Some questions for the media: Is Hindustan Times an agent of free press or of political propaganda?

  1. In October 2016, a young BJP activist, Ramith was murdered in broad daylight while out to get medicines for his pregnant sister. This happened in Kerala Chief Minister’s native village, Pinarayi, and the accused are the activists of the Chief Minister’s party, CPI(M). He was the second victim of leftist violence in his family. His father, Uthaman, too was murdered by CPI(M) cadres in 2002.
  2. In December 2016, the house of a former Panchayat member who represented BJP, Kannan, was attacked by Mr. Vijayan’s party members in Palakkad district of Kerala. The attackers locked up Kannan, his wife Vimala and his brother Radhakrishnan in the house and set it on fire. Vimala and Radhakrishnan later succumbed to their burns.
  3. In January 2017, Santosh was hacked to death in his own house while his wife and daughter were away participating in a cultural festival for school students. Santosh’s crime was contesting local body elections as a BJP candidate in a CPI(M) party village. This incident happened in the assembly constituency represented by Mr. Vijayan, Dharmadom.
  4. In February  2017, a 20 year old Dalit man, Nirmal, was murdered in Thrissur district of Kerala. His crime too was that he supported BJP, Mr. Vijayan’s political adversary.
  5. In another incident that happened in February 2017, activists of SFI, the students union affiliated to Mr. Vijayan’s party, physically assaulted a young man and his two female friends at Trivandrum University College. They were sitting together and watching a play in the college campus which the comrades did not approve of.
  6. In yet another February 2017 incident, the vice-president of Kerala unit of BJP and a prominent Dalit political figure, Dr P.P.Vava was so brutally assaulted by the Kerala police that he  lost an eye. Dr Vava’s offence was that he expressed solidarity with the students of Kerala Law Academy who were protesting the corrupt college administration that is closely aligned with Mr. Vijayan’s party.
  7. At the beginning of this year, a Member of Parliament representing Trinamool Congress, the party in power in West Bengal, was arrested by CBI for his role in the infamous Sarada chit fund scam through which thousands of poor Bengalis were robbed of their life’s savings. In retaliation, the students wing of Trinamool Congress attacked the headquarters of West Bengal unit of BJP. The party office was attacked with stones and other weapons causing several party functionaries to be injured.

If you notice, all the incidents that I have listed above are very recent. Also, they all involve at least one of the these: political violence, state complicity, police inaction and stone pelting. Yet none of these incidents managed to move the conscience of the editorial bosses at the mainstream media outlet, Hindustan Times. They found none of these to be gruesome enough, anti-democratic enough, fascist enough to merit an editorial comment. Yet, the same media outlet came out with not one but two editorials (here and here) commenting on the clashes between two ideologically opposed students’ outfits in a college in Delhi. Not only is the Hindustan Times selective in the incidents it outrages about, it is also dishonest in not reporting the entire truth about an incident.

The primary objective of their editorial comments appears to be to ascribe partisan blame and assign guilt. From different sources on social media, just like with JNU last year, it is not definitely clear as to what sequence of events lead to the student clashes. But what is clear is that there was use of force and aggression from activists belonging to both ABVP and the left (SFI/AISA). There have been claims and counter-claims of stone pelting, thuggery and harassment of women from both the sides. However, the editors of Hindustan Times seem to have picked their side and ascribe all the blame on students supporting ABVP. Notice how in the editorial of 22nd February, they paint the incident not as a clash between students of Delhi University belonging to different organizations but as a clash between ABVP activists and DU students, while totally obfuscating the fact that those representing ABVP too were DU students. So eager were they in political partisanship that Ramjas college is reported as Ramjas university, fact-checks be damned. It is the dishonesty and ineptitude of this kind that has brought down the credibility of the mainstream media among the masses to what is today.

In the more recent editorial from February 27, Hindustan Times has picked up the cause of a “martyr’s daughter” who, it is claimed, has received rape and death threats for having “vowed to not be cowed down by ABVP”. In continuation of their machinations from last year at JNU with Kanhaiya Kumar and at HCU with Rohit Vemula, the pseudo-journalists from mainstream media are desperately trying to elevate a Ms Gurmehar Kaur to the status of a resistance hero who is standing up to the “depredations unleashed by the ABVP”, all without being anywhere close to the scene of actual action. Though it is not clear how real these threats that Ms Kaur is supposed to have received, and only a thorough police investigation will bring facts to light, the editorial bosses at Hindustan Times are clearly enraged at this supposed cyber intolerance. At the same time, they have not even a word of condemnation against the real world violence and molestation that women students supporting ABVP were subjected to by the thugs of SFI and AISA. They didn’t even have to put in the hard yards to find those female students who suffered for having stood up to the leftists. Two such brave students have come forward and narrated their harrowing experience on the social media (here and here). While they are espousing the cause of a placard displaying Ms Kaur, they have totally turned blind to the existence of hundreds of other young women who are expressing an opposite view in their placards. It is this hypocrisy that has to be called out. It is this politics in the guise of journalism that needs to be countered and condemned.

At this juncture it is but inevitable to ask what Hindustan Times stands for, free press or political pamphleteering. As I said earlier, editors of Hindustan Times have clearly chosen a political side. News businesses peddling partisan political propaganda is not a problem nor is it new, as long as they are open and honest about it with their readers. The expectation of neutrality and even-handedness from Hindustan Times in reporting political events can be put to rest for good if they are open about their main vocation being not one of informing the citizenry but of influencing the voters. But as things stand now, they are contributing to further destruction of the already abysmal credibility of mainstream media with masses.

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