In December 2001, a group of businessmen of Gujarati Muslim origin came from Canada to India to start a small project for the education of children from underprivileged backgrounds.
During the course of their visit, they met a number of NGO representatives, one of whom happened to be an aunt of mine. The businessmen finished their work and were to leave Delhi on 13 December 2001, the day the Parliament of India was attacked.
They were picked up at the airport for questioning. Within a few hours, a television news channel began flashing their names as 'terror suspects' who were 'trying to escape the country'. Not only that, the channel also flashed the name of my aunt and another female colleague who had met the Canadian businessmen during their visit.
The channel insinuated that the 'two women' were accomplices in the entire conspiracy. Interestingly, the Canadians were let off soon after and returned to their country, shelving whatever plans they had of starting a project for India's underprivileged children.
But predictably, the channel didn't care to air the news that the Canadians were innocent. Though the channel stopped mentioning the name of the businessmen, it continued to flash the names of my aunt and her colleague.
The colleague lived in the Kashmiri Pandit-dominated Pamposh Enclave locality and was thrown out by her landlord after her name appeared in connection with the attack.
The police investigation made no mention of these two women, who clearly had nothing even remotely to do with the attack. Leave alone issuing a clarification or an apology, the channel didn't even pursue the lead that it had showcased as its 'exclusive'. The news channel was Zee News.
In retrospect, it seems that the two women were fortunate. At least they were not branded 'anti-national' with their photographs pasted on the screen at prime time. Because this is precisely what Zee News did to scientist and poet Gauhar Raza for a poem he recited at the Shankar-Shad mushaira in Delhi on 5 March.
Throughout the evening on 9 March, it called him 'anti-national' and termed the entire mushaira 'a gang of Afzal Guru lovers'. There was nothing even remotely anti-national in Raza's poetry, but that is besides the point.
Many say that Raza is being targeted because he and his wife - activist Shabnam Hashmi - have steadfastly taken on Narendra Modi for his alleged role in the Gujarat riots.
In fact, it isn't Raza's poetry that needs to be defended. Rather, Zee News needs to be called out for the brand of journalism it is following.
On 10 March, over 200 academics and activists published a statement condemning Zee News for "singling out individuals and creating a mass-frenzy against them".
A day before it hounded Raza, Zee News labelled JNU academic Nivedita Menon as an 'anti-national'.
It does seem that Zee News is following a pattern. Nothing exemplifies this more than the role it played in the entire JNU sedition controversy.
Based on a forensic report, the Delhi government has accused Zee News of airing doctored footage of 'Pakistan zindabad' slogans being chanted in JNU on 9 February. These were the clips that formed the basis of the Delhi Police's case against JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar.
Apparently, the police were present on campus during the event on 9 February and saw no reason to register a case. That happened only after Zee News showed the videos on 10 February.
It also turns out that the entry of the Zee News crew into JNU on 9 February was facilitated by none other than ABVP's Saurabh Kumar Sharma, the joint secretary of JNUSU.
Were Sharma and Zee News aware that 'anti-national' slogans will be chanted at the event? If not, then why did the channel care to cover a small function in JNU?
Another incident that reflected the cosy relationship between the ABVP and Zee News took place on the night of 21 February. That was when Umar Khalid, Anirban Bhattacharya and the other students accused of sedition came out into the public after being in hiding for 9 days.
The ABVP is said to have objected to the presence of NDTV journalist Sreenivasan Jain on campus and, according to members of the JNU security, ABVP representatives said that if Jain was not asked to leave, they would ensure the entry of the Zee News team. It is clear which channel the ABVP trusts for sympathetic coverage.
If further proof is needed of Zee News' bias, it can be seen in the letter of journalist Vishwa Deepak, who quit the organisation to protest against its 'unethical' coverage of the JNU controversy.
"Are we the mouthpieces of the BJP or the RSS that we will do whatever they say? The video didn't have any 'Pakistan zindabad' slogans at all - yet we played it repeatedly to spread madness and mayhem. How did we believe that some voices coming out of the dark belonged to Kanhaiya and his companions? Due to our biases, we heard 'long live Indian courts' as 'long live Pakistan' and working on the government line, brought the careers, their hopes and aspirations and families of some people to the brink of destruction," Vishwa Deepak wrote in his resignation letter.
Defending his channel against charges of bias, Zee Media chairman Subhash Chandra denied it had aired any doctored videos and said Zee News was 'pro-India', not 'pro-BJP'.
To prove that Zee is not communal, he cited the Pakistani soap operas being aired on its channel Zindagi. It is difficult to understand how the two are connected - perhaps, like many in the BJP, Chandra conflates Indian Muslims with Pakistan.
Chandra's proximity to the BJP is well known. In last year's Assembly elections in Haryana, Chandra campaigned for the BJP candidate in Hisar, Kamal Gupta. Here's a video of him on the campaign trail. It doesn't seem to be doctored, but one can't be too sure.
In a report in DNA, which is owned by Zee, Chandra said he "will support any BJP candidate in Hisar" and that he had a "relation with the BJP for the last two decades". He even claims that he would've been given a ticket had he asked for it.
Chandra, whose full name is Subhash Chandra Goel, is a Bania from Hisar. Interestingly, two of Zee News' most famous spats have been with Hisar banias - Naveen Jindal and Arvind Kejriwal.
Jindal, the former MP from Kurukshetra, originally hails from Hisar. In 2012, he alleged that Zee News management and editors tried to extort Rs 100 crore for not running a story on his alleged involvement in the coal scam. Two Zee News editors, Sudhir Chaudhary and Samir Ahluwalia, were sent to jail and later released on bail.
About 30 km away from Hisar is a small town called Siwani, the birthplace of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Zee News has been rather hostile in its coverage of Kejriwal, a fact that was acknowledged by Vishwa Deepak in his letter.
"A continuous campaign was run (by Zee News) against Kejriwal, and is still being run... If I start compiling a list of negative stories run against Kejriwal, then it will fill several pages," he wrote.
Now, the Kejriwal government is initiating legal action against Zee News and a few other channels for allegedly airing the doctored videos.
The question that needs to be asked is: can news shown by a channel whose owner is openly biased in favour of a political party, whose editors are accused of extortion, and which has reportedly been caught using doctored footage to brand people as anti-national, even be considered journalism?
However, it seems unlikely that anything would deter Zee News from the brand of journalism it is pursuing. After all, manufacturing anti-nationals is truly becoming a booming industry.
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