On careful scrutiny it was discovered that much of this vilification emanated from across the border in Pakistan; an orchestrated attempt to sow dissension in our country.
The media is a powerful determinant in a democracy; the standard bearer of truth and honesty and the ever-vigilant watch dog that oversees free expression. But with this daunting power comes a weighty responsibility: the need to ascertain facts before they are published and the need to meticulously analyse the ramifications before passing pointed judgements. Nothing can be more disastrous for a nation than when its media abuses its power and authority completely oblivious of moral principles.
Certain sections, still smarting from the overwhelming victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, appear to be on a mission of punishing the Indian people (or anything that symbolizes India, including the Indian cricket team) for democratically exercising their rights much against the diktat of an entrenched liberal elite. To this end every untoward event is given a religious hue, blown out of proportion and broadcast to the world to project India as a boiling cauldron of religious hate. The Mohammed Shami controversy is the latest in this litany of warped narrations.
On 31 October, the much-publicized T20 clash between India and Pakistan ended in an unexpected anti-climax. A jaded India team, coming out of a long gruelling period of continuous cricket, was beaten fair and square by a rested Pakistani team; apart from the subpar performance by many players. The next day social media was flooded with derogatory comments that lambasted the Indian cricket team for their poor showing. At the receiving end of this tirade were a host of players that included the captain Virat Kohli. There were a few directed at Mohammed Shami that invoked his religion. Picking up just these isolated negative comments and discounting the large number of supporting remarks that came in, certain sections of our media launched a scathing attack on the Indian team (for not coming immediately to Shami’s support), right wing trolls and lamenting that a once tolerant country had changed. For those who make a career of shaming India on the international stage, this incident was a godsend.
An ex-TV anchor, writing in the Washington Post under the title “India’s cricket team took the knee. It was meaningless and hypocritical” excoriated Indians for their alleged Islamophobia: “Pakistan walked away with the match, and as happens so often with big-ticket playoffs, Indians were heartbroken. Some people online started making coarse and lewd comments about the defeat. The person who got the worst of it was 31-year-old player Mohammed Shami. Toxic, brazenly Islamophobic comments were left on his Instagram page, suggesting that he was a traitor, one who could take the next flight out to Pakistan. Shami was singled out in a different way than other players, and the language used for him was directly related to his being Muslim.”
If this xenophobia was authentic, I would have no qualms about endorsing this media outrage and joining in on the chorus of protest. But alas that was not the case. On careful scrutiny it was discovered that much of this vilification emanated from across the border in Pakistan; an orchestrated attempt to sow dissension in our country. Moreover, those who went in search of this much-hyped online abuse came up near-empty-handed.
Another journalist, Manu Joesph, went into the facts and remarked: “A few days ago, I started seeing ‘love’ expressed on social media for Indian cricketer Mohammad Shami. I took some time to figure out what happened—that ‘some people’ had accused Shami of throwing the T20 World Cup match against Pakistan because he is Muslim. I tried to find out who exactly had accused him in this manner, and how many they were. I could not find any evidence that even hundreds of Indians had said this. Also, no public figure, not even minor politicians who are known to say ludicrous things, had made such remarks. Not even a Bajrang Dal activist, nor a passionate cowherd with a smartphone.”
That some domestic outlets should carry items on a topic without verifying the facts smacks of irresponsibility at best and duplicity at worst; an ugly act of mudslinging with an intent to defame by resorting to sensationalism in lieu of factually honest reporting. If it was a genuine lapse, any ethical newspaper should have acknowledged its mistake and offered an apology once the truth was revealed. Failing to do so makes a newspaper doubly culpable. With regards to the international media, the less said about its truant commitment to facts the better. In the current climate it appears that elements of the Western media will print anything derogatory about India. They denigrate the Modi-led BJP government without demanding any accountability from its contributors. Baseless rumour mongering is toxic to all. Apart from being ethically unacceptable, it unwittingly furthers the attempt of China and Pakistan to create a persecution complex among India’s minorities. Such untruths can engender an unwarranted fear psychosis, compromising the quality of life of many. Such duplicity and unprofessionalism need to be called out unequivocally.