25, Sep 2023 | SabrangIndia
A SabrangIndia Special Report
Anti-Muslim slurs by a BJP MP, Ramesh Bhiduri against a sitting Muslim MP in parliament seem to have been given significantly less media attention on Friday despite the fact that the issue was covered exclusively by international media outlets like Al Jazeera. The incident saw an erasure from the Primetime news segments which reveals a disturbing reality where big media seems to be revolving around the whims of the ruling party rather than on focussing on what the nation actually wants to know. Few debates on the infamous news hour on Indian channels actually dealt with the rank unparliamentary language unleashed by an elected official that was an ugly first for Indian democracy under the Modi 2.0 regime.
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Here’s how the events unfolded.
On Thursday, September 21, during the much-speculated upon “special session” of the Indian Parliament, a BJP MP hurled slurs and abuses at an MP Kunwar Danish Ali as the BSP MP objected against the unparliamentary language Bidhuri used for PM Modi.
The MP in question was BJP Lok Sabha MP Ramesh Bidhuri who represents South Delhi constituency. In a video that has since surfaced, Bidhuri can be heard delivering a highly charged speech with communal undertones while discussing the recent Chandrayaan 3 mission. He goes on to refer to MP Danish Ali as a “terrorist”, and “pimp”, and called for him to be removed from the proceedings, using further offensive slurs. The Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla had to intervene by requesting all MPs to take their seats.
This incident is a disturbing reminder of the growing discrimination, prejudice, and violence Muslims continue to face in India despite constitutional protections in place. The internet has been taken over by a storm after the video went viral. Kunwar Danish Ali has written a complaint against Bidhuri, and BJP has furthermore issued a show cause notice to its MP after the outrage refused to stop. However, as the pressure fomented on social media, we must ask what were viewers inside homes who access news through television sets watching? Did this harrowing incident make the cut? Let’s see how far and wide the coverage took place.
Our survey of the coverage of the event by some of India’s mainstream news channels on Friday proved to yield acutely disappointing results. Aaj Tak reported the incident and conducted a ten minute programme, citing how Bidhuri ruined the efforts for establishing the new parliament by PM Modi. The anchor, Shweta Singh, asked if action taken against the MP could be a “moment for learning” (sic) for everyone.
संसद के असंसदीय शब्द
— AajTak (@aajtak) September 22, 2023
The segment further discussed how these words were against the tradition and integrity of the parliament, as it played MP Danish Ali’s statement after the incident went viral.
India Today too dealt with the matter in some depth holding a debate anchored by Rajdeep Sardesai with Advocate Sanjay Hegde and and former MP Satya Pal Jain, asking if suspension or anything beyond suspension can be done to implement a precedent to prevent such abuse. The segment also featured Sanjay Hegde stating that ‘enough is enough.’
Similarly, News18 too covered the incident. However, the channel attempted to seemingly engage in diluting the severity of the case by pinpointing the limelight on Danish Ali making out the victim to be worthy of the slur, or almost. . In a news article on their website to portray him in poor light by referring to how he apparently objected to ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogans by BJP MP MLC Hari Singh earlier this year. In another short segment by CNN-News18 on what they call the ‘controversy’, the reporter, Pallavi Ghosh seems to spend significant air time time highlighting the INDIA alliance is taking this moment in the parliament to sway voters against the BJP in the upcoming general assembly elections.
The INDIA alliance is a name released by opposition leaders for an upcoming alliance for the 2024 general assembly elections. The reporter also asserted that the BJP ‘clearly’ did not waste much time issuing the show-cause notice as it doesnt want the narrative of the BJP being anti-Muslim to takeover, nor does the BJP want the the ‘emotive words used by Danish Ali’ to ‘divert’ from the work it has done. The reporter ends by saying that the ‘Bidhuri vs Danish Ali’ issue has now given an opportunity to Opposition parties to capitalise on for the upcoming elections. News 18 Hindi too did a short section on the issue. And Zee News (Hindi) did an afternoon segment on the issue this Friday, broadcasting Danish Ali’s statement.
Let’s have a look at the minimalist news coverage of the shameful incident in parliament in some of the channels guilty of being repeat hate offenders:
Times Now Navbharat
(No Prime Time)
#BSP सांसद #DanishAli के खिलाफ #BJP सांसद #RameshBidhuri ने की अभद्र टिप्पणी
सब्सक्राइब करें #TimesNowNavbharat
(No Prime Time)
(No Prime Time news segment)
(has done a 10-minute Programme)
संसद के असंसदीय शब्द
के साथ #10Tak
#RameshBidhuri #DanishAli #BSP | #ATVideo
(No Prime time)
Is this a fit case for the suspension of a session or something more can be done? ASG @SatyaPalJain
answer this and more Full show: https://shorturl.at/rtvyY #DanishAli #RameshBidhuri #NewsToday |
(No Prime Time)
Ramesh Bidhuri Today Speech | BJP MP’s Slurs In Sansad: Will ‘Hate Speech’ Be Punished? | News18 (Heading is BJP slur but video is on Women reservation)
They are trying to do character assassination of Danish Ali
BSP MP #DanishAli grabbed the headlines in August for strongly opposing chanting of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ by BJP MLC Hari Singh Dillon in his address at #Amroha railway station
BJP Issues Show Cause Notice To Party MP Ramesh Bidhuri | English News | News18 | BJP News | N18V
(No Prime Time)
Only small coverage in afternoon
Danish Ali on Ramesh Bidhuri Remarks: BJP सांसद बिधूड़ी ने BSP सांसद दानिश को गालियां दीं |
Zee News (Hindi)
(No Prime Time)
‘मैं रातभर सो नहीं पाया’ बिधूड़ी पर दानिश अली का बयान | Ramesh Bidhuri | Lok Sabha | BSP Danish Ali
What does this exclusion of any discussion on hate speech means?
The message one can take from these is that the abusive words hurled at the BSP MP in parliament are not that severe an issue for commercial news media channels, and that the attention and outrage it has garnered is something that is being dubbed “politically motivated in light of upcoming state and general assembly elections” (by the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, the party from whom the hate offender hails).
This seems to be a gross misrepresentation of the situation.
A sitting MP from a minority community has been assaulted with the aggression of anti-Muslim slur, within the portals of the Indian Parliament, is surely a situation that would ideally demand urgent legal attention? An immediate suspension? A party decision not to allow him to contest elections in future? In places like the USA, or even in India, identity-based slurs for black or Dalit communities are a cause for outrage and, in some cases, incidents that may be subjected to punitive measures by the legal system.
Furthermore, it is crucial to note that this news from the special session of the parliament did not make it to any of the Primetime segments of mainstream media surveyed by the team at Sabrang India. This disturbing outcome comes at a time when freedom of the press is increasing at risk in India, and there has been much discussion about how mainstream media has seen death at the hands of the corporate-BJP nexus.
In sharp contrast the channels responsible for this significant gloss over of such a shameful act in Parliament (News18, TimesNow Bharat, ZeeNews, Times Now, AajTak) have been over the past three years especially, guilty of the worst and most unprofessional newshour debates that further hate-mongering and stigmatising the minorities
Here are some examples
For instance, as recent as May 2023, Aaj Tak was released a one hour programme which had the title ‘Gaming Jihad’ with Sudhir Choudhary as the anchor. The show was allegedly about a gaming racket busted in Ghaziabad which was engaging in religious conversion of young children. The show’s tagline ended with the sentence ‘Is mobile converting you child’s religion.’
The anchor proceeded to peddle a baseless story about the possibility of four lakh children being converted by these tactics. These claims continue to have no base to back them, however Aaj Tak provided a full one hour coverage to them, which makes it clear that the show was seemingly another attempts at propagating false narratives to spread hatred against Muslims by alleging a conspiracy by religious minorities in India.
In another incident where Citizens for Justice and Peace, filed a complaint was filed against a programme by Times Now Navbharat which used the term ‘Mazaar Jihad’ in a show titled ‘धामी सरकार का ‘ऑपरेशन मजार’, ‘गजवा-ए-हिंद’ की साजिश के किससे जुड़े तार?’ It was broadcast in May earlier this year. The programme once again alleged falsely that the Muslims in India are waging a conspiracy to conquer India. The programme repeatedly used terms like ‘mazaar jihad/ zameen jihad’. This is a repeat offense despite News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) has, time and again, warned new channels to not use such terms.
In another instance, resultant of a complaint filed by CJP, the NBDSA issued a fine on on two separate incidents against News18 in February this year. The NBDSA also ordered the video in question to be removed from the channel. Thus, a concerted efforts at stigmatising minorities has been continuing at the behest of media.
This is corroborated by international media institutions. According to the latest report released in 2023 from the global media watchdog, RSF (Reporters without Borders) India’s standing in the global press freedom rankings has worsened. The report, released on World Press Freedom Day, places India at the 161st position out of 180 countries revealing a concerning decline. However, in comparison India had held the 150th rank in the previous year’s report in 2022.
According to the RSF, several factors have contributed to this decline, one of them being the high-profile raids on the BBC headquarters in India which had drawn widespread international criticism, and raised concerns about the overall environment for a free and fair media within which journalists are operating in India.
In contrast to India’s trip down the rankings, neighbouring South Asian countries have demonstrated improvements in their press freedom rankings. Pakistan had risen to the 150th spot from the 157th position in 2022, while Sri Lanka jumped up to the 135th rank.
The RSF report furthermore points out and stresses on how the corporate ownership of media outlets in India has changed the scenario completely. The report highlights that a majority of mainstream media in India are now owned by corporate companies with close ties to BJP and the PM Modi. The report states that despite a large number of media outlets, there is a ‘concentration of ownership’, and furthermore stresses that this is an ongoing hit against the declining press freedom situation in India.
Just last year, after great resistance from its founders, the Roy couple, a media broadcasting channel, NDTV, that was touted to be more neutral in its reportage was lost in the fight against corporate media. In August 2022, a new venture by Adani AMG Media Networks announced the indirect acquisition of a 29% stake in the company with plans to acquire an additional 26% as well. Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy had reportedly tried to prevent Adani’s influence for a long time but to no avail and accused him of a takeover without their consent or consultation as they resigned by the board last year. News 18 too saw a similar fate when it was acquired by Mukesh Ambani in 2014.
These developments do not bode well for the country or its press freedom as more and more of the country’s popular television news channels are now placed under the control and mercy of billionaires who have very close ties to the current regime of the BJP.