The Indian tale of lost credibility in journalism: who to blame?

Siddhant Dubey paints a troubling picture of the state of Indian media, exploring the prevalence of disinformation and Government-shaped narratives that serve to obscure the most serious issues in need of coverage facing the country.



Siddhant Dubey is an undergraduate student at the Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahmedabad

Recently, the Indian government, disregarding all parliamentary norms and misusing constitutional provisions, passed two Farm Bills touted as a “Death Warrant for Farmers”. The two bills were passed amid serious protest by the opposition members, as Rajya Sabha TV canceled the broadcasting of the parliamentary session and muted the microphones of all the members. However, this is not the only event in which the government has manoeuvred television journalism or used its arbitrary powers to hide its chaos and make good of its own political agenda. Pertinently, India’s rank of 142 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index further corroborates this assertion. 

The coverage of the whole COVID-19 pandemic in the past 6 months in itself is a tale of lost credibility in Indian Journalism. When in the month of March, thousands of Muslims from around the world and India came to attend a religious congregation in Delhi and many of them were found to be COVID positive, the media took the opportunity to pound upon the minority community and give the global pandemic a communal angle. The whole of TV media started accusing Muslims of deliberately spreading the coronavirus.

There was even a spate of fake news and hashtags such as #CoronaJihad and #BioJihad on prime TV media houses to instigate a hate campaign against the Muslims. These trends were so false that the police officials themselves came up to debunk many such claims, but up to that point this fake news formed the basis of many assaults and acts of discrimination against the minority community. Paris-based Reporters sans frontières (RSF) in its 2020 report attributed India’s rank to the Narendra Modi government “tightening” its grip on the media, and pressuring it to “toe the Hindu nationalist government’s line”.

The primary aim of such a style of journalism is to keep society unaware of the real socio-economic situation of the country, and unfortunately, so far the Modi government has been successful in doing so. When India is second in the world in terms of COVID-19 patients, the economic growth of -23.9% is lowest in its history, the unemployment rate is hovering at 23.5%, and around 200 migrant workers have lost their lives in the lockdown, the Indian media is busy concealing these issues by focusing on irrelevant subjects that either fulfil the Governments’ Hindu nationalist agenda or digress the society from real issues.

Ramit Verma, an avid media watcher, famous for exposing the bigotry and falsehood in the Indian media, kept a record of 202 primetime debates till October 2019 and the results were shockingly unfortunate. The following were debates held:

●       Attacking Pakistan: 79 debates

●       Attacking the Opposition: 66

●       Praising Modi and the current government: 36

●       Ram Mandir (A Hindu temple): 14

●       Bihar floods: 3

●       Chandrayaan Moon Mission: 2

●       Rape case against Swami Chinmayanand (who belongs to the current government): 1

●       PMC Bank scam: 1

●       Economy: 0

●       Unemployment: 0

●       Education: 0

●       Healthcare: 0

●       Public infrastructure: 0

●       Farmers’ distress: 0

●       Poverty and malnutrition: 0

●       Women’s safety: 0

●       Environmental protection: 0

●       Mob lynchings: 0

●       Questioning any government decision or policy: 0

The model of “Manufacturing of Consent” proposed by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman seems of utmost relevance in the contemporary Indian media. He stated that Government policies are accepted by the public on the basis of the partial or blurred image of the issues presented by the mass media, which denies them access to alternate views and chances to oppose such policies. These issues are presented as a propaganda model where mass media selects the material in relation to the values of those in power.

The Indian government is not only explicitly controlling the presentation of mass media but is also suppressing those who are trying to be true to journalism. Around 55 journalists have faced adversity for their coverage of the pandemic from 25th March (beginning of lockdown) to 31st May. Today journalists are continuously facing registration of FIRs, arrests, summons, physical abuse, and also the threat of murders. At least 10 journalists have been arrested for supposedly spreading fake news, unfurling alleged corruption, reporting the shortage of food, and paucity of PPE among healthcare workers.

All of this for being allegiant to their profession and availing their fundamental right of freedom to express. An international report in 2015 named India as the 3rd riskiest place for journalism in the world. Under the garb of curtailing misinformation and the spread of fake news, the government is suppressing the freedom of the press just to enshroud its inefficiency and keep the public unaware of the real picture.

Recently, the Mumbai police busted a Television Rating Points (TRP) manipulation racket which also involved RepublicTV, one of the most popular media houses in the country. In return for ₹400-500 per month, certain households were told to keep these channels on for an entire day. The police added that many illiterate houses were asked to keep English channels, as this manipulation was primarily done for advertising revenues.    

Indian journalism today faces a sincere crisis of credibility. If the media do not undergo reforms, then robbed of reliability and authenticity, it will soon cease to be important to a large group of people and just be another source of entertainment and titillation. This happening would result in an acute tragedy and do a grave disservice to both the democracy and the source of empowering and enlightening the citizens of any nation.