Kannada media paints the coronavirus crisis communal

Kapil Kajal | Apr 7, 2020 | 12 min read

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By Kapil Kajal

The world is being torn apart by the novel coronavirus storm. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared 41,261 dead and 8,38,061 to have tested positive for the pandemic globally till March 31. In India, the number of positive cases stands at 1,860, with 53 casualties, as on April 2. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, seemed to have put a temporary stop to the violent protests that rocked the country over the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) not so long ago.

In an interesting turn of events, all communities are expressing solidarity towards one another ever since the coronavirus outbreak hit India. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing outfit, has extended support to government authorities, by providing food, shelter and healthcare to the poor and needy across communities. Some people from the Muslim community came forward to conduct the last rites of a Hindu man in Bulandshahr district of Agra; a Muslim woman from Jammu and Kashmir has reportedly donated her savings of Rs 5 lakh, meant for the Haj pilgrimage, to the RSS-affiliated Seva Bharati. Meanwhile, the Sikh Gurdwara Committee has offered guest rooms of Gurdwara Moti Bagh Sahib for the AIIMS medical staff; Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tilla for quarantine; Gurdwara Bangla Sahib for RML Hospital medical staff; and Guru Harkishan Hospital for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The Christian Coalition for Health has thrown open 1,000 hospitals with over 60,000 beds for medical services pertaining to the pandemic.

Despite the sea of humanity and solidarity shown by every religion and community in India, some media organisations are spewing venom. Vijay Karnataka, a Kannada daily, has singled out a section of minorities for the epidemic outbreak in Karnataka. The newspaper published a front-page report on March 28, titled 'All the dead from Corona are from the same community'. At the time of publication, 76 people were infected and three had succumbed to the deadly disease in the state. The report alleged that all three departed persons in Karnataka belonged to Islam, two of those were infected during a trip to Mecca, while the third contracted the virus during a visit to the Jama Masjid in Delhi. It added that the community members still flock mosques despite the lockdown, thereby spreading fear among the rest of society. "Hindus and Christians supported the government and stopped visiting temples and churches over the last 10 days. Only a certain section of people still gathers on the pretext of praying. They are not following the curfew rules and are roaming the streets, which has got civil society worried," it charged. 

The report further criticised the entire community pointing out a couple of incidents. In the first incident, a Bangalore resident Mujib Mohammed was arrested for posting a tweet, in which he said that people should spit in the crowd to spread coronavirus. In the second incident, three persons who were praying at a mosque were arrested by police. The report gave an impression that Muslims are the primary reason for 76 people to be inflicted with COVID-19 in the state. 

Commenting on the development, Fahad Khalid, vice-president in an investment bank and a paramedic, emergency first aid and rescue volunteer based out of Bangalore, said that it is shameful to make Corona a religious battle, when it's the time to bury communal differences and fight the pandemic together. "After the Tablighi Jamaat Mosque religious congregation at Nizamuddin in Delhi, Muslims are again in the spotlight. It is a failure on the part of authorities, who should impose strict penalties on those who break the lockdown as in many other countries," he observed.

"Most of the Kannada news channels insinuated that the Nizamuddin congregation was organised by Islamic fundamentalists with a sole objective of spreading the coronavirus throughout the country. The conspiracy theory is not confirmed by the government, but this is enough to fuel communal riots in the country," he said, adding that he is supplying ration and food to the needy in Bellandur, Panathur and Marathahalli, where 7,800 families are struggling for food without proper sanitation. "Will they get themselves tested for COVID-19 by paying Rs 4,500? Our country of crores has tested only a handful of people. While rationing food supplies today, I found one lady with all symptoms of coronavirus when we checked temperature and other parameters. We had to call an ambulance to quarantine her. The media should address these issues, and not wedge the Hindu-Muslim divide, for now at least," fumed Fahad. 

Meanwhile, Gram Seva Sangh, a federation of the constructive work organisations of India, issued a statement regarding the report of Vijay Karnataka: "The story was published on the cover of a Kannada newspaper and social networking sites are also full of similar news. We are spreading religious hatred instead of checking the coronavirus outbreak. When the governments are seriously involved in containing the virus, one should collaborate with them instead of spreading such news. Our governments have the constitutional right to reprimand wrongdoers and punish them if necessary. Let the country's solidarity be maintained at a critical juncture." 

Fake news aid Islamophobia

BTV, a Kannada news channel called Tablighi Jamaat a ‘virus terrorism’. Apart from this in the bulletin, the anchor asked Muslims why they always bring religion and god in each and everything? The anchor was also worried about the tax money stating that 1,500 Tablighi people have come to Karnataka and each test costs around 4,500 rupees, the money didn't come for free, we have paid taxes. He further added that If you don't like our country, go out and die, nobody cares and people like you should be kept in jail for life.

While many bulletins of Suvarna News, Kannada news channel owned by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its Rajya Sabha MP, showed their anti-Muslim stand. Suvarna news in one of its bulletin calls a Muslim youth ‘shaitan’, ‘more dangerous than coronavirus’, ‘corona criminals’, traced by Suvarna news, and shows a Muslim man saying that there is no cure for COVID-19, while in another programme, Suvarna News claimed that police are trying to find the source of funds for the Jamaat and says that funds have come from foreign sources. 

In one of its bulletins, Suvarna News claimed that those quarantined in Bidar are being arrogant, asking for luxurious stay, non-veg or home-cooked food and it was also claimed that doctors and the district administration are feeling exhausted with these demands but no such evidence was presented by them.

In a Public TV programme, another Kannada news channel bulletin, the anchor brought the same point as Suvarna News claim that Muslims in quarantine are demanding luxurious facilities but Public TV went a step ahead by saying that Muslims in hospitals are blackmailing doctors and nurses by saying that ‘we will spit on you, touch you if the hi-fi facilities and rooms are not given’. In a blatantly anti-Islamic tone, he further broadcasted an interview with an official who just said that the patients are asking for home-food, he did not say anything about how patients are scaring doctors. However, after the interview in which the official did not confirm any such incident, the anchor claims that the official is helpless and could not say what is actually happening. 

Apart from this, Public TV continued its agenda against Muslims in other bulletins as well. On the April 3 bulletin of “Big Bulletin with HR Ranganath”, the anchor HR Ranganath explained, ‘What Is Tablighi Jamaat’. Ranganath, in his self judgemental style, said that the chief of Tabilgi, Mohammed Saad is hiding somewhere in UP and how come no one knows where he is staying in UP. Ranganath added that a Muslim person in the hospital spat on the doctor, and that people should slap him and break his tooth. According to his understanding, in the bulletin, Ranganath explained how Tablighi was formed in a way that shows their enmity towards Hindus and India from the beginning. 

Digvijay News, a Kannada news channel, in one of its reports, said that the Muslims beat up ASHA workers and the anchor claims that MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan supported them while MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan questioned the government over ASHA workers duty and security. In a News18 Kannada bulletin, the anchor compared Nizamuddin Markaz to China’s Wuhan and added that this is the hotspot for India.

Vishweshwar Bhat, Editor-in-Chief of Vishwavani Daily, put out various tweets which clearly defames the entire community. In one of his tweets, he posted “While we are all respecting the order of the Govt & confined to homes but some section of people deliberately flouting the law of the land to spread pandemic Coronavirus across the nation. It’s shocking & highly condemnable. Why so-called secular & are Muslim leaders keeping mum ?”

 

In another tweet, he posted an animated photograph in which earlier the Muslims are shown as terrorists using bombs as their weapon to kill the people, and now they are shown as terrorists using COVID-19 as their weapon. 

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Disgraceful reporting: Senior journo

Siddharth KJ, a Bangalore-based independent researcher and one of the founders of Campaign for Ethical Media Reporting, asserted that a case under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 153A and 295A should be filed against the publication. Section 295A of IPC criminalises a deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written. Section 153A punishes one for making statements, speeches or acts, which promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. 

Dr Shashidhara Gangaiah, a pulmonologist in Bangalore told Newslaundry that the origin of COVID-19 is China and it transmits from one person to another very quickly. When probed about the possible communal angle to coronavirus in Karnataka, Dr Shashidhara laughed it off, replying, "There is no religion responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak. It is the state of mind and hatred which make people target other religions. This is a war-like situation where religions don’t matter. We can win this war only by standing strong with each other, not alone."

Now it emerges that not only Vijay Karnataka, but a Kannada TV channel, Public TV, also defamed the Muslims regarding the pandemic. On  March 14, the channel broadcast a news item that four Muslim youths from Bhatkal in Karnataka refused the testing for COVID-19 because of 'religious reasons'. The show was later taken off air. Some news websites like OpIndia and MyNation carried the information without bothering to check its veracity. 

OpIndia, in its headline of the article stated, Islam does not approve: Four Muslims who returned from Dubai threaten health officials in Karnataka, refuse to undergo Coronavirus test. Coronavirus outbreak: 4 youths in Karnataka refuse to undergo tests, saying their religion forbids them, was the headline of the MyNation article. Alt News,a fact-checking website, ultimately found it to be fake news. Alt News spoke with Uttara Kannada District Magistrate Dr Harish Kumar K, who stated that no such incident was reported in his district. He assured the process of testing of individuals returning from foreign countries was going on smoothly with full cooperation from all.

Trina Talukdar, a social activist, opines, "Xenophobia against some communities will only divide us and make it harder for us to fight the spread of the virus." Apart from defaming the minority community, Kannada TV news channels also spread unverified claims about coronavirus for higher TRPs. Some policemen even admitted on condition of anonymity that they resorted to lathicharge at public places on the request of several TV reporters. Still, some Kannada TV news channels continue spreading fake news. A local channel, BTV, reported that the sale of meat was banned by the government, which was later changed to the chief minister issuing a closure notice to markets and shops selling chicken and mutton. The news turned out to be fake, as Karnataka Health Minister B Sriramulu never made such statements in his media briefing.

A senior journalist lamented that while the media is responsible for providing verified information and facts, the Kannada media has reached a new low with its fake news and propaganda. "Even a global pandemic has been reported so disgracefully that a reporter’s hatred towards a particular community is published as a special report by a newspaper," he said, adding that media has to educate people about the hazards of violating the lockdown regulations, and focus on homeless people, those who have lost their livelihood and the migrant labourers returning to their villages.

Bhaskar Rao, Commissioner of Police, Bengaluru City, told Newslaundry that this is the time to fight a pandemic, and this is not the time in which the human should be involved in fighting with humans, in fact, such time should never exist. We met the preachers of every religion and asked how can we put the minority in confidence and how can we normalise the majority so that the fake news against other communities should stop and we all should focus on fighting out the pandemic, not one another, he added.  

The Commissioner of police believes in peace, humanity and love among the communities are needed to get out the pandemic but Kannada Media got their piece of cake with TRP on the top by defaming entire Muslim community due to the Tablighi Jamaat incident.

All India Dawah Centres Association (AIDCA) condemned the unjust behaviour of the media and AIDCA demands the State and Central Government to immediately take strict action against those who maliciously spread venom against the Muslims and released a press statement on April 1, in which they said at the time when the world is united to fight against the pandemic coronavirus, the Indian media is committed to play the communal game of Islamophobia and blame the Muslims of India for the spread of the pandemic COVID-19 and since a few years there has been a drastic increase in Islamophobia in India, especially the media houses. 

This hate didn’t allow them to concentrate on the solutions to get rid of this epidemic disease, rather put all the efforts on how to blame the Muslim community for the spread of the disease and with half-baked truth, the media started bombarding shows, the statement added.


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