncouth buddhe, you are counting your days on earth” . It is not a scene from a third rate movie. It is the expression of a celebrated spokesperson on an English prime news channel and the raucous anchor, supposedly the topmost boss, neither is perturbed, nor sorry nor stops her from blurting out the insulting abusive language at a senior participant
It is intriguing. The first lesson on All India Radio decades back was that language can neither be intemperate, abusive or uncivil and voice has to be moderate on the public channel. Sorry, now the abnormal is normal and the anchors themselves become the most uncivil. The hate begins here. If today the nation is suffering the wrath of entire West Asia and even illiberal countries like Qatar, it is the gift of the unregulated TV channels.
The government had been told repeatedly to have a regulator or widen the ambit of the Press Council of India to maintain the sanity on channels. Alas, despite change of many governments this has not been possible. Ruling dispensations find it suitable and when in opposition ruing it. Had a regulator been there no electronic channel could have jumped the gun. Today, the nation is paying a heavy price of being protested by at least 15 countries.
It is well known how anchors encourage some participants behave in the most uncouth manner. Yes, they do it, coach it and rehearse it in the studios. – for eyeball, TRPs. Some Indian TV channels have lost the sanity. Those replying are also made to shout to point the score not for the participants but the channels for higher visibility and advertisement money.
Today the heaping of insult on the nation from illiberal governments has been facilitated by none other than but by motley TV channels. These have created a culture of shouting, harping uncouth language,utmost indecency and raucous vulgarity in the name of freedom of expression. The sorry part is that the governments have become tolerant as it suits different parties in different states as also in different languages.
It was not the failure of two spokespersons alone but the channels which tarnished the image of the country. What never happened in the almost a hundred years of broadcast history has the nation to bow its head in shame and that too from a group of countries who are not known to be free regimes.
In public discourse too intemperate and provocative language by political party leaders and spokesmen has become the fashion. While channels can be blamed for not regulating, entire political scenario is manifesting the same way. Bengal elections a year back have seen how the major parties TMC and BJP have been hurling abuses at each other. TMC leader was being ridiculed in a most unsavoury language and the BJP got its reply in similar vein from the TMC.
It has been building up during the last Uttarakhand elections. Some sadhus behaved in the most inhuman manner giving a call for the mass murder of Muslims! Raghvendra Singh, a BJP MLA from east UP’s Siddharthnagar, was heard saying Muslims would switch from skull caps to ’tilak’ if he were re-elected.
The Wire consolidated 34 publicly available speeches over three months (between the first week of November 2021 and the first week of February 2022), and analysed the patterns of religiously polarised speech there. It found over 100 distinct instances of “hate speech and a chilling focus on Hindu supremacist rhetoric.”It found many statements targeting a community.
Almost coinciding with the UP elections since end of December the hijab issue is raked up by a group of Muslim girls in Karnataka. In all these events mentioned the TV reveled in repeatedly telecasting the provocative clips of all political leaders of MIM, BJP and the Congress, particularly meaty bikini statement of Priyanka Gandhi.
This was a general build up all through targeting the TV cameras. Most succeeded. The TVs picked up insane calls and the unknown speakers got mileage. It was building up for many months, may be more, No wonder BJP’s Nupur Sharma or Naveen Jindal were carried away by the trend and what they said about the prophet crossed the limits of decency and propriety. Wonder how a TV channel could telecast such inappropriate vulgar statement!
Even as the two are suspended or expelled, TV anchors and channels are continuing to increase their ratings.
The political parties have to realise that their spokespersons speak with dignity, civility and not target minorities or any caste group or any respected figure that could diminish India’s global reputation. Issues must be dealt with aplomb and not with passion, emotions and false belief.
Never before the nation has been humiliated diplomatically by at least 15 countries, including Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Maldives, Libya, Turkey, 57-nation OIC and Indonesia, who have expressed their denunciation and rejection of insults of Prophet Muhammad, and demanded an apology from the government. The controversial remarks also sparked a trend on social media in various countries calling for a boycott of Indian products.
But the country is ignoring the misdemeanor of TV channels landing it in an avoidable diplomatic row.
Surprisingly nobody has blamed the TV channel footages for this great faux pas. The nation would be thankful if each of the defaulting channels is pulled up for putting the nation in the most complicated situation that are hurting relations, trade and may be much more. Freedom of expression is fine but it calls for a probe into how the channels weaved the moments, put the participants in a fix, so that the prime anchors react in a way that the TV channels run up to their box office. It is also time for political parties to retrain the spokespersons.
Had there been a regulator possibly a suo moto action would have been initiated against the channels for violation of all norms. This is the opportunity the nation has for setting set up the regulator or simply widen the ambit of Press Council of India that has been responsible for keeping the newspapers sober.
(The author is former assistant editor/special correspondent at the Financial Express and Professor at IIMC)