Even after intense criticism for airing doctored videos relating to the controversy at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Zee News hasn’t let up. Earlier this week, it zeroed in on its latest “anti-national”, Guahar Raza a scientist at the government-funded Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

Raza, who is also poet and filmmaker, narrated an Urdu poem about intolerance and hate at a poetry symposium in Delhi last weekend. The event was attended by lyricist Javed Akhtar, among others. The context of the poem was the freedom of speech and sedition cases against some students at JNU. Ironically, the poem even called out the hysteria of branding people anti-national.

But on Thursday, a Zee News show hosted by Sudhir Chaudhary described Raza as a member of “Afzal-lover gang”, a reference to Afzal Guru, the convict hanged for his role in the 2001 Parliament attacks. “That the Pakistan-lover gang is active is something we’re repeating again and again whether it’s Kashmir, Delhi,” said Chaudhary. “This gang is active in the media and social media and all other platforms to save treasonous elements.”

Hysteria around a poetic metaphor

Visuals of Raza reading out his poetry were presented. “Poetry is fine but should songs of praise be sung for those who have raised anti-national slogans?” a voice over asked, as a picture of sedition-accused JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar was flashed on the screen. Ironically, the only video that has proof of Kumar shouting anti-national slogans was found to be doctored. Several sources – including the Delhi government, media outlets and a whistle-blower at Zee News itself – have accused Zee News of airing this doctored footage. Moreover, the Delhi Police has itself admitted to the Delhi High Court that no footage against Kumar exists.

As the programme proceeded, accompanied by an ominously kitschy soundtrack, Zee’s voice-over went on to express shock about a poetic metaphor: “desh ki sarkaar ko andha kaha gaya", the government was called blind. The verse that so angered Zee News is as follows:

These people are odd, they won’t be erased no matter how much you try

They are the totality, and they are a portion

They won’t be visible to you 

They’re stubborn enough to think they’ll light every lamp.

Ironically, Raza's poem called out the frenzy that led to people being branded "anti-national".

Don't eat this, don't wear that, and never, ever love

Otherwise, you'll be branded anti-national too.

Mass frenzy

Zee News’ reporting might have bordered on the absurd but, as the scientist pointed out, it is also dangerous. “The media is very powerful,” said Raza, who is perturbed by this campaign. “This is a question of person security. We must not forget the way Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi were murdered.”

Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi were rationalists possibly murdered by people with links to religious fundamentalist groups.

Raza said that he is contemplating legal action against Zee News.

As a response to this show, nearly 250 academics, journalists, film-makers, theatre artistes and activists have jointly issued a statement calling for action against Zee News for its hysterical portrayal of both JNU professor Nivedita Menon and now Gauhar Raza.

Singling out of individuals and creating a mass-frenzy against them using the medium of TV is a dangerous trend. Zee TV initiated this defamatory exercise in the case of the students of the JNU also, and these doctored videos have become the basis of arrest and harassment of Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban. They have not yet apologised for this highly irresponsible act. Despite their bluff being called, they have persisted.

Signed by Naseeruddin Shah, Sharmila Tagore and Shubha Mudgal amongst others, the petition calls upon the Press Council of India and the Broadcast Association “to take note of this criminality and initiate necessary action against the channel”.