With journalists from several media houses facing physical violence, one would have expected to see a show of solidarity from the Fourth Estate. However, much to the contrary, the raging debate over 'sedition' and 'anti-national activities' appears to have left the media deeply divided. The latest indicator of this is the resignation of Zee News producer Vishwa Deepak.
More worryingly, the issue at hand is no longer merely a sharp difference of opinion, it is a much more fundamental issue of authenticity of the news content on which the sharply divided opinions are based. Referring to a purported video showing slogans of 'Pakistan Zindabad' raised by JNU students, Vishwa Deepak wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday, "Because of prejudices, 'Bharatiya Court zindabad' was heard as 'Pakistan zindabad.' In the process of toeing the line of the government, some people's careers, their hopes and families were put on the brink of destruction."
He further wrote, "I am beginning to wonder if we are journalists. One gets the feeling that we are spokespersons of the government, or perhaps, supari killers."
Vishwa Deepak is by no means the sole voice of self-introspection. In a searing indictment of the state of television news in the country, NDTV's Ravish Kumar said in a widely-shared broadcast, "Can we allow TV to threaten rather than speak, to separate some of us and incite them to violence, and call people traitors or anti-nationals?"
When journalists held a protest march after a series of physical assaults over the JNU row, the focus was more on those who gave the protest a miss. The response of the media was not very different from the one during the Emergency, when some media houses assumed a tone of defiance and others largely complied with the authoritarian diktat.
Just as in the present context, many were not willing to differentiate between loyalty to the nation and loyalty to a particular political dispensation (remember 'India is Indira, Indira is India'?). The confounded definition of nationalism appears to have led to the divide within the media, with some establishments not wanting to be seen on the wrong side of the 'patriotism' divide, even if it means not standing up for their journalists' freedom.
Another media confrontation over the alleged doctored video of JNU students involved Times Now and The Wire. While Times Now claimed that the report claiming that it had aired doctored footage was 'factually incorrect', The Wire, said, "...the recording of the hour-long show makes it clear that during his questioning of (JNU's) Anand Kumar, Arnab had treated the contents of the fabricated video (that he himself ordered Sambit Patra to play on air) as authentic."
The debate over whether the JNU protests are seditious or not appears to have divided the media in much the same way as the 'intolerance' debate had divided the art fraternity. The confrontational stance is increasingly being also fuelled by an aggressive social media that entertains no notions of a nuanced argument.
So, while some claim with complete conviction that the entire media is programmed to toe the line of a Hindu nationalist government, some claim with equal confidence that the entire media is running a Vatican/Wahhabi funded conspiracy against the government. The media, increasingly, appears to mirror this tone, speaking in black-or-white binaries rather reflecting shades of opinion.