The assault of a Tanzanian woman by a mob following an accident caused by a Sudanese national, has exposed two issues – racial discrimination of the Africans that has built a sense of fear among them and the locals who disapprove of African nationals.
What intensifies the situation though is the media narrative.
While the English media has unequivocally condemned the attacks calling it ‘racial’, many Kannada media houses have taken sides with the locals.
There have been accusations and counter accusations, made by both sides, twisting facts to make the story appeal to their target audience.
What is clearly emerging is a trend, the Kannada media toeing the line that Bengaluru was being tarnished unnecessarily. To support this narrative, details of previous crimes committed by Africans are being presented to viewers.
Vishweshwar Bhat, editor-in-chief of Vishwavani, said, "I feel the English media is going overboard by calling it a racial incident, and they are doing so as this is going to get international attention. But by saying this I don't justify what the mob did was right, but it was the piled up frustration on the body language and the activities of the African nationals that has come out," he said.
In October 2015, a group of African nationals allegedly assaulted a bus conductor. The visual of the incident, has now been posted by various Kannadiga groups asking why the national media was silent then.
Sandeep, president of Samanya Kannadiga, a Bengaluru-based civic society organisation said that the English media’s presentation of the Sunday’s incident has been in many ways defaming Bengaluru. “There was a video of an African national assaulting a bus conductor, but no national media bothered,” he said.
Bengaluru-based journalist Vijay Grover in a Facebook post claimed that there were dangers of media presenting a one-sided narrative.
“Shocked at way... The English channels are reporting the Hesaraghatta incident. Only one part of the story being highlighted. Why is the fact that it was the mowing down of a pedestrian woman by drunk Nigerian students that triggered the fights. Did her life have no value for these channels, because she was a poor Indian. A Tanzanian woman's unverified claim of getting her clothes torn get so much value that channels start a campaign to tarnish the peaceful city of Bengaluru…”
If the national media is being blamed for branding the city as ‘racist’, the local media has indulged in misreporting in this case as well. In one of the shows aired by Public TV on February 3, a video of a Rwandan woman, who barely knew about the Sunday’s incidents, was used as a representational image for the Tanzanian woman.
Pooja Prasanna, reporter with Times Now, a leading news channel said that the local media hesitates to go against the larger local sentiment by accusing them of being racist.
“A couple of reporters from local channels asked me why the national media has been defaming Bengaluru by focusing only on the racial discrimination part of the story. They accused us of twisting the narrative and not focusing on the woman who died,” she said.
“In fact until Monday, though the accident was reported, there were no reports by the local media about the Tanzanian woman being assaulted,” she added.
But in the race for being seen as ‘pro-Kannadiga’, some of the local channels are also whipping up passions.
“I can understand the local anger at national media, but it isn’t fair that Kannada channels are going to town with crimes committed by Africans. The mob assault has to be condemned, and we cannot be seen searching for justifications. Today it is an African, tomorrow it could be a Bihari or Kashmiri. Parochialism needs to take a backseat while reporting on such issues,” a reporter with a national channel said.