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The media are biased: Exploring online right wing responses to mainstream news media in India

Authors:
The
Rise of a Hindu Counter Sphere
The Media Are Biased: Exploring Online Right
Wing Responses to Mainstream News Media in
India
By Kalyani Chadha and Prashanth Bhat
Merrill College of Journalism
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
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The Media Are Biased: Exploring Online Right
Wing Responses to Mainstream News in India
India’s national election of 2014 was significant for bringing to power the Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a decisive victory that ended decades of coalition rule
in the country. From a media standpoint this election was also notable for the extensive coverage
given to the successful party and its leader Narendra Modi. According to an analysis conducted
by the non-partisan CMS Media Lab, Mr. Modi and the BJP got close to 40 percent of all prime-
time television coverage in the run up to the election, significantly more than any other politician
or political group (CMS.org, 2014: 1). Some media observers even commented on what they
perceived to be the overt support of Mr. Modi by sections of the national media (Guha Thakurta,
2014).
But despite the recent favorable coverage, members of the Indian political right as
represented by the BJP and its ideological allies1 have long taken the position that the country’s
so-called “left-liberal” and “pseudo secular,” mainstream media—particularly the national press
which plays a crucial agenda-setting role—is opposed to the right (Sonwalkar, 2006). The
tensions between the political right and mainstream Indian media can be traced back to the late
1980s, when the BJP acting in concert with other Hindu nationalist groups launched the
Hindutva or “Hinduness,” campaign, an ideological effort aimed at redefining India as a “Hindu”
nation (Davis, 2004). Integral to the campaign was the proposed construction of a temple in the
northern city of Ayodhya, at a spot which devout Hindus identified as the birthplace of their god
1 These include a variety of Hindu nationalist organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang
Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
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Rama. As this spot was occupied by a 15th century mosque, the demand for a temple, resulted in
a dispute, which eventually culminated in the destruction of the mosque by so-called
“volunteers” from Hindu nationalist organizations in December 1992 (Guha, 2012). This was
followed by violent riots in several North Indian cities. Not surprisingly, these events, which
marked a watershed in the Hindu nationalist movement, generated considerable media coverage.
Interestingly, although some commentators criticized the “general culpability of the Indian media
in adopting a celebratory attitude towards the Hindu Right’s Ram Janmabhumi movement,”
(Ram, 2011: 20) right-wing groups argued that national media outlets which were intent on
“minority appeasement,” were biased against the majority and its authentic claims (Prasad,
2002). While right-wing outrage against mainstream national media continued to simmer, it
surfaced on a country-wide scale in 1999, in response to what the BJP and others perceived to be
one-sided media coverage of the murder of an Australian missionary and his two young sons by
activists of the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu activist organization. As one commentator put it:
The beating up of conversion-resisting tribals; desecrations of Hindu idols; a forced
exodus of non-Christians...None of which items were/are investigated or debated or
published by the "mainstream" media. Instead, there's only more of the uneven coverage:
Inconvenient details are systematically ignored; there is no retraction of bogus "news";
and there's the hard sell of an angelic Christendom suffering under a barbaric Hindutva.
At the editorial level, this kind of consensus can only be an engineered one (Bhosle,
1999).
Similarly, in 2001, a sting operation conducted by the news weekly Tehelka showed the
BJP president Mr. “Bangaru Laxman accepting a bribe from a fake arms dealer in return for
awarding him a defense contract, riled both BJP leaders and members of Hindu nationalist
organizations who condemned mainstream media coverage as a political hit job by a partisan
media (Chaudhury, 2002). However, the perception of a “left-liberal media bias” among right-
wing circles was perhaps most effectively reinforced by mainstream media coverage of the riots
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that took place in Gujarat in 2002, a state governed at the time by India’s current Prime Minister
Narendra Modi. These riots in which about a thousand people, mostly Muslim, were killed,
constituted the first large-scale communal2 riots following the launch of 24-hour television news
channels in the country and for the first time in Indian history, violence was carried “live,” on
television. In the coverage that ensued, the national press actively questioned the state
government’s failure to contain the riots and some suggested that the Modi administration had in
fact been complicit in the violence (Ram, 2011) and even sought his apology (News18.com,
2013). Predictably, such coverage invited charges of biased reporting from the BJP and other
right-wing groups who accused the national media, notably the English language press, of
“distorting” the issue and “demonizing Hindu organizations and their supporters," (Hinduism
Today, 2002). Right wing activists were notably incensed by editorials that called on Narendra
Modi to apologize for his government’s failures, arguing that such demands were not only unfair
given that non-BJP chief ministers were never asked to apologize for communal clashes in their
states, but also revealed the national media’s deep-seated anti-BJP/anti Hindu stance. As they put
it, ‘they (media) only listen to Muslims and ignore Hindus’ (Patel et al., 2002).
In 2012, Modi was finally cleared of involvement in the 2002 riots by the Supreme Court
of India. His acquittal gave further credence to the perception of liberal media bias among BJP
supporters and right-wing activists, who asserted that the highest court’s judgment showed that
the mainstream press had been unfair to Modi all along. Commenting on the impact of the
coverage, conservative commentator Minhaz Merchant stated:
Some columnists were so obsessively-and often viciously anti-Modi that they achieved
three unintended objectives: one, they eroded their own credibility; two they generated
unexpected support for Modi among readers who felt he was being unfairly maligned;
and three, they caused widespread revulsion in the public for mainstream media
(Merchant, 2015).
2 Communal riots in the Indian context refers to clashes between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
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Indeed, a pervasive feeling within right-wing circles seemed to be that “an entire constellation of
powers with a negative intent,” with a “galaxy of sepoys, especially in media and academia,”
was “arrayed against them (Srinivasan, 2016). But unlike media scholars and observers who
have criticized the increasingly “commercialized and corporatized,” nature of the Indian news
media (Rao and Mudgal, 2015) which has resulted in negative implications for journalism
including growing sensationalism (Thussu, 2007), a failure to focus on substantive issues
(Mudgal, 2011) as well as the growing influence of political and business interests over news
(Guha Thakurta, 2012; Chadha and Koliska, 2016), what sets the right-wing’s attack on
mainstream media apart is its emphasis on what it considers the “anti-Hindu bias” of the latter.
And although this sense of grievance is by no means new, it found an especially potent
avenue for expression due to changes in India’s technological landscape (Vaidya, 2016). Thus
whereas until this point, the Hindu right had mainly sought to counter what they perceived to be
the anti-Hindu and anti-BJP tenor of mainstream media narratives through publications such as
the pro-BJP paper, The Pioneer or the RSS mouthpiece The Organizer, they could now take
advantage of the tremendous surge in internet use in India as well as the growth of online media
platforms. Indeed, just as the medium of state television—through its broadcasting of the Hindu
epic the Ramayana—contributed to the rise of Hindutva related ideologies in the 1980s
(Rajagopal, 2001), the combination of enhanced connectivity and new virtual spaces enabled
right-wing intellectuals and activists to establish a variety of websites and news and commentary
portals that are characterized by an oppositional stance vis-à-vis mainstream media.
The earliest and initially most influential exemplar of such websites was niticentral.com.
Established in August 2012 “to challenge the mainstream media by providing an alternate, Right
of Center, perspective,” this site was shut down in 2015. Since then, the task of opposing
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mainstream news narratives has been taken on by other right-leaning news and commentary
websites. In this chapter we explore the discourse of Swarajyamag.com, OpIndia.com and
Indiafacts.org—three right-wing online news portals that are exemplars of the varied types of
sites that have gained a growing following among so-called “Internet Hindus,” and contain “a
new kind of ideology-centric journalism,” (Khan, 2015) aimed at challenging and countering
mainstream news accounts. In doing so, we aim to provide empirical insight into a crucial
component of the country’s emergent conservative counter-sphere, which offers an
institutionalized “communicative environment” for right-wing thinkers (Schmidt, 2008). We
begin by offering a brief description of both these sites, followed by a discussion of their media-
related discourse and conclude by reflecting on their role in the emergence of an increasingly
visible conservative Hindu counter-sphere that appears to be inspired by the “conservative
counter-sphere,” in the United States (Major, 2012).
Defining itself as the “big tent for right of center discourse,” Swarajyamag.com (meaning
freedom) states that it believes in “celebrating and promoting India’s cultural heritage,”
“secularism which does not pander,” and supporting the “integrity of India.” The news portal
which was launched in September 2014, evolved out of a print weekly founded in 1956 which
promoted quintessentially conservative values such as individual liberty, limited government and
free market economics that represented a stark contrast to socialist ethos that characterized India
at the time. While the magazine shut down following the death of its founders in 1980, the
owners of a right-wing website, www.centreright.in purchased the rights to its name and
relaunched it as an online news portal in 20143. Despite its relatively recent provenance,
Swarajyamag.com currently enjoys the most traffic among similar right-wing news portals in
3 The website also has a monthly print magazine.
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India, with an estimated 751, 136 unique visitors every month. It also has 496,007 ‘likes’ on
Facebook and over 42,000 followers on Twitter as of June, 2017.
But while the portal bills itself as “an independent voice,” its content— which is provided
by a combination of professional staff and independent contributors—makes its political
affiliation and ideology unambiguous. Articles with headlines such as “Why they (left-liberals)
don’t want Modi to succeed,” and “Radical Islamists are now looking to destroy Tamil Nadu’s
Dargahs4” give away the site’s ideological moorings (www.Swarajyamag.com, 2015). Not only
does its executive editorial board include several well-known right-wing intellectuals but many
prominent members of the BJP and the Modi government also contribute to the website which
contains articles such as ‘countering media propaganda against Modi,’ and ‘mainstream media’s
liberal bias.’ Like Swarajyamag.com, OpIndia.com was launched in December 2014 by a right-
leaning academic and focuses exclusively on criticism of so-called ‘liberal media’. The site
highlights what it perceives to be biased reporting by both national and international English
language press both of which it deems anti-Hindu and anti-India. Stating that “In India, politics
and journalism attract some of the worst brains, thanks to the system that has evolved over time,”
OpIndia.com represents itself as “an attempt to break free of this system.” By supporting
“libertarian politics and journalism that is free from the burden of liberal bias and political
correctness”. The website has 522,460 monthly visitors and is regularly followed by over 41,000
readers on Twitter and 108,000 people on Facebook. In addition to articles and rebuttals to the
content published in mainstream news outlets, OpIndia.com also invites its readers to contribute
articles and opinion pieces.
With a self-proclaimed aim of countering so-called propaganda against Hinduism, a
group of Indologists started Indiafacts.org, a website dedicated to the discussion of Hindu
4 Sufi Shrines
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philosophy, politics and media-related topics. The site is less popular than both Swarajya and
OpIndia but like them, caters to right-wing audiences. Containing the tagline, ‘Truth be told,” the
site “aims to provide a counter to the mainstream media narrative about India,” writings by right-
leaning historians, academics, and commentators on topics such as the “distortion and
appropriation of Indian identity,” the growing threat posed by radical Islam and evangelical
Christianity as well as religiously-motivated attacks on Hindus in India and abroad, enumerated
through its monthly Hindu Persecution digest.
Analyzing Online Right-Wing Media-Related Discourse
Mirroring conservative commentary in the United States with its attacks on so-called
“liberal,” and “elite” media,” the general contention of the right-wing online outlets that we
examined vis-à-vis national media outlets is that they are dominated by “left-liberal” journalists
who are inclined to “distort, inflame and promote a line of propaganda,” (Mukherjee, 2015).
According to these sites, claims to independence notwithstanding, the national press are actually
closely allied with political parties such as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which emerged in the
wake of the anti-corruption movement of 2012 and the erstwhile ruling Congress. As one
commentator reflecting on media coverage of parliamentary elections in Delhi and the victory of
its leader put it:
I have always had a sense at the back of my mind that the MSM brigade is too deeply
invested in the Kejriwal phenomenon and would try to reinvent him at some point of time. The
present Delhi election became a God-sent opportunity for almost the entire media universe…TV
studios were virtually converted into AAP campaign offices for the last one month wherein 2-3
supposedly “neutral” commentators of the likes of Aarti Jeraths, Dibangs and Manini Chatterjees
would sit and pontificate on the virtues of AAP even while deriding the ruling party (Patil,
2015a).
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While another noted that “there is a concerted effort on the part of the Congress to project the
current NDA government as UPA-3, and the media is playing by its script (Dasgupta, 2015).
Indeed writers on these sites regularly made the claim that mainstream news outlets had to all
intents and purposes been co-opted by the political establishment as represented by the Congress
party and that they tailored their coverage accordingly. Reflecting this position, a piece on
OpIndia.com stated:
If not for anything else, the ten year UPA rule provided innumerable opportunities to
journalists to permanently establish their credentials. There were so many flabbergasting
stories of misuse of power and corruption coming out from Delhi, that our journalists
should have been fretting over the agony of choice. But none of the so called top
journalists broke the 2G scam, Coalgate, Adarsh, CWG scam or any of the countless gifts
from UPA. The corruption was instead uncovered by NGOs, individual MPs, private
citizens and the CAG. Even more criminal was the lack of proper investigative follow-
ups to these breaking stories…Such lack of curiosity would have been mysterious if not
for the timely release of the Radia tapes which did a splendid job of encapsulating how
compromised and beholden the Indian media is to those very powers it is supposed to
keep a watch on (Guest Author, 2015).
In addition to characterizing mainstream media outlets as corrupt—sometimes referring
to them as “presstitutes,”— right-wing news outlets, also routinely deride “left-liberal”
journalists for their dissemination of be an “anti-Indian narrative,” particularly through their
coverage of Kashmir. Thus in contrast to media observers who have criticized Indian media
coverage as “overwhelmingly in favor of the Indian government and armed forces,” (Khalid,
2016), writers on the sites we analyzed, routinely make the case that mainstream media in fact
provide support to the separatist cause through coverage that emphasizes the “killing of innocent
Kashmiris,” while ignoring the deaths of security personnel as well as the “ethnic cleansing,” of
Kashmiri Hindus from the state (Sinha, 2016)and advocating for talks with both Kashmiri
leaders as well as Pakistan (Sharma, 2016; Simha, 2016; In fact, one writer for Indiafacts.org
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went so far as to state that “on the Kashmir issue, even the Pakistani media does not attack India
as much as left liberal journalists,” (Simha, 2016), while a Swarajya commentator held the media
responsible for weakening the position of the Indian government (Jagannanthan, 2017).
Another popular and widely circulated line of critique in the discursive attack mounted
by right-wing news and commentary sites vis-a-vis mainstream news outlets, is that the latter are
deeply “biased” against Hindus and Hinduism. This bias, they contend, is evident in the
mainstream press’s “negative” coverage of Hindu faith and culture wherein elite journalists and
media commentators are quick to deride Hinduism and represent its believers as “regressive,”
while avoiding any criticism of minority faiths (Manini, 2015). Underscoring this point an
editorial on OpIndia.com asserted that:
We find that in the news media, including that of India itself, anti-Hindu attitudes are
common. Hindus are spoken of in negative way that is not done relative to religious
groups whose behavior has been more violent, exclusive or oppressive. Anti-Hindu
statements appear to be acceptable to everyone and no one questions them very much
(OpIndia.com, 2015).
Some contributors go so far as to assert that even though they make up the majority of India’s
population, Hindus are representationally challenged by the “biased” national media. In this vein
a right-wing commentator wrote:
Christianity, Islam and Judaism have numerous news stations, media outlets, and media
analysts both in countries where they are in a majority and in those where they are
minorities. Unfortunately, Hindus do not have much comparable in the mass media, even
in Bharat5, which puts them at a severe disadvantage in this information era… Bharat’s
media is dominated by leftist groups, including well known members of Bharat’s
communist parties, who have formed an extensive network with anti-Hindu groups
(Frawley, 2016a).
5 The term used in classical Sanskrit texts to refer to India.
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Moreover, contributors on these sites also claim that mainstream news media outlets espouse a
type of “pseudo secularism,” that favors the rights of minorities and is inimical to the Hindu
majority. In this context, one commentator wrote:
India’s media portrays Hindus as a privileged majority, as if the laws benefitted them
unfairly. It promotes anti-Hindu attitudes, and encourages government and judicial
interference in Hindu affairs. And when Hindus complain about the brazen discrimination
against them, the media accuses Hindus of being intolerant... (Frawley, 2016b).
Apart from disseminating what one Indiafacts writer terms the “chronic hate Hindu narrative,”
writers on these sites frequently argue that national media outlets display active “partisanship,”
in their “favorable” treatment of minorities, exemplified in their reluctance to use the term
“Islamic” terror and their attempts to “humanize Muslim terrorists” (Sarkar, 2014) while
displaying little hesitation in condemning Hindu nationalist organizations as “extremist,” or even
“fascist,” with a view to discrediting them (Frawley, 2014). Indeed, this trend, many right-wing
commentators asserted, was evident in the writings of many “leftist” mainstream news
columnists who “portrayed Yakub Memon one of the masterminds in the 1993 Islamic terror
attack on Mumbai as innocent,” (Venkat, 2016) and questioned the decision to execute him
(OpIndia Staff, 2016). Writers also frequently emphasize that the national media has been
deliberately “apathetic,” to the religious persecution of Hindus worldwide. Emphasizing this
point, a Swarajya contributor wrote:
Indian media has done a “commendable” job in covering international events, be it Arab
spring, Tahrir square, Gaza conflicts to beatification of saints at Vatican. The only blind
spot has been the plight, or rather the disappearance, of Hindus worldwide, including in
India’s own backyard. This is quite inexplicable given that other events in these regions,
elections and terror attacks in Pakistan, have been generously covered…The apathy of
Indian media about Hindu victims of persecution has not been induced by the lack of
resources…(Sarkar, 2014).
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Others accuse the “liberal” mainstream press of failing to acknowledge what they perceive to be
the growing threat to the Hindu community posed by other religions. In this regard, a Swarajya
writer claimed:
Newspapers have not, over the decades, ever used the phrase “onslaught of Christianity”,
which is actually a more accurate description of what is happening through the
proselytization efforts of aggressive evangelical missionaries funded by the West.
(Venkataraman, 2015).
In a similar vein, another contributor lamented the failure of “secular media,” to recognize the
phenomenon of “love jihad,” whereby Hindu women were being persuaded to marry Muslim
men and convert to Islam (Kapoor, 2014). Meanwhile, many other commentators deplored the
national media’s failure to highlight what they term “religious” demographic changes in India
(Bajaj, 2016; Swarajya Staff. 2016; Aparna, 2016). Reflecting this view, a commentator on
OpIndia.com noted:
In India, see how the demography of the country is being systematically changed. North East
India, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana & many tribal & rural areas are falling to
massive, systematic, and organized Christian conversations supported by fake NGOs and
evangelical missionaries’ networks. States like Kashmir, West Bengal, Bihar, UP, and many other
parts of India are radically Islamized… This is further supported by complete silence from our
‘secular’ media (IntolerantIndian, 2016).
However, perhaps the most persistent and recurring critiques directed at the mainstream
press in the articles that we examined, was that these outlets engage in “selective outrage,”
resulting in “hysteria over majoritarian communalism/intolerance and a blind eye towards or
muted criticism of minority communalism/intolerance,” (Seetha, 2015). This—numerous writers
argued—results in biased coverage whereby acts of violence committed by Hindus against other
communities receive “disproportionate” media attention whereas attacks targeting Hindus evoke
little response from national media outlets. As evidence, commentators offered examples of cases
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that in their view, revealed the media’s so-called “double-standards.” One such issue was
coverage of the 2016 unrest in West Bengal. Discussing the incident, a Swarajya journalist
argued that mainstream accounts which sought to explain the mob’s violence as a response to a
Hindu leader’s allegedly inflammatory remarks, not only misrepresented the situation, but also
downplayed the incident because the mob belonged to a minority community. Condemning
mainstream coverage she said:
In Malda, the administration continues to enable the rioters with soft-action and political
posturing to deflect blame. Many sections of the media continue to aid and abet this. For
instance, a senior journalist, who failed in his duty to report, accused others of fanning
communal flames when they carried the story. The underlying message was to downplay
the events (Barooah, 2016).
Another example of so-called anti-Hindu bias cited by Swarajya writers was the murder of a
Hindu boy by three Muslim youths, in what the website identified as a religiously motivated
attack. Reacting to the incident a commentator wrote:
Indian media had extensively covered the murder of a Muslim techie by Hindu goons in
Pune but barely mentioned brutal killings of an RSS6 pracharak in Kerala and a BJP
secretary in Tamil Nadu or the rape of a 9 year-old Hindu girl by a Muslim. Your life is
worth an awful lot if you happen to be a Muslim, and you are a victim of violence at the
hands of Hindus – like it happened in Dadri7…When one Mohammad Ikhlaq died in a
hate crime at the hands of a few Hindus, a whole nation was declared intolerant but when
Sawan Rathod was brutally, cruelly murdered because he was a Hindu, it is made out to
be just a ‘law and order’ crime! If you are just a poor, uneducated Hindu kid of 16, burnt
alive by Muslims, your life is not worth the amount of petrol used to turn you into a
human torch! (Vaidya, 2016).
More recently, right-wing news sites mounted a similar attack on mainstream news media for
their coverage of recent riots in West Bengal on the grounds that they ignored violence by
Muslims (Chaiwaalh, 2017; Jagannathan, 2017). In this context, a writer for Opindia claimed
6 The RSS is India’s leading Hindu nationalist organization and the term pracharak refers to the organization’s
workers.
7 Referring to a case where a Muslim was lynched by a Hindu mob.
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It is clear that Hindu lives don’t matter to the ‘secular-liberal’ media. Not a word for the
man who was killed. Contrast that to copious tears they shed when a victim is Muslim…
In sifting through all the reports about the subsequent violence, I am yet to come across
one intellectual taking issue with the fact that the West Bengal police is taking action
against the victim (a minor no less!) instead of going out and containing the rioters…
Instead, I have seen media reporting on the original FB post calling it anything from
“objectionable” to “blasphemous neither can I find anyone willing to meet with the
family of Kartik Ghosh and report on the tragedy they have faced. It is as if Kartik
Ghosh’s life was less real. No one wants to ask who is responsible for the loss of Kartik
Ghosh’s life. Meanwhile, the death of Junaid Khan is being blamed collectively on the 1
billion Hindus of this country (Chaiwaalh, 2017).
The perception of Hindu victimization— reflected in coverage that is believed to favor
minorities while ignoring threats to the majority— thus constitutes an important component of
media-related discourse on these sites, where arguably, it serves to consolidate a sense of
collective identity among disaffected sections of India’s dominant faith group.
Negative Coverage of the BJP Government and its Leader
In addition to stories highlighting media neglect of Hindu concerns, another significant
focus of stories on right-wing news portals centered on what contributors identified as the
national media’s “biased” coverage of the ruling BJP government and its leader Prime Minister
Narendra Modi. Contributors to these sites routinely claim that Congress party which had
dominated India for most of its post-independence history had co-opted a large section of the
national media to vilify Modi and his supporters. As one writer put it:
The English-language media is the vehicle through which double standards in India are
propagated. The simple reality is the English press is out to get Modi at every
opportunity” (Bhalla, 2015).
For instance, on the Swarajyamag.com site, numerous articles argued—often using virtually
identical language— that the national press’s claims to independence notwithstanding, it was
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backed by “big corporates” as well as “left-liberal parties such as the Congress.” In the words of
a Swarajya writer:
The fascism emerging from India’s newsrooms is backed by big businesses and the
nation’s dynasty. Corporates and dynastic centers of power pose a threat to democracies
in every country. Indian media houses are ideologically configured (Ahmad, 2015).
This, they asserted, resulted in unfairly partisan and negative coverage of the present government
and its policies. Commenting on this, a contributor to OpIndia.com stated:
There are numerous other examples of political ownership and connections in media.
This insidious and incestuous relationship exists with the main objective of distorting
public opinion and manipulating issues to suit the agenda of a political party. Since it is
done under the guise of neutrality, there is a large element of deceit inbuilt into this kind
of mechanism of providing news (Bhandari, 2015).
Writers also asserted that the long-standing relationship between national journalists (including
those employed by the public broadcaster Doordarshan) and the Congress party “which was the
source of all favors,” (Patil, 2015b), led the national media to downplay” the successes of the
BJP government in favor of “negative” stories aimed at downplaying government successes and
portraying the BJP as no different from the Congress government that it succeeded (Dasgupta,
2015). Elaborating on this an Indiafacts writer commented:
There is no shortage of good stories coming out of India. Of course if you are outside the
country you will hear absolutely nothing of this for the simple reason that this will show
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in good light…Let’s face it, no matter what Modi does, no
matter what he achieves, no matter how he transforms this nation, senior editors, (pseudo)
intellectuals, (pseudo) seculars, (pseudo) liberals, writers, artists and (un) Civil Society
will continue to attack him 24x7 (Rajguru, 2017).
Similarly, a Swarajya journalist opined:
The Modi government has significant achievements under its belt, especially on the
economic front. And yet, barring the business press, the impression conveyed by most
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publications and news channels is that of a clueless government, which is efficient only in
pursuing a communal agenda (Seetha, 2015).
While a commentator on OpIndia.com attacked the English-language press for not giving the
Modi government credit for various policy initiatives and instead presenting them as
“repackaged” versions of earlier programs. As he put it:
Some are claiming that the “National Girl Child Day” of UPA was renamed to “Beti
Bachao Beti Padhao” program of the NDA. This is even more specious comparison than
the insurance schemes – to compare the celebration of a day to a mass campaign program
like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao! However, this is not result of some lack of understanding.
There is a clear agenda. To make these lazy accusations multiple times so that people
start believing that they are true. An influential part of the media is complicit in fanning
this narrative (Kumar, 2017).
Aside from their general resentment at what they deemed to be the national media’s unjustifiably
negative stance towards India’s right-wing government, writers also voiced outrage at the fact
that not only did mainstream media outlets dismiss popular initiatives like Yoga Day that were
“enthusiastically received across the country but covered with the same bout of sneering elitism
and cynicism that had accompanied earlier events of the Modi government,” (Shankar, 2015) but
more importantly, failed to give the Prime Minister Modi credit for any “positive” policy
changes. In this context, a Swarajya contributor wondered:
Whether the elimination of the idea of corruption which had become synonymous with
governance under the UPA, the time bound electrification of all of India’s villages,
unprecedented focus on agriculture through crop insurance, Direct Benefit Transfer
(DBT) preventing subsidy leakages and the planned massive infrastructure and
development from road to rail occurred in some other continent. Reading or viewing
exclusively that form of old media which elevates (often spurious) news of “Hindu(tva)”
intolerance as front page headlines, while often almost censoring the tectonic
developmental initiatives, does provide such an impression though (Basu, 2016).
Emphasizing that the national media were only interested in “sensationalizing” and “distorting”
news (Saraswat, 2017; Vaidya, 2017), several right-wing commentators protested that
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mainstream media routinely attacked Hindu organizations often “fabricating” stories that made
them appear in a negative light (Neelankandan, 2015b; Agarwal, 2017). Emphasizing this point,
an Indiafacts contributor asserted that:
The media is clearly being used against the RSS and affiliated Hindu organizations.
Rather than being the fourth estate of civil society, India’s media is more like a bludgeon.
It decides what is relevant to its pre-scripted scenario and cherrypicks information to fit
into its pre-ordained script. This propaganda is then disseminated and imposed upon the
public (Parker, 2015).
Meanwhile, other writers emphasized that although the prime minister had done nothing that
threatened secular values, he was nevertheless painted as an “extremist” (Sharma, 2016; Basu,
2016). Underlining this point, a staffer for the website wrote:
The end of this year will mark the halfway point of the Modi government. The Prime
Minister has not said or done anything so far that has threatened to disrupt communal
harmony. While it is entirely acceptable to criticize the Prime Minister in a democracy,
such media criticism has to be grounded in fact rather than bias (Sharma, 2016).
However, right wing contributors’ greatest ire was reserved for what they termed the creation of
a “false narrative” of rising intolerance and Muslim persecution by the mainstream media
(Vidyasagar, 2015; Vyas, 2015; Rajguru, 2017). In this vein, a writer on the OpIndia site
commented:
If you read and watch Indian media, and more importantly believe all the things they say,
you certainly think that since 2014, India has been a different place altogether. Suddenly,
Indian people have become intolerant. Majoritarian rule has dawned so religious
minorities (especially Muslims) are horrified. Fringe elements on the right have been
empowered by this ‘sympathizing’ government and they started pursuing their agenda
brazenly…(LiberalRight, 2017).
Meanwhile, writers also expressed anger at what they considered to be the national press’s
tendency to hold Mr. Modi personally responsible for this development. India. Underscoring this
observation, Swarajya’s editorial director said:
17
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Rise of a Hindu Counter Sphere
It is important to keep in-built biases in mind when discussing the heavily lopsided
coverage of “growing intolerance” in the country, a phrase invented to nail all the blame
for it at Narendra Modi’s door. It is worthwhile remembering that for 55 of the 68 years
since Independence, it is the Congress party that has been in power (Jagannathan, 2015b).
Indeed, many writers contended that the mainstream media not only “manufactured”
controversies related to cow vigilantism or lynchings but that they chose to cover violence only
when victims were members of marginalized groups. As one writer on OpIndia put it:
It has been more than 3 nauseating months since media started running a vicious Rising
Intolerance campaign based on cherry picked incidents to paint Hindu/upper caste as
intolerant lot and blame NDA government for this. Dadri incident became the face of the
campaign and Kalburgi/Pansare/Dabholkar murders played the supporting roles (Shaitaan
Khopdi, 2015).
Similarly, another on Swarajya.com wrote:
What is also undeniable is that the outrage against lynching or mob violence is highly
selective, to put it kindly. The same liberals standing with #NotInMyName placards have
been silent on the murders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers in Kerala
You can’t blame the Khattar government in Haryana for Junaid’s murder and remain
conspicuously silent over Pinrayi Vijayan’s lawless Kerala. For the same reason, it is
perfectly legitimate to question the media’s silence on the appalling situation under the
previous, Congress-led government at the centre (Didolkar, 2017).
While yet another commented:
This Intolerance debate sprung from the Dadri incident, where a Muslim man was killed
by Hindu men of his own village, for allegedly slaughtering and eating cow meat. This
act is despicable and requires condemnation. But, bracketing the whole of Hindus, 800
million of them, for the crime done by 50 Hindus, does it sounds sane? Not to mention,
the Moodbidri incident, where a Hindu man was killed by Muslim Men, for preventing
cow slaughter, can we extend the bracket there too? If whole of Hindus should be
ashamed and declared Intolerant for the crime of a very few Hindus, can we extend the
same to other religions? (Manithan, 2015).
In fact, many writers contended that the so-called “intolerance” issue was a “hoax,” (Vyas,
2015), propagated by the mainstream media (Saraswat, 2017; Bijapurkar, 2017).
Conservative Alternatives to Mainstream National Media
18
The
Rise of a Hindu Counter Sphere
In response to such perceived misrepresentations of right-wing positions by mainstream
media, many contributors to these sites emphasized the necessity of creating alternatives for the
expression of right-wing ideas and voices (Chaiwallah, 2017; Manini, 2015). In this vein, an
article titled, “Why the BJP needs its own Fox News,” a right-wing activist stated:
The Indian media like other left-liberal institutions has gone unchallenged for a long
time. Starting with the state-owned media, the channels have promoted leftist and
now far-left oriented narratives stifling any other alternative viewpoints. Today we are in
a situation where the ‘Right’ seems to have a space only on social media or big tents like
this publication. It’s important that mainstream media, especially English news channels
also create viable space for the right… What the Right and the BJP need is proper a
‘Right of Center’ mainstream English news channel like Fox News (Sethumadhavrao,
2016).
While the editorial director of Swarajya’s editorial team wrote:
Social media may currently be dominated by right-wing voices, but this is largely
because these voices were – and still are – stifled in old media. One should not be
surprised if anonymous voices on Twitter are often the same newsroom guys whose
views are blackballed by authoritarian editors with their monochromatic views on issues.
(Jagannathan 2015a).
Consequently, many writers argued that it was imperative for Indian conservatives to
“engage” with the wider Indian public via the development of conservative media sources.
(Prasanna, 2014). Not surprisingly writers exhorted right-wing intellectuals, journalists and
activists to reach out to ordinary citizens who are “fatigued and jaded” by mainstream media and
have “little time or sympathy for the kind of fraud that masquerades as political discourse in the
country, especially in the English language press and media,” on the grounds that they were
likely to be receptive to alternative sources of information (Ramnath, 2015). Such outreach, they
argue, not only includes presenting right-wing perspectives on traditional media outlets
whenever possible, but the active institutionalization of alternative spaces where conservatives
19
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Rise of a Hindu Counter Sphere
can develop counter-narratives and discursively contest the dominant media news frames and
discourse. As one writer put it,
Thanks to the advent of social media, we are now seeing more active participation from
the masses in the electoral process, more informed conversation on issues which matter to the
public, a challenge and a counterpoint to the narrative of the old media…But the while those
who are of a right-of-center persuasion have made a dent in the outer circle of power (electoral
politics, they lack the knowhow to penetrate the inner circles of power… India’s right-wing,
which is a very large umbrella, needs to add institutionalized intellectual heft online to build on
its current popular appeal among the masses (Abhishek, 2016).
Conclusion
Arguably, right-wing sites such as Swarajya.com, Indiafacts.org and OpIndia.com are
crucial building blocks of this effort to establish a right-wing ecosystem. Consequently, even
though some scholars dismiss the emergence of right-wing online discourse as characterized by
“rage, profanity and bigotry,” (Kesavan, 2015), we suggest that these sites are coming to
constitute a parallel discursive arena where conservative activists are not only able to articulate
their core principles but can also define their own identity, highlight perceived
misrepresentations, and develop oppositional discourses challenging what they consider to be a
biased mainstream media narrative. And although such activities have generally been associated
with subaltern groups who have developed such arenas in response to the politics of stratified
societies whose deliberative practices tend to exclude marginalized groups (Fraser, 1990), these
tactics have increasingly been appropriated by conservative groups who are not discernibly
subordinate but nevertheless define themselves as such. Major (2012) makes this observation
with regard to the conservative movement in the United States and we similarly make the case
that while there is little to suggest that members of the Hindu right are subject to social and
political marginalization, they nevertheless perceive themselves as excluded from the public
20
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Rise of a Hindu Counter Sphere
discourse. Right-wing news and commentary sites thus offer them the opportunity to “mimic” in
the words of Major (2012) the actions of subaltern groups and in doing so, contributes to the
establishment of a Hindu “counter-sphere,”— a discursive alternative to the mainstream public
sphere that serves to articulate a rhetorical assault against mainstream news media. And although
the impact of these sites is currently largely limited to urban, English-speaking elite, this
situation is likely to with rapid increase in the number of internet users. In other words, the
emergence of this counter-sphere potentially has significant implications and further research is
required to examine how this development affects both the workings of the mainstream press as
well as audience perceptions of media bias in the Indian context.
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27
... But while Modi has avoided the mainstream press, his supporters have emerged as a major locus of opposition to professional journalism, operating individually on social media platforms (Mohan, 2015;Udupa, 2015) and institutionally through the platforms provided by right-wing sites (Chadha & Bhat, 2019) whose content typically combines "emotive Hindutva issues and developmental concerns," as well as support for the BJP government (Khan, 2015). While several such sites exist, as previously explained, OpIndia.com is especially notable both in terms of the unique visitors that it receives as well as its explicit focus on media critique, which is why we chose to focus on it. ...
... And though we did not analyze content from other (less popular) right-wing sites in this study, prior research indicates that they too seek to discredit professional journalism employing critiques similar to those adopted by OpIndia.com (see, e.g., Chadha & Bhat, 2019). These attacks on the mainstream media are generally articulated through a discursive repertoire aimed at undermining the claims to accuracy, neutrality, and ethics that underpin professional journalism's occupational identity and legitimacy. ...
Article
Full-text available
Criticism of mainstream media as being “biased” has emerged as a defining characteristic of right-wing discourse all over the world. Such expressions are coupled with the establishment of right-wing news outlets that seek to undermine professional journalism. But while scholars have examined the operation of such outlets in the context of Western democracies, anti-media populism in the Global South has received little scholarly attention. Through a thematic analysis of articles published on OpIndia.com- a right-wing news site in India, this paper seeks to address this gap in the literature and identify the discursive strategies employed by the right-wing media to discredit the mainstream press in India.
... However, the earliest and most influential attempt at establishing a right of centre perspective to counter MSM bias was done in 2012 through www.niticentral.com (Chadha & Bhat, 2019). ...
Preprint
Social Media use by right wing political groups the world over has been a subject of much academic debate. Attention has been given to how these groups capitalize on social media for electoral victories, establishing a counter narrative to hegemonic leftist media and to gain support of their constituents. But little scholarly literature can be found on how social media users perceive these platforms in terms of freedom, fairness, neutral approach and balance towards varying ideological affiliations. Through a survey carried out among 500 Twitter users, the authors, in this paper seek to address this gap and explore opinions that social media users subscribe to about Twitter’s bias in relation to the right-wing in India. The results indicate that not only do Twitter users acknowledge the platform’s bias against right-wing forces in India; they demonstrate pro-active engagement on the platform itself to call out this bias. The study also examines the relevance of a Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) constituted by the Indian government to tackle the question of free speech and expression on social media. Key words: fairness, freedom, ideology, right-wing, social media, twitter
Thesis
Full-text available
crucial information, censoring right-wing views, and spreading 'false narratives.' Additionally, they advance the claim that the professional media act as the mouthpieces of the establishment as represented by the Congress party while opposing the BJP. Hindu nationalists also share a belief that the news media do not offer balanced, diverse, and impartial coverage. Further, right-wing actors characterize news reporters as individuals who are 'corrupt,' 'unethical,' and working to advance their self-interests. Broadly, these expressions of media distrust are articulated and disseminated with an intent to attack the professional integrity of journalists and to position themselves as the challengers to the hegemonic power of the established media. These criticisms parallel those expressed by right-wing alternative sites in the Western democracies such as Sweden, Germany, Norway, and the U.S. Likewise, there are similarities between the presentation styles and the editorial tone adopted by the right-wing television network, Republic TV in India as well as the Fox news in the U.S. Insights into the dominant criticisms articulated against them and their professional work by Hindu nationalists will offer journalists an opportunity to develop counterstrategies and narratives. The findings of this study will also provide scholars of comparative studies, a comprehensive look at the anti-media populist sentiment prevailing in a non-Western democracy such as India. In doing so, this study unpacks the distinct social, technological, historical, economic, and political factors aiding the right-wing actors in India in their efforts to de-legitimize the professional media. Finally, to the scholars interested in understanding the relationship between the right-wing populist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and India's established media, this study argues that a 'double strategy' is at play---where on the one hand the mainstream media is discredited through criticisms articulated by the right-wing alternative news outlets while on the other hand, the professional media is co-opted through various coercive measures into providing favorable coverage to the Hindu nationalists and the BJP government. These organized efforts by the right-wing actors have created a worrisome environment for professional journalists who resort to self-censorship instead of risking their personal safety and losing their livelihood. As a result, despite being one of the largest media markets in the world, content produced by various mainstream news outlets in India is increasingly looking homogenous and bereft of diverse views. Such homogenization of the mainstream news content and pro-government stance undermines the watchdog role of the media in the Indian democracy.
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