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Corporate media a serious threat to Indian democracy

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India, the world’s largest functioning democracy, seems to be under a severe threat. The threat, one might initially be inclined to think, is only from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, this would be a gross underestimation of another grave threat to Indian democracy: the Indian corporate media, generally speaking, and TV news channels more specifically. 

One might find it ironic that the sword arm of democracy, the very watchdog that protects the public interest is in itself a grave threat to democracy, but in present-day India, this is the bitter truth. Ordinary people may think that free, fair and fearless media are a prerequisite of democracy, and that the Indian media have been true to the democratic onus thrust upon it, but the opposite is true.

In fact, they are consistent cheerleaders of Modi’s communal agenda and always the first to jump wholeheartedly on to every anti-minority, anti-leftist, anti-human-rights, anti-dissent, and anti-opposition bandwagon. They have consistently succeeded in covering up Modi’s failures, weaknesses and wrongdoings.

Indian freedom fighters and liberators envisaged a secular, just, non-violent and tolerant nation, but could very well be turning in their graves as they witness today’s reality. 

A genuine test of a well-functioning democracy rests on free, fair, fearless and independent media that are committed to ensuring that the goals enshrined in the Indian constitution are met. After Modi took power in May 2014, the media became the mouthpiece of the ruling BJP. The fact is that the corporate media barons have very close ties with the ruling party, and there is a symbiotic relationship between the media and the political parties in power. 

Promoters of Hindutva

The Indian media have been supporting Modi’s every move. For instance, despite India being the largest beef exporter and second-largest exporter of leather-based footwear, exports worth a combined US$16 billion annually, and with some 2.2 million people relying on these sectors, many BJP-ruled states have banned beef despite thousands of livelihoods being at stake.

The BJP and its affiliate organizations’ cow-vigilante groups have instigated several mob lynchings of alleged cow slaughterers and beef eaters since 2015. These vigilantes killed about 100 people from 2015 to 2019. The Indian new channels never questioned the BJP government on this. Instead, they pointed fingers at the victims of these lynchings, the general refrain being “if they hadn’t eaten beef or slaughtered cows, they wouldn’t have been killed!”

Similarly, there is systemic persecution of the minority Muslims and Dalits – the lowest stratum of India’s caste system – who have been discriminated against, harassed and even killed by so-called upper-caste people. There is very scant coverage of such incidents in the Indian mainstream media. Instead, on some TV channels, minority panelists, during debates on cow vigilantism, have been shouted down by overenthusiastic presenters and branded as traitors.

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