Several vernacular TV channels are in the dock over the large-scale violence that swept India’s IT capital over the Cauvery water dispute earlier this week, with critics alleging they fed mob hysteria for better TRPs.
One popular Kannada channel went to the extent of hailing arsonists as ‘brave Kannada activists’. Some others magnified the violence as ‘justified acts of defiance’ against a court ruling that deprived Karnataka of its rightful share of Cauvery waters.
“I am aghast,” lamented Girish Nikam, a news anchor with Rajya Sabha TV. “They have stopped doing journalism and have become agent provocateurs.”
The tone of the TV anchors got shriller as violence escalated. They began to describe the physical assaults as “beaten to pulp”, “mauled”, “hammered” and “thrashed”. Some of them added fuel by claiming that Kannadigas attacked in Tamil Nadu were denied treatment in hospitals.
Dr Niranjan Vanalli, professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Mysore, says many of the channels took an overtly simplistic and macho tone without realising the serious implications of their coverage. “Why are media persons acting like they are the judiciary?”
But sanity was in short supply at the peak of the violence and several TV anchors got carried away.
“This happens every time Jayalalithaa comes to power. What have we done to her that she troubles our farmers so much? She has forgotten she was born in Karnataka and Mysore royals had provided shelter to her and her mother,” one news anchor railed.
Media experts say the competitive jingoism on TV channels began after a Tamil engineering student was beaten up for allegedly mocking Kannadiga actors on social media. The footage was broadcast on loop and one channel claimed the attackers were ‘justifiably enraged’. Passions rose soon after and hours later, a Kannadiga-owned hotel was petrol-bombed in Chennai.
(By arrangement with GRIST Media)