Questions for the Media: Is Hindustan Times an agent of free press or of political propaganda

I wrote the following originally for My Voice over at opindia.com

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  1. In October 2016, a young BJP activist, Ramith was murdered in broad daylight in Kerala Chief Minister’s native village Pinarayi by activists of the Chief Minister’s party, CPI(M).
  2. In December 2016, the house of a former panchayat member who represented BJP, Kannan, was attacked by Mr. Vijayan’s party members in Palakkad district of Kerala. The attackers locked up Kannan, his wife Vimala and his brother Radhakrishnan in the house and set it on fire. Vimala and Radhakrishnan later succumbed to their burn injuries. 
  3. In January 2017, another man, Santosh, was hacked to death in his own house while his wife and daughter we away participating in a cultural festival for school students. Santosh’s crime was contesting local body elections as a BJP candidate in a CPI(M) party village. This incident happened in the assembly constituency represented by Mr. Vijayan, Dharmadom.
  4. In February  2017, a 20 year old Dalit youth, Nirmal, was murdered in Thrissur district of Kerala. His crime too was that he supported BJP, Mr. Vijayan’s political adversary.
  5. In another incident that happened in February 2017, activists of SFI, the students union affiliated to Mr. Vijayan’s party, physically assaulted a young man and his two female friends at Trivandrum University College. Their crime was that they were sitting together and watching a play at the college and the comrades did not approve of their behaviour.
  6. In yet another February 2017 incident, the vice-president of Kerala unit of BJP and a prominent Dalit political figure, Dr P.P.Vava was so brutally assaulted by the Kerala police, which directly reports to Mr. Vijayan, that he  lost an eye. Dr Vava’s offence was that he expressed solidarity with the students of Kerala Law Academy who were protesting the corrupt college administration that is closely aligned with Mr. Vijayan’s party.
  7. At the beginning of this year, a Member of Parliament representing Trinamool Congress, the party in power in West Bengal, was arrested by CBI for his role in the infamous Sarada chit fund scam through which thousands of poor Bengalis were robbed of their life’s savings. In retaliation, the students wing of Trinamool Congress attacked the headquarters of West Bengal unit of BJP. The party office was attacked with stones and other weapons causing several party functionaries to be injured. 

If you notice, each one of the above incidents includes political violence, state complicity, police inaction and stone pelting. Yet none of these incidents managed to move the conscience of the editorial bosses at the mainstream media outlet, Hindustan Times. They found none of these to be gruesome enough, anti-democratic enough to merit an editorial comment. Yet, the same media outlet came out with not one but two editorials (here and here) commenting on the clashes between two ideologically opposed students’ outfits in Delhi University. A rant is probably the more appropriate description of these write-ups than an editorial comment. Not only is the Hindustan Times selective in the incidents it outrages about, it is also dishonest in not reporting the entire truth about an incident. The primary objective of their editorial comments appears to be to ascribe partisan blame and assign guilt. From different sources on social media, just like with JNU last year, it is not definitely clear as to what sequence of events lead to the student clashes. But what is clear is that there was use of force and aggression from activists belonging to both ABVP and the left (SFI/AISA). There have been claims and counter-claims of stone pelting, harassment of women, etc. from both the sides. However, the editors of Hindustan Times seem to have picked their side and ascribe all the blame on students belonging to ABVP. Notice how in the editorial of 22nd February, they paint the incident not as a clash between students of Delhi University belonging to different organizations but as a clash between ABVP activists and DU students, while totally obfuscating the fact that those representing ABVP too were students of DU. It is dishonesty of this kind that has totally destroyed the credibility of the mainstream media among the masses. 

In the more recent editorial of February 27, Hindustan Times has picked up the cause of a “martyr’s daughter” who is supposed to have received rape and death threats for having “vowed to not be cowed down by ABVP”. In continuation of their failed machinations from last year at JNU with Kanhaiya Kumar and at HCU with Rohit Vemula, the pseudo-journalists from mainstream media are desperately trying to elevate a Ms Gurmehar Kaur to the status of a resistance hero who is standing up to the “depredations unleashed by the ABVP”. Though it is not clear how real these threats that Ms Kaur is supposed to have received, and only a thorough police investigation will bring facts to light, the editorial bosses at Hindustan Times are clearly enraged at this supposed intolerance. At the same time, they have not a word to even acknowledge the real violence and molestation that women supporters of ABVP were subjected to by the leftist thugs of SFI and AISA. This despite two brave women coming forward to narrate their harrowing experience (here and here). While they are espousing the cause of one placard holding Ms Kaur, they have totally turned blind to the existence of hundreds of other young women who are expressing the opposite view with their placards. It is this hypocrisy that has to be called out. It is this politics in the guise of journalism that needs to be countered.

At this juncture it is but inevitable to ask what Hindustan Times stands for, free press or political pamphleteering. As I said earlier, editors of Hindustan Times seem to have chosen the side of the political divide that they stand on. News outlets peddling partisan political propaganda will not be a problem as long as they are open and honest about it. The expectation of neutrality and even handedness in reporting political events from Hindustan Times can be put to rest for good if they are open about their main vocation being not one of informing the citizenry but of influencing the voters. But as things stand now, they are contributing to further destruction of the already abysmal credibility of mainstream media among masses.  

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