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The Brown Sepoys of Indian Media

‘How dare you unwashed natives question the great British Broadcasting Corporation’, they seemed to imply, ‘Do you not know that the white man’s organization can do no wrong’?

A couple of days ago, Indian media was abuzz with the news of a  BBC ‘research paper’ on ‘fake news’. The report came to the rather startling conclusion that ‘Nationalism is a driving force behind fake news in India,’ based on a grand sample size of 40 people for a nation of 1.2 billion people. They even failed to notice the fake news spread by left-leaning portals and handles.

There were several things wrong with the report, limited sample size, faulty data analysis, giving examples of true news as ‘fake news’, shoddy translations – referring to ‘diwaliya’ or bankruptcy law as ‘law passed for Diwali’, and so on. Media watchdog website Opindia did a detailed analysis of the BBC report and its editor, Nupur J. Sharma wrote a scathing piece calling the BBC report ’shoddy, unethical and dishonest’.

The piece was widely received by readers. Even Trushar Barot, the digital launch editor of BBC – Indian languages  admitted that “some legitimate questions and queries about the research  have been raised”, while Rupa Jha, the head of Indian Languages, BBC world service justified the research paper by saying it was ‘qualitative research’, but stated that she ‘welcomed another view’.

While the editorial staff of BBC were polite and more than happy to engage in a civil debate with the OpIndia editor and readers who questioned their report, and even maintained that ‘discourse is the beauty of democracy’, the reactions of some of the journalists from Indian media were rather surprising.

I could understand if the Indian journalists who disagreed with the Opindia piece wrote a detailed rebuttal to the article, criticizing the points made by Nupur Sharma. That is what good journalists are supposed to do, take a dispassionate, objective view of the arguments made, even if they are made by an ideological opponent.

Instead, we had some desi journalists being more loyal to the great white colonial ‘Beeb’ than the BBC employees themselves. Nidhi Razdan of NDTV, that icon of self-proclaimed neutrality and ethical journalism sniggered on twitter that ‘OpIndia giving lessons on fake news to BBC can only happen in today’s India’.

The same sentiment was repeated almost verbatim by people like Sumanth Raman, a  television anchor from Tamil Nadu and Piyush Rai, who claims to be a journalist with the Times of India.

 

Journalist and executive editor of the Mint, Priya Ramani went one step further and dismissed the OpIndia piece as a ‘toxic troll attack’.

Swati Chaturvedi, the infamous ‘journalist’ who is known more for her temper tantrums and abusive language on Twitter than any serious work, called OpIndia ‘poop’, in a spectacular display of her usual class and sophistication and called OpIndia, a genuine media organization ‘a mercenary and low rent propaganda site’.

The most interesting reaction came from Abhishek Baxi, who claims to be a Digital Consultant and contributes to the Forbes magazine. He agreed with the point that OpIndia was making – that the BBC report is flawed because it uses a sample size of 40 people to draw conclusions for the whole country, and yet, he took great pleasure in ridiculing Nupur Sharma and seemed to ‘sympathize’ with people who read OpIndia!

Such toxic hatred is not new for Nupur Sharma, or indeed, for any of us who take the ‘nationalist’ point of view. But what was really saddening is that the Indian journalists seemed to think that the BBC was not a media organization open to public scrutiny, but some holy grail to be worshipped blindly. No one bothered to even acknowledge the legitimate questions raised by OpIndia, let alone take the trouble of answering them.

‘How dare you unwashed natives question the great British Broadcasting Corporation’, they seemed to imply, ‘Do you not know that the white man’s organization can do no wrong’?

Interestingly, the BBC itself feels no such compulsion to always be right or ethical while reporting about India. There have been several instances where BBC journalists have published fake news, made factual errors and misrepresented facts while reporting about India, Asia and Africa.

When veteran Indian actor Shashi Kapoor died, BBC announced his death by showing two video clips purportedly featuring Shashi Kapoor, but neither of which actually featured the actor.

In another instance, BBC’s flagship show, Newsnight had passed off Pakistani cricketer Wasim Akram as his team-mate and now the PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan!

But the worst example of BBC’s callous disregard of Indian sentiments and the utter ignorance of its journalists was when the BBC host referred to the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a live news telecast of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) meeting in London in April 2018!

One can perhaps forgive the BBC journalists their ignorance of Indian and Asian newsmakers. ’After all, one brown man looks quite like another, innit darling?’ But what explains the attitude of the journalists who work for Indian media, who seem to be more British than the BBC?

It is unfortunate that even after 70 years of leaving India, the British have left behind a large number of colonial slaves who will happily pull the trigger against their own countrymen, just like the Gurkha, Sikh and Rajput soldiers emptied 1650 rounds of ammunition on an unarmed group of people at Jallianwala Bagh on 13 April 1919 on the orders of Colonel Reginald Dyer.

The Brown Sepoys are still here, awaiting the White Man’s orders!

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