DEBATES and discussions though are vital to a democracy, are worth the while only when conducted in a free and fair atmosphere. If people from different belief systems discuss issues with an open mind, there is a good chance to dispel the misunderstandings and prejudices prevailing among them. But if the debates and discussions turn out to be bait to trap some; if their motive is to create a communal frenzy; if their single-point agenda is to despise a particular religious community and its faith, it is advisable to keep a safe distance from these.
Against this backdrop, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), on June 10, has made an earnest appeal to religious scholars (ulama) and Muslim intellectuals against participating in those TV channel debates whose “only purpose is to insult and make a mockery of Islam and Muslims”. All the right thinking and law abiding citizens of the country should welcome the appeal.
Journalists in today’s world
A good journalist is always supposed to honour socio-cultural sensibilities of every religious, regional and linguistic group. He/she should present all shades of the opinion sincerely, without bias. When it comes to taking sides, he/she should stand with the underdog, not the rich and the mighty. But what is being passed off as journalism today is in a complete contrast to the ethical journalism we have been taught in our class.
I feel ashamed to see that most of the journalists today have reduced themselves to the status of subservience to the powers that be. They are sycophants of their employers and subservient to the ruling elite. Instead of following the constitutional ideals of secularism, they have opted to serve the cause of rabidly communal and Islamophobic vested interest groups.
The situation of the Hindi media, particularly the mainstream Hindi channels, is still worse off. Hindi TV channels neither have an inclination to follow the basic ethics of journalism, nor do they have any respect for the constitution.
The demarcation line between the market and the editorial has blurred for most of the mainstream media platforms today. The conscience of reporters has been almost sacrificed for petty pecuniary gains. The anchor has become the focal point around which the entire media house revolves. Every anchor, irrespective of the level of knowledge of the field and the book he/she possesses, tries to dabble in every issue under the sun. The anchor considers him/herself no less than a “superstar” in popularity, and no less than a “dictator” in authority during the TV debates.
No doubt the media has always worked under the pressure of the ruling establishment, but there are instances where media houses showed their spine whenever it matters the most. But now, things have completely changed. Today, following the diktats coming from the top is the only virtue in journalism. Ideally the debate should be conducted in a way that it reaches a logical conclusion. But here, with the match no longer open, the result is always fixed before the game starts. In other words match-fixing has become a norm in the media houses.
Trend of Darbari journalists
The deal is struck by the political masters, the owners of the media houses and anchors. The editorial diversity and contestation within are not seen. The marginalised but independent voices have no place in the media’s scheme of things. The fearless and honest groups of reporters and correspondents are replaced with darbari (official) journalists. The communal elements, who once were active as spokespersons of a particular party, have now refashioned themselves as “reporters” and “journalists”.
Considering the dubious nature of such debates, why would any serious and socially-committed person join the TV debate? Given a choice, I would opt for a big ‘NO’.
Karl Marx once asked the workers to fight for their rights with the slogan, “The proletarians have nothing to lose, but their chains. They have a world to win”. Today, let me rephrase this Marxian maxim, “The Muslim participants have everything to lose and nothing to gain by sitting among the merchants of hate on the popular TV channels”.
‘Should we not use their channel to spread our point of view,’ a Muslim leader asked me on in response to my plea to avoid going to the TV debates. My reply to the gentleman was that a Muslim participant of the debate could get a few thousand rupees. But does the amount match with the damage caused to his community, and the secular fabric of the country at large?
Today a large number of people from the majority community have developed a deep resentment for Muslims in particular and secular forces in general. How could such a worse change be made? The answer is the minds of a large section of the majority community are being filled with the gun powder of hatred by these media channels day in and day out. The intellectual sharpness of our people is battered by the news anchors whose only job is to run a misinformation campaign and thereby vitiate the atmosphere with hatred.
Another motive for these Muslim participants of the debate could be to attain fame. True, coming live on a popular TV is a big attraction for most people. Who does not feel happy on receiving a comment from an unknown person, “I have seen you on a TV debate”. Sometimes, the urge for wealth is less intense than the urge to become famous.
I won’t say becoming famous is a bad thing, but the shortcut to fame is certainly unethical. No doubt there is every possibility that your provocative statement in a controversial TV debate will make you a known face in society. But the popularity of such a dubious nature will go as fast as it comes as a saying goes “easy come, easy go”.
Hence, all those who think visiting a newsroom and coming live on TV is helpful in one’s image building and getting larger public attention are requested to weigh the consequences thereof.
Calculated move to keep the communal flame burning
After all, the TV channels do not conduct the debates with a motive to develop critical thinking or bring Hindus and Muslims closer. It is their calculated move to keep the communal flame burning. Since profit and popularity are the driving force for their anti-Muslim perspective, the Muslim participants and the secular forces should not walk into their trap.
I have come to know that several popular Muslim faces prefer these communal channels to the small and alternative media houses run by Muslim journalists. These Muslim leaders, who are always ready to give an interview to big corporate media, hardly pick up the calls from a Muslim journalist for a statement or a bite. These Muslim leaders do not want to understand the simple fact that by participating in communal TV debates, they are giving these media houses legitimacy.
I don’t mean Muslims should not speak up. Of course, they should, it’s their right to put forward their viewpoint. But they need to use their discretion in choosing the platform. They should opt for the secular media that include several small platforms run by the young Muslim journalists. They can use their own social media platform to air their point of view.
One should not forget that it is the vested interests that project a Hyderabad-based party with a Muslim president as the real Opposition to the government, the country and the Hindus and the sole spokesperson of an entire community. He is invited to the TV channels not because they are willing to listen to an educated person, but because his bite helps create a binary and a narrative against Muslims. His statements give the communal media a ruse to play sectarian politics by demonising an entire community by juxtaposing them with that of a Hindutva leader hailed as representative of the entire Hindu community and therefore passed off as “secular” and “nationalist”.
The popular Muslim MP should know the simple fact that only speaking intellectually is nothing unless coupled with deep contemplation. Knowledge and theory without practicing on the ground are empty. A change can be brought about only through a combination of the two.
Appeal to Muslims
My sincere appeal to Muslims to boycott the communal TV channels equally applies to Hindus. The majority community has a larger responsibility to restore peace and harmony. The Hindu participants should send out a clear message to the communal media. Advertisers should also maintain a distance from these Islamophobic channels.
We need to protest, but our protest against the hatemongers should be democratic and peaceful. A beginning can be made by keeping a long distance from them while we look for and support alternative media for dissemination of our goodwill. We need a big chain of free, fair and independent media working at the grassroots level.
Dr Abhay Kumar is a Delhi-based independent journalist and writer. He did his PhD (Modern History) from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He also teaches Political Science and Urdu. You may write to him at email@example.com.
The article was first published by Clarion India