Indian opposition parties have pledged to boycott several television news anchors they accuse of spreading hate and of partisanship towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
“We do not want to legitimise this hate-filled narrative which is corroding our society,” Congress party spokesman Pawan Khera said in a video statement on Thursday.
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“We will not partake in these showrooms of hate.”
Congress is in an alliance of more than two dozen parties that are hoping to provide a unified alternative to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of national elections next year.
Activists and rights groups have sounded the alarm on press freedoms since Modi took office in 2014.
The opposition politicians have accused India’s clamorous cable news shows of being in thrall to the BJP’s agenda, including polarising segments on Muslim and Christian minorities.
The opposition bloc said its members would not appear on the programmes of 14 anchors, including some of India’s most popular TV news personalities.
— Pawan Khera 🇮🇳 (@Pawankhera) September 14, 2023
Raucous and combative debate programmes are a staple of Indian cable news, with sometimes a dozen or more panellists battling onscreen for a sliver of attention.
Opposition parties have long accused networks of failing to adhere to basic standards of impartiality and of unfairly casting their activities in a negative light.
Sudhir Chaudhary of Aaj Tak, a Hindi channel owned by the India Today Group, is one of those named in the boycott. He ridiculed the alliance for lashing out at hosts who “refused to lick their boots”.
But he also cautioned that the refusal of opposition lawmakers to face critical questions had put news outlets in a “dangerous situation”.
“Indian media should now respond to this with full force and unity,” he added.
The bunch of people who have been boycotted have systematically enabled hate against minorities. Forget boycott, they shouldn't have their jobs in the first place. It is the poverty of Indian journalism that enablers of the fascist regime are 'senior anchors'.
— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) September 14, 2023
Since Modi took office, India has slipped 21 places in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) global press freedom ranking and is now 161st out of 180 surveyed countries.
Journalists who do report critically on the government often find themselves behind bars and hounded on social media by supporters of the BJP, which has established itself as India’s dominant political force by championing Hindu identity.
Indian tycoon Gautam Adani, a longtime associate of the prime minister, last year secured a majority stake in broadcaster NDTV, until then seen as the last major critical voice on television.
RSF described the takeover as signalling “the end of pluralism in the mainstream media”.
Amit Malviya, a politician in charge of the BJP’s social media outreach, said the boycott reflected positively on the anchors it targeted.
“They should wear it as a badge of honour,” Malviya posted on X, formerly known as Twitter. “More power to them.”
In a column for Al Jazeera published on Friday, Apoorvanand, professor of Hindi at Delhi University, said “hate-mongering” TV channels have been relentlessly spreading anti-Muslim propaganda in recent years.
“Sadly, in many cases, what [Indian] children hear at home and in their families reinforces the bigotry they are fed by their television and phone screens,” he wrote.