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Keeping it alive when ‘riots’ sell like ‘sex’

Without an introduction to explain the headline, I would like to ask a few questions: What is a riot; what makes a riot political; does aam aadmi (common man) participate in riots; does the aam aadmi incite riots or do the riots incite aam aadmi; does a media house keep riot news alive on purpose; does a politician, in garb of being secular, not let a riot news die down on purpose?

It happens every single time when, apart from stupid people from different communities, other stakeholders indulge in subtle ways to keep riots alive in public memory when there are none. Media is one such stakeholder.

Responsibility of covering the riots is one thing but constant playing of the message with various slants, is another.

However, they are let off because, in very apparent ways, they are ‘bringing’ riot news.

Let’s see this particular image, a screenshot of Times of India website, related to an incident of violence in Mainpuri, UP on October 9. This incident of violence took place a few days after the Dadri lynching incident.

image
Times of India report screenshot

The headline reads: Riot in UP’s Mainpuri… However, the introductory para has a different expression: ‘riot-like situation’. This expression is further explained as clashes among a rampaging mob.

Another expression which is used is a mob ‘nearly lynched four men’. If seen in isolation, it can be passed a general term. But, given the hashtag and trending topic of the time: Dadri lynching, the ‘lynching’ is not only a forced expression, but used on purpose.

What does ‘nearly lynched’ mean any way? Could the editor/reporter have not chosen another word? Of course, they could have but they didn’t because other word wouldn’t bring them so many hits.

The word ‘riot’ is defined as ‘a violent disturbance of peace’. However, when it is used in times when a mob kills a man for storing beef and followed by a communal aspect to all this, the choice of words could have been better from a media house like Times of India.

‘Riot’ takes a communal adjective along with it, without being visible. Media has a responsibility towards society. Selling news and providing news are two different thing. Here, SEO is the prime thing. Unless the words like ‘lynching’, ‘riots’, ‘riot-like situation’ are used and a small headline on homepage, ‘Riots in Mainpuri of UP over cow slaughter’, is used, the news won’t be clicked.

It is like all those ‘sexy’ headlines, images, stories spread nicely on the Times of India homepage. The only thing that is different here is: there is no bikini and Poonam Pandey, no seductive Sunny Leone to ask me to click it. So, the homepage editor would spice it up.

Times of India homepage screenshot: Sunny Leone's XXX secrets come before 'India' news
Times of India homepage screenshot: Sunny Leone’s XXX secrets come before ‘India’ news

The spicing up, or ‘sexing it up’, happens with giving a headline that might be misleading but goes with the ‘trend of the day/week’. These editors/media houses have a certain kind of fixation over trending topics which they keep churning, like a bunch of sugarcane in the juicing machine, till it depletes and turns in to bone dry fibres.

As you can see, the new sugarcane has arrived at media houses: Sudhindra Kulkarni’s blackened face. It is a small news. Small in the sense that media houses can very well cover farmer suicides, gender violence, corruption, policy failures and other news that actually matter.

But the news channels, and media houses, prefer saleability over usefulness.

It is like the Sunny Leone, Poonam Pandey videos on the TOI homepage which are timeless. As they call in journalism schools: they have shelf life. They are there for over six months now.

‘Riots’, ‘lynching’ sell at a better pace than any other news. It is all about presentation. It is the subtle way of media stoking the passion, the communal kind. It is like USA wanting India-Pakistan to keep fighting because it needs to sell arms from back channels.

The political fanning

As if, the ludicrous statements of sadhvis, sadhus and some BJP leaders were not enough, a non-concerned party (UP issue, BJP being blamed) jumped in to it. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal tweeted about an audio message over radio, apart from a YouTube candle-lit one, where he explained who did what and how one shouldn’t get caught in the politics of these riots.

This looks fine till now. But the words he carefully chose in the message are as disgusting as the TOI reports explained above.

How? Let’s see the phrases used: अभी दादरी में कुछ लोगों ने एक मुसलमान को मार डाला। उसकी हत्या के आरोप में पुलिस ने उसी गांव के कुछ हिंदू परिवार के बच्चों को गिरफ्तार किया। (Recently, some people killed a Muslim in Dadri. In connection to his death police arrested a few kids from a Hindu family of the village.)

He goes on to use words like Hindu, Muslims and explains how easy it is to slaughter a cow or a pig to incite riots in both communities. Then he, in his characteristic concerned tone, asks people to not to fall in to the hands of these politicians who spread hatred.

Why is this disgusting? He stooped to a new low when he chose to explain the riots in an area that hasn’t seen any riots or such situation after Dadri. How easy it is for him to tell Muslims that Hindus are after their life; how easy it is to inform that slaughtering a cow or a pig instigates riots!

And then, after fanning the communal passions in all the negativity, he somehow manages to bring the message to ‘aam aadmi’, avoiding the word ‘party’ but meaning the same anyway.

The question here is: what was the need for this audio message in Delhi where there are no reports of violence at the moment? Why spend public money that doesn’t concern the state at this moment? To score a point or just to waste away the ₹526 crores in advertisement budget when people are dying of dengue? Or is it somehow related to Bihar elections where his sworn enemy Modi is doing rallies and he has pledged support to Nitish Kumar?

Listen to the ad, look at the candle, and decide for yourselves:

Responsibility towards society

Responsible and concerned people (or organisations) use responsible words. They make sure if the same message could be conveyed in better ways. Kejriwal could have chosen to just say that Dadri incident is not good and all of us should live in peace and work for betterment of the society.

A message can be drafted where the message of communal harmony can be given in hard hitting ways without using the words Hindus, Muslims, riots, lynching etc. At times, we need media and leaders to get objective for the sake of society.

Similarly, Times of India editor could have chosen to not treat Mainpuri violence as Sunny Leone XXX video and given a better headline (and introduction) explaining what actually happened in the area.

In an age where people spend 14 minutes on whole newspaper and listen to ‘100 news in 10 minutes’, it becomes a big responsibility to craft the headlines, audio and video in ways that don’t instigate people. Media’s job is to inform and analyse, not to incite and fuel an issue because it brings more clicks.

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