Here’s How Well-intentioned, Sane Media Allow Hatred To Flourish
We’re doomed if even the best of us can’t find phrases better than ‘faux pas’, ‘controversial’ and others to describe Anantkumar Hegde’s hateful utterances.
The only skill that Anantkumar Hegde, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Minister, has taught his fellow MPs these past few years is how to say hateful things and get away with it. He’s one of the politicians responsible for normalising hate speech in New India.
On Tuesday Hegde wanted to know what proof Congress President Rahul Gandhi had that he was a Hindu? Here’s what the five-time MP from Karnataka said: “How did a person born to a Muslim father and Christian mother become a Gandhi? A Brahmin? Will he give DNA proof?”
The Indian Express (IE) began its report of the above with the following statement: “In a controversial remark, Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde on Monday questioned the caste and religion of Rahul Gandhi and wondered if…” The report’s headline? “Anantkumar Hegde’s jibe at Rahul:…”
Controversial? Controversial is better used to describe a Boeing model, an art exhibit or a red carpet dress—Hegde’s statements are clearly hateful, divisive. His remark is more than a “jibe”, an insult. He was making a casteist and communal election speech clearly targeted at dividing the vote. History has shown us he’s an expert at this.
Also, a special note for India Today which used the term “sparked controversy” in its report of this incident: In the age of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant with her own Netflix show, spark is a word that is more compatible with joy rather than controversy. By now we should see this for what it is—a fire and not a spark.
Read this News Minute report from 2017 that lists some of Hegde’s violent, divisive ways since the 1990s. He’s beaten up a doctor on camera, been booked for hate speech, rioting, unlawful assembly and promoting enmity.
News Minute is among the few media organisations that takes the time to remind its readers what Hedge has said before, rather than let his latest statement (and there’s a new one every couple of months) hang, uncontextualised, as just another of the day’s headlines.
When Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee chief Dinesh Gundu Rao asked what Hegde’s achievements were as MP and Union Minister earlier this year, Hegde tweeted his reply: “I shall definitely answer this guy @dineshgrao’s queries, before which could he please reveal himself as to who he is along with his achievements? I only know him as a guy who ran behind a Muslim lady.”
Once again, News Minute reminded us that Hegde’s well entrenched Islamophobia is only part of a wider system that breeds hate.
Yet IE prefers to stick to the meaningless word—controversial—to describe Hegde’s extremely hateful statements. “Union minister Ananth Kumar Hegde, who once drew criticism for saying the BJP has come to power to change the Constitution, has once again delivered a statement that could trigger a controversy,” the newspaper said in January with the headline, ‘If Hindu girl is touched by a hand, that hand should not exist: Ananth Kumar Hegde’ and the strap, “Earlier in 2017, Hegde was in the centre of another controversy after he said that his party, the ruling BJP, will “soon change the Constitution”, which mentions the word “secular””. At least here the newspaper references the fact that Hegde is a repeat offender.
The New Indian Express went one step further when, after one of Hegde’s many attacks on Rahul Gandhi, it titled its report: “Skill Development Minister Ananthkumar Hegde in yet another faux pas”. Faux pas? Really?
In a world where our elected representatives routinely spout hate—US President Donald Trump’s hate has been distributed in bite-sized pieces to the entire world through his Twitter feed—journalists everywhere are grappling with how they should cover hate.
A report posted on the Ethical Journalism Network highlights this dilemma: “Media are less conscious or perhaps more confused about their responsibilities in covering newsmakers who advocate intolerance. This is partly because the issues are genuinely complex and not amenable to simple ethical formulas. Best practice entails alerting society to agents of hate, but without giving them a free ride that exaggerates their importance and amplifies their views uncritically. It can be hard to strike the right balance,” adding that Trump, who fuelled the media’s appetite for controversy, was “arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee.”
This happens in Europe too, the report observes quoting Jean-Paul Marthoz, professor of international journalism at the Université de Louvain: “When radical populist parties reach a certain threshold of popular vote, some media outlets are inclined to adopt policies of accommodation under the mantra of journalistic impartiality and fairness. Others drop adversarial journalism to avoid upsetting an electorate that is part of their audience.”
As the Indian media grapples with a crisis of credibility for its laudatory, uncritical coverage of the political establishment, it seems unlikely that we will begin to use the right language to describe the hate of our elected representatives in the run-up to the 2019 general election. So the next time you see the word “controversial” think about what it really means.