There was a time, till recently, when the media, including news channels, highlighted the highhandedness of police; it slammed the cops and authorities concerned for the violation of human rights. No longer; today, in the age of the corona scare, the electronic media has not just ceased to be critical of the police for thrashing citizens; journalists are condoning, even lauding the beatings and mistreatment of people.
A large number of videos showing cops hitting at and humiliating men are circulating on the social media; many such clippings have also been shown by the mainstream media. Shockingly, there are scarcely any journalists who have said or written anything about human rights violations. Worse, the anchor of an English channel on March 23 went to the extent of encouraging violence against those not following the lockdown orders. Indians, he insisted, understand only the language of danda.
Delhi Police took a cue from this pearl of wisdom and the very next day beat a colleague of the anchor’s. What goes around comes around.
It is incumbent upon journalists—call it moral duty or dharma—that we uphold free speech, individual liberty, and human rights. Owing to various compulsions, we may not be able to carry out our moral duties in all circumstances; that is okay, because there is no human being who doesn’t compromise. But there should be some red lines; one of them, for journalists, is that we should not do anything that curbs free speech, erode individual liberty, and undermine human rights.
In their eagerness to please the government, however, some mediapersons have crossed this line; the above-mentioned anchor is one of them. But he is not alone.
There is a major Hindi news channel owned by a politically connected journalist. It has been showing a short, supposedly funny animation clip, informing the audience how venturing out during the lockdown could be hazardous for citizens. It shows how cops humiliate the offenders—forcing them do punishment sit-ups, making murga, and so on.
The message is loud and clear: if you disobey the lockdown rules, police will punish you. Don’t the channel bosses know that the job of police is to apprehend offenders? Don’t they know that only courts can punish a culprit? But there is the animation film; we are expected to laugh at the gross violation of human rights of citizens! Nobody has told the editors concerned that it is not a laughing matter.
On another Hindi channel, the Home Minister of a big state is interviewed. He beckons a cop standing nearby, takes his danda, instructs the cop to oil it properly and use it with impunity against those not observing the lockdown rules. He is actually promoting police highhandedness—without any consequences or even criticism. Not a word of protest comes from the journalist interviewing the Minister.
Drastic times, it may be argued, call for drastic actions. The nation—indeed mankind—is facing an existential threat. The spread of coronavirus has to be stopped at all costs; any measure that can help us achieve that objective is acceptable; ends justify means.
First, ends don’t justify means, for this idea torpedoes every conception of morality. Second, these are not drastic times for India. The COVID-19 fatalities in India are 0.3 per cent of the global fatalities, whereas India’s population is almost 17 per cent of the world’s.
The corona scare has caused more damage than the coronavirus itself; it certainly resulted in the lockdown which, apart from triggering human rights abuses, has done immense harm to the economy.
The scare has also tamed the mainstream media. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani famously said that during the Emergency, the press was asked to bow; it started crawling. The situation is worse now: it didn’t need any prodding; it started crawling on its own volition. Most journalists blindly and unquestioningly accepted the pro-lockdown narrative. Some of them are even supporting and encouraging coercion.
Such are the wages of fear..