Over the course of this month, as the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), have been in combat with the government, a separate battle has raged within the media. This battle, fuelled by allegedly manufactured footage which suggested that some JNU students shouted pro-Pakistan slogans more than a fortnight ago, will be remembered for several firsts.
There have always been wars over TRP—Television Rating Points that determine the popularity of a programme—between television networks. But, for the first time, there was an open breach in the ranks as the language divide was trumped by ideological divisions, even as senior TV anchors and journalists appeared locked in a public spat. Hindi networks such as Zee News and the English Times Now occupied one end of the spectrum, parroting the “us versus them”, the “national versus anti-national” dichotomy. Others such as CNN-IBN and individual anchors such as Ravish Kumar from NDTV occupied the other end. In fact, CNN-IBN is the only network which announce that it would not use the unverified footage relating to the issue doing the rounds of social media. Additionally, and not for the first time,what could be seen in full measure was how the ‘outrage’ manufactured in the social media fed into the outrage created by mainstream TV networks and vice versa as they joined hands to launch a wholesale attack on JNU. This manufactured outrage was truly ‘Make in India.’ In the process, little known networks such as News X that had initially struggled with ratings, took the same stance as Times Now and finally got some traction.
On Monday, 22 February 2016, Zee news network, rattled by the resignation of one of its employees who alleged no one had shouted, “Pakistan Zindabad” in the raw footage, inexplicably dropped its star anchor Sudhir Chaudhary and invited viewers into the editing studio to explain how the video editor identified the allegedly pro-Pakistan slogan amid the din of the event. None of us emerged any wiser. Intriguingly, Pawan Nara, the Zee News reporter covering the event in JNU never took sound bites from the alleged pro-Pakistani protestors—a regular drill for any reporter. In fact, in an earlier episode that carried grainy night-time footage of alleged pro-Pakistani protesters screaming “Bharat ki barbadi” there is little to indicate the date, time or even the location of those protesting. It could well have been Pakistan. An episode of DNA—a prime-time show on Zee News that is hosted by Chaudhary—that was broadcast on 11 February, helps illustrate how the entire “anti-national” JNU narrative was cleverly manufactured by the editors. The voice-over oscillates between three distinct sets of visuals, each with different narratives that are separated both spatially and temporally. These include, the JNU students shouting “Azadi” on 9 February on the campus—the day of the alleged incident; one single still-photo of an event remembering Mohammad Afzal’s “martyrdom” at Delhi’s Press Club of India; and night-time visuals of people calling for India’s destruction with little to indicate where this was happening. But the voice-over makes no distinction and cleverly sticks to a pre-determined editorial agenda—all JNU students are pro-Pakistan anti-nationals.
Ironically, it is this footage that reportedly resulted in the Delhi police’s FIR against the students that has created a national crisis, leaving the Modi government clueless. The question to ask is whether Subhash Chandra, chairman of the Zee network, and his editor Sudhir Chaudhary—both of whom are named in the Delhi Police FIR in the alleged Rs 100 crore extortion charges slapped by Congress MP and steel magnate Naveen Jindal—are ingratiating themselves with the investigators. The tide has already turned for Chaudhary, who spent 20 days in Delhi’s Tihar Jail in 2012 because of the alleged extortion case. The Modi government has rewarded him with X category security citing “threat perceptions” that appear to have arisen out of the very same extortion case. Chandra is now a card-holding member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who has also unsuccessfully sought tickets from the party for the Hissar Lok Sabha and the Assembly seat twice. In his book The Z Factor, Chandra speaks of his long standing association with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his frosty relations with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee because Brajesh Mishra—India’s first National Security Advisor, who passed away in 2012—and Ranjan Bhattacharya—who is married to Vajpayee’s foster daughter—did not like his proximity “to the top brass of the RSS.” Chandra also blamed Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Congress, for conspiring to frame him in the extortion case. Chandra’s book seemed to find favour with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who unveiled the autobiography in January this year.
Once the footage went on air, events moved fast. A letter to Home Minister Rajnath Singh by the East Delhi Member of Parliament Maheish Girri demanded that an FIR against the “anti-national” students be filed by the Delhi police. Social media erupted into a frenzy with the outrage crystallising along the binaries of ‘nationalist’ and the ‘anti-nationalist’—those against and those in support of the students a stance that was already posited by television news debate shows.