For the past month, debates over “anti-nationalism” have dominated the public mind. In this, television channel Zee News has played a key role, not only leading the media discourse on hyper-nationalism but, as is being alleged, also being directly involved in manufacturing the Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition incident itself. Several sources – including the Delhi government, media outlets and a whistle-blower at Zee News itself – have accused the channel of airing doctored footage.
Moreover, reports that Zee News entered JNU on February 9 with help from the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, hours before the event at which the alleged “anti-national” slogans were shouted, have been used to claim that the network played a key role in turning a minor college function into a national controversy.
The allegations of the channel being used to convey messages on behalf of the BJP government became so loud that Subhash Chandra, the chairman of the Zee Media group, decided to take matters into his own hands and deliver a 15-minute clarification on Zee News on Tuesday.
The termite of anti-nationalism
The segment was introduced by Zee News’ star anchor, Sudhir Chaudhary, who kicked things off with a dark warning from Hinduism’s ancient texts: “It has been said in the sashtra’s that till there’s a threat to one’s life, one shouldn’t lie. But the truth of the 21st century is that one should tell the truth only when one’s about to die.”
Chaudhary said that claims that Zee had doctored some videos were lies “but these people forgot that truth is like the sun and can never be hidden by the dust of lies”. Later, there was even a warning about “journalist who have let their journalism been infested with the deemak (termite) of anti-nationalism”.
Introducing Subhash Chandra, Chaudhary lavished generous praise on his boss: ” It is because of him that Zee News has become the first and only channel to talk of national interest.”
Chandra launched right into his defence . Zee has been accused of being partisan to the Bharatiya Janata Party. “Is this only because we try and report positive news and for that you call us a BJP channel?” he asked rhetorically.
Why was Zee in this spot then? Chandra explained: “The issue is that an environment has been created where if anyone talks for Hindus – actually I’d use 'Hindustani' – whenever anyone talks for Hindustanis, they are branded communal.”
Even though Zee wasn’t partisan towards the government, Chandra claimed that he knew of some Congress people who were. “Even my friends in the Congress confide to me in private that issues such as poverty, hunger, development and self-respect can only be tackled by Narendra Modi,” he said.
Bringing hearts together
Even as Chandra continued in his arguments, laying out why Zee wasn’t biased in favour of the Union government, he stopped to ask rhetorically, “There is a lot of shor, outcry against things such as farmer suicides. But then is the Modi government responsible for this?”
Chandra then brought up his final defence: Pakistani soaps aired by Zee’s channel, Zindagi.
"People are writing against me in the media; I am getting abused on Twitter and so is my friend and colleague, Sudhir Chaudhary. In fact, members of a certain community do this even more, although though I have no issues with them. In fact, I am the first and only person to try and bring together India and Pakistan by airing Pakistani soaps in India. Even our slogan is 'jode dilon ko', bringing hearts together."
Chandra ended off by delivering a stern warning to the BJP: “Even the BJP needs to accept and understand that this isn’t your channel – this is the country’s channel.”
Chaudhary wrapped up the special segment with a reminder about Chandra’s hectic schedule. “Subhash Chandra didn’t need to come here – he’s very busy,” Chaudhary pointed out. “He needs to manage a massive business empire. But given the environment, he decided to come here and talk directly to the viewer.”
How much of an impact Chandra’s arguments have remains to be seen. However, a day later, on Wednesday, #BJPBhaktZeeNews was the second most popular India trend on Twitter.
You can watch the full show here: