Against the Tide // How Indian media managed to not cover the corona crisis

Against the Tide // How Indian media managed to not cover the corona crisis

Coronavirus is the biggest crisis that the world has seen in generations. A virus like no other. It has left the world flat. 10 months since the first infection and the world is still nowhere close to defeat it. As billions around the globe wait for a vaccine to come, the pandemic has shown us again that science is what will see us through. It is the last hope for the human survival and till the science again does its magic, the humans have to learn to be cautious, to be watchful. To basically follow the guidelines based on scientific enquiry.

What is the role of the responsible media in the face of such a monumental crisis? To keep people informed, to question government’s shortcomings, to call out unscientific bullshit that self-claimed experts peddle. And above all, to record and report the human misery.

But a look at Indian media’s coverage of this human tragedy will tell you the appalling state of the fourth state in the world’s largest democracy.

Barring a few honorable exceptions, the mainstream media in India has degenerated itself into an arm of the state. It not only peddles the government narrative shamelessly, but also invents weapons of mass distractions regularly to keep its masters shielded from questions and criticism. While most in the Indian media are happy playing lapdog, some have turned government Rottweilers who bark down anyone who dares to question.

While the pandemic was knocking on Indian doors, the media was busy playing cheerleader to the mega Modi-Trump event in Gujarat in February end. After seeing off Donald Trump with all the fanfare, the regime’s studio soldiers went about whitewashing the killings of innocents in communal clash in the Capital. They were again busy painting the victims as villains and give cover to their political masters.

When the government finally woke up to the unfolding corona crisis in mid-March, the TV news also took note of it. It as usual hailed the one-day janta curfew, the thali banging events at the call of the supreme leader, the “master-stroke” of the sudden and brutal lockdown. The media was now hungover on the decisiveness of the dear leader. In the TV narrative, India had won over corona without even fighting it. The Modi magic was at work again, according to the TV. That the lockdown announced at a four-hour notice brought immense misery to the poor was not media’s concern. The so-called nationalist TV was busy blowing the government’s trumpet, while millions of poor Indians, left with no means of sustenance, took the hot and dark road back to their villages and towns.

A few journalists did their bit to record and report their immense misery, but the Noise TV had by then got its hands on its favorite whipping horse – Tablighi Jamat. A congregation of the Tablighi Jamaat in the Capital, which was held much before the government had officially announced measures to curb the spread of the virus was quickly dubbed as “Corona Jihad” by TV anchors. Then started the weeks long coverage that was full of hate, genocidal language, abuse, invectives on the Jamaat members. Corona was now declared a conspiracy by a particular community. 

Covid graphics on TV screens were splashed with Muslim imagery. The message was clear: if it were not for Muslims, Modi would defeated corona in no time. And while TV channels were busy vilifying Muslims, the BJP was busy bringing down elected governments elsewhere in the middle of a pandemic that was getting bigger and bigger. But the nationalist anchors were again clapping at the masters’ political strokes. Pandemic be damned.

It’s only months after the non-stop xenophobic and vile coverage targeting the Jamaat and by inference the Muslims as corona spreaders, that the Bombay High Court called the bluff. It termed the anti-Jamaat coverage as TV and government “propaganda and scape-goating of the Jamaat to cover-up the government’s lack of action. But the damage was done and none of these hate-mongers masquerading as journalists showed any remorse over their wrongs? Why would they? It was a planned, scripted campaign of hate, not a mistake that they would apologise for.

After flogging the Jamaat for weeks, TV news needed a new weapon of mass distraction. Death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput provided that. Apart from Muslims, the hate-news networks have systematically targeted intellectuals, activists, students and the big bad Bollywood in equal measure over the last six years. All these category of people have been labeled as “anti-nationals”, the “tukde tukde gang”, “The Lobby” by the agents of hate to keep the public busy with their drama so that the real questions of economy, sufferings of the poor, rights abuses are regularly shoved under the carpet.

An actor’s death was overnight turned into a national sensation, while the government and its lapdog journalists didn’t have time to even count the number of migrants who died on the long walks home.

Sushant’s death had all the elements of a primetime potboiler. An ‘outsider’ actor, a woman to vilify, the Bollywood ‘insiders’ to trash, the ‘immoral’ lives of the film people, and later the drugs. 

As coronavirus cases and deaths went higher, media went lower. As the Covid graph spikes got bleaker and sharper, TV news screens beamed Sushant-Rhea’s private messages and videos. The nation was kept entertained and amused in the most vicarious and voyeuristic manner possible.

As India stares at close to a lakh daily cases and over a 1,000 deaths every day, TV has fired another weapon of mass distraction. Kangana Ranaut is the new crusader in town. Fighting alone the ‘Bollywood mafia’, the drug cartels and the entire spectrum of the anti-nationals.

The Indian media today is any government’s delight. Tell me another democracy where the government has totally escaped any criticism and questions on handling the biggest human tragedy so easily? And where the so-called independent media invents weapons of mass distractions to cover-up for the political failures on the economy, on the miseries of the poor, on uncertain future that its youth face? You can’t.

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Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in The Brew View – our opinion section – are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheBrew.ae, the company, or any of its members.

Mohd Asim

Mohd Asim

Mohd Asim is a journalist based in New Delhi with over 16 years experience in news across print, TV and digital platforms. He has worked with India's premier news organizations such as The Indian Express and NDTV. A political animal, he regularly writes on politics, current affairs, cultural and gender issues. When not talking and writing on politics, he escapes into the world of movies.

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