Hindus and religious minorities differ in their feelings and perceptions of Indian media and issues crucial to its independence. This is one of the key findings of a media survey conducted by the Lokniti program of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies.
The survey, conducted in 19 states, shows that more Muslims, Sikhs and Christians than Hindus think the media has become less free than before. They are also less likely than Hindus to accept government oversight, the regulation of social media platforms and the imposition of internet shutdowns.
These reactions from religious minorities offer little comfort in the bigger dark picture the CSDS surveys paint: Indian media consumers harbor illiberal sentiments, are not passionate about protecting their right to free speech and are seemingly unaffected by the concerns expressed about the loss of the media by the media. freedom.
Consider this: 43% of those who watch or read the news believe that the media today is just as free as before to show the ‘truth’ or enjoy more freedom than it was a few years ago; only 30% of them find the media less free than before, and a significant 27% simply have no opinion.
These are startling findings against the backdrop of the Indian state pursuing a slew of lawsuits against journalists. Add to that 43% and 27%, and you wouldn’t be mistaken if you think the state is still, without fear of reaction, harassing and pressuring those who wave the flag of free speech. to put.
be free, or…
Unlike 45% of Hindu news consumers who say the media enjoys more freedom than before, 33% of Muslims and only 28% of other communities (a category made up of Sikhs and Christians) support this claim. In all three categories, however, those with no opinion are more than 25% each, suggesting they are most likely not even embroiled in furious debates about India’s dwindling media freedom.
The scenario becomes even more pessimistic about whether the government is morally right to oversee social media platforms and messaging platforms. A whopping 45% of social media users believe the government is right on this, even though there are varying shades of agreement with the statement, ranging from “totally right” to “somewhat right” or “right, if based on security.” “. Only 40% think it is “completely wrong” or “somewhat wrong”. The remaining 16% have no opinion.
After calculating the “net support” for government surveillance (that is, the proportion of those who consider it right minus the proportion of those who regard it as wrong), the CSDS survey report says, “Of all religious communities, Hindu social media users are the least against/most in favor of government oversight of social media activities.Muslims are relatively less supportive, and many of them preferred to remain silent.” Of all religious communities, Sikhs view surveillance as wrong rather than right, the report said.
In an atmosphere of media consumption where a significant percentage of people are either indifferent to or in favor of state oversight, it comes as no surprise that they would also object to opinions expressed against the government. The survey asked respondents: “People should have the freedom to say what they think of their government on social media or WhatsApp, no matter how reprehensible or offensive their opinion is. Do you agree or disagree?”
Well, well, well – a shocking 45% of social media users say they shouldn’t be doing this, and 40% say they could. What kind of democracy is that where people themselves object to expressing opinions against the government?
Again, unlike 45% of Hindus and 44% of Christians and Sikhs who claim that social media and WhatsApp are safe places to express political opinions, only 37% of Muslims agree that they are safe. Perhaps the response of Muslims is largely influenced by the state targeting them for their functions. A prime example of this was the Delhi police who relied on WhatsApp messages to accuse a group of Muslim youth leaders of plotting to foment the 2020 riots in the capital. In fact, the CSDS report says, “Many Muslims were also silent on the matter and did not express an opinion on the matter.”
Close them off
As many as 40% of Hindu social media users feel that there is nothing wrong with the government regulating social media. By comparison, only 31% of Muslims and 34% of other religious communities are in favor of government intervention. It seems that Sikhs are the torchbearers of media freedom, as the CSDS survey report mentions them mainly because they strongly oppose the idea of the state regulating social media.
Those who grew up before the advent of the Internet wistfully think of what they could have been if they had access to the World Wide Web in their more youthful debates. For example, they would have followed debates around the world. Or had more opportunities to nurture their innate talent.
Ironically, the CSDS survey shows that 47% of active internet users (defined as those who have confirmed internet use for any purpose in the two months prior to the survey) believe it to be accurate (i.e. , those who are completely equal, somewhat (right, on grounds of security) for the government to shut down the net on grounds of public order.Only 36% say they do not approve of shutting down the Internet.
Attitudes towards shutting down the internet differ from community to community. Only 36% of Muslims endorse the closures against 49% of Hindus and 47% of Christians and Sikhs who do. This difference might have been even greater if the CSDS had also conducted its research in Jammu and Kashmir, where people have suffered excessively from internet shutdowns. Conversely, Hindus may support shutting down the Internet because they have no long-term experience with it.
The Hindu-Muslim divide is also reflected elsewhere: many more Hindus than Muslims trust the TV channels they watch, the newspapers they read, and the news portals they visit.
However, there is consensus among all religious communities on one point: they all think that the media portraying the Modi government is simply “too favorable”. The claim that the media is biased in favor of the Bharatiya Janata party is not unfounded. But for this exception, there is a clear distinction between the attitude of religious minorities and that of the majority community towards state control of the media.
Romancing of the state
The CSDS research report is not explanatory. Nevertheless, some broad conclusions can be drawn. More Hindus than religious minorities seem to have faith in the state — that it must have valid reasons to shut down the internet, regulate social media and supervise a chaotic yet democratic space. The freedom of the media and the quality of our democracy depend on Hindus as they make up 80% of the country’s population.
Religious minorities look suspiciously at the state because they, especially Muslims, have had to endure a brutal campaign by the BJP against them. A select group of TV channels and newspapers have echoed the BJP’s hate rhetoric, often fanning the flames of hatred. This may also be the reason why Muslims have less trust in the media.
Still, we have to make a caveat here: given the experiences of Muslims since May 2014, the year Modi came to power, it is still surprising that 36% of them endorse the shutdown of the internet; or that 37% of them think that social media and WhatsApp are safe places to express political opinions. These are just the spaces where the hatred towards them is bubbling. It seems that, like Hindus, they also have an abiding faith in the state, leading them to assume that it must have legitimate reasons for restricting the right to free speech.
Perhaps a large number of Indians believe that the state is their mai-baap, who, like parents, must be strict with children for the benefit of the latter. This attitude explains why people are not taking to the streets because of draconian laws like the Prevention of Illegal Activities Act, or why the Supreme Court upholding absurd, anti-democratic amendments to the Money Laundering Prevention Act is not sparking public outcry. Or why people are so reluctant to protest against dissenters who are summarily sent to prison.
It is generally assumed that our democracy has deepened. It only makes sense in that marginalized social groups are drawn into the democratic process and gain a degree of representation that they were denied decades ago. In terms of ideas and ideology, our democracy remains superficial. That is undoubtedly the saddest part of the CSDS investigation – and perhaps an impetus to strive to instill the democratic spirit in the Indian people.
The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.
Thanks to: Newsclick