Boycott channels that spread prejudice, hate
Let me start by giving credit where it’s due — to Rajiv Bajaj, the managing director of Bajaj Auto, and Avay Shukla, a former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, whose recent blogs have been riveting reading. They’ve suggested a way we can tackle news channels that deliberately provoke prejudice and hate to increase their viewership. It could be very effective provided we are united and determined. In fact, what they’ve proposed is something we could have done at any point of time if only it had occurred to us.
Bajaj took the first step when he announced “a wise but simple decision” to stop advertising on channels that spread hatred. “A friend told me that you can do something about this,” he said. “Stop funding this hate”. So Bajaj literally put his money where his mouth is.
Bajaj Auto is a major advertiser and withdrawal of its advertisements will hurt the offending channels. Encouraged by this example, Parle followed suit. However, it plans to go one step further. “We are exploring possibilities wherein other advertisers can come together and sort of put a restraint on their advertising spends … so there’s some clear signal to all news channels that they better change their content,” Parle’s Krishnarao Buddha told Mint.
Avay Shukla, in a piece for The Wire, has compiled the names of the advertisers on three channels that are perhaps the most offending. Their patronage determines whether the farrago of hate that’s embittering our society and dangerously dividing us continues or abates.
I don’t know how Indian companies will respond but Shukla recalls the principled manner in which their counterparts in the West have acted. When Facebook refused to curb racist comments Adidas, Diaggeo, Ford, Honda, Hershey’s, Coca Cola and Hewlett-Packard withdrew advertising. Separately, an American group called Sleeping Giants convinced 4,000 companies to boycott Breitbart, a website that spreads racism and hatred.
In fact, something similar has happened in India. A campaign launched in France by Indian Alliance, a diaspora group, has persuaded Renault to boycott two Indian TV channels since May. Are we capable of persuading companies, whose products we buy and whose profits depend on our custom, to reconsider their patronage of offensive channels?
This is where you and I come in. All we have to do is stop watching the channels. This should not be difficult because many of us profess to dislike them. So if you really don’t approve, don’t switch them on. It’s literally as simple as that.
Now, if we stop watching, corporations will have an additional reason to stop advertising. It’s our eyeballs they’re after but if we’re watching something else, the advertisers are also likely to relocate.
Rajiv Bajaj and Parle have set a moral example, but we can do more than just wait to see how many other industrialists follow their lead. We can encourage them to do so. This second part is, therefore, a critical test of our conviction. Do we really mean what we say when we loudly proclaim our dislike of and aversion to these channels? And, then, do we have the strength to act? Or are we hypocrites who say one thing but do another?
In the 1970s and 1980s, when South African apartheid provoked strong emotions, many people in Britain refused to buy the country’s products. Consequently, several department stores refused to sell them. Those who continued faced huge protests from the anti-apartheid movement. Soon major retailers such as Marks and Spencer and popular grocers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s caved in.
As a result, between 1983 and 1986, British imports of South African textiles and clothing fell by 35%. An opinion poll in June 1986 found that 27% of British people were boycotting South African products.
So the power to act is in our hands. Bajaj and Parle have done what they can. Will the rest of us do what’s in our power? Or will we continue to complain but fail to act?