Firing on Jamia Students: From Falsehood to Victim Blaming, Republic TV Spins a Yarn

Through successive headlines, the channel sought to portray the gunman as one who was involved in anti-CAA protests. But when the truth became obvious, it shifted gear to say the protestors had provoked the incident.

New Delhi: On Thursday afternoon, as news portals scrambled to cover the shocking incident where a young man opened fire at students peacefully protesting the Citizenship (Amendment) Act  in front a police contingent at Jamia Millia Islamia, Republic TV sought to blatantly mislead viewers.

First, it attempted to suggest the firing was by one of the anti-CAA protestors. And when finally that narrative became impossible to sustain, the channel changed tack and suggested the gunman had somehow been “provoked”. In fact, the channel went one step further and used the hashtag, #StopProvokingIndia, implying that the gunman did what he did because the Shaheen Bagh and other anti-CAA protests had pushed him to the wall.

Researcher Vasundhara Singh Sirnate posted a Twitter thread on how the channel – which was started  by a BJP MP and which is known for its pro-government stance – covered the shooting as the story emerged.

While the police quickly confirmed that the shooter was a young man influenced by Hindutva politics who sought to target the anti-CAA protesters at Jamia, the channel’s immediate coverage of the incident  positing it as an act by an anti-CAA protester. A student of mass communication at the university has been injured after a bullet the young man fired hit his hand.

Running footage that was at that time being shared all over social media, the Republic TV anchor began by saying, “This is no more about the CAA protests, politicians who have openly attacked the Centre have nothing to say about the open act of violence that has erupted outside Jamia.”

Also read: Jamia Shooter Has Right-Wing Links, Shared Photos of Weapons on Facebook

At that point, it is unlikely that Republic TV knew what the shooter’s affiliation was. In any case, his stance has proved vastly different than what the channel implicitly claimed it to be.

As Sirnate points out in her exhaustive Twitter thread and as is visible in the video of the coverage made available on the channel’s YouTube page, the ticker on top of the screen barked orders as a politician – and not a news outlet – would.

Among the headlines was the non-sequitur, “Vacate Shaheen Bagh now.”

Not only did the top band in yellow scream texts like, “Unimaginable escalation”, which wrongly suggested that some violence was already afoot when the shooting began, the space was also used to bizarrely relate the shooting to the peaceful protests at Shaheen Bagh.

While at one instance, the banner read, “Vacate Shaheen Bagh” and at another, “Vacate Shaheen Bagh now,” both lead viewers to immediately come to the conclusion that Shaheen Bagh protesters were somehow associated with the shooting.

As Sirnate pointed out in her thread, another banner headline read, “GUNS…” even though there was just one pistol in the situation.

When eventually the anchor is patched through to the reporter on field, she too continues the narrative of peddling the perpetrator as a protester by saying that he was shouting, “kisko chahiye azaadi” or ‘who wants freedom?’ While this is technically true (he also said ‘take your freedom’) the words were used to mock the protesters who chant “azaadi” slogans and were not, as the channel sought to wrongly portray, used by an anti-CAA sloganeer.

The dishonest coverage, notably, is not an error that is likely to be made while news is unconfirmed and breaking. The channel sustains the tone for hours, even when it becomes abundantly clear who the shooter is and that no anti-CAA protesters, least of all those from Shaheen Bagh, were involved in it.

India Today editor Rajdeep Sardesai also took to Twitter against the false news shown by the channel. His tweet carried one more screenshot, where the banner space blatantly said, “Protester turns violent.”

Not just in its English coverage, but its Hindi channel, Republic Bharat too labelled the shooter ‘anti-CAA’, with much more certainty than the English wing had.

The channel has been in the news lately in the aftermath of comedian Kunal Kamra heckling its editor Arnab Goswami on a flight and uploading a video of it. The move earned Kamra an unprecedented suspension from four airlines upon the intervention of an authority no less than the Union minister of civil aviation.

Vasundhara Singh Sirnate’s tweet thread: