Should media moderate itself and not give the beef brigade a free stage?

Should media moderate itself and not give the beef brigade a free stage?
Should media moderate itself and not give the beef brigade a free stage?
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Beef is in news, yet again. After members of Hindu Sena complained that ‘cow meat’ was being served in Kerala Bhavan in Delhi, the Delhi police swiftly raided the Kerala government guest house on Tuesday, with no less than 20 police personnel. And with that the Beef brigade was back and Kerala Chief Minister outraging that this was no way for Delhi Police to behave and buffalo, not cow meat was being served in Kerala Bhavan, in no violation of any law.

This comes close on the heels of Mangaluru police arresting PFI activists for the murder of Janardhan Poojary, a supposed anti-cow slaughter activist. And right before that India Ink was busy throwing ink on Beef eaters or their sympathisers. A woman filmmaker in Karnataka, who is incidentally the sister of a very vociferous right-wing activist, was threatened on Facebook for supporting beef eating.  From Kashmir Assembly to Kerala universities, from Dadri to Moodbidri, beef has been the bone of contention for a month now.

Beef has dominated headlines on most news channels and newspapers since September 28, the day on which Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi was lynched. While the Dadri lynching, as it is being called now, had to be reported in great depth to underline the reprehensible intolerance by the mob, most of the news after that seems to be only fuelled by and further fuelling the self-appointed anti-beef taskforce. Publicity mongers like Sangeet Som were more than keen to rush to Dadri, get their 15 minutes of fame and in the process make incendiary speeches, further inciting violence. Leaders belonging to both communities, Hindu and Muslim are culpable of this and in their modus operandi of dividing society to advance their political ambitions, are two sides of the same coin. But 'sound bite journalism' took over. Prime time beef discussions and he said this, she said this on beef was all there was, with presence of boom mikes and cameras only spurring the foot-in-mouth politicians and such figures. 

Yes, issues like the Dadri and Moodbidri killings have to condemned in no uncertain terms. And media houses are duty bound to report and maybe even outrage over them. But are the media and the hate-mongers caught in a chicken and egg syndrome? 

The angle and spotlight of the beef stories seem somehow intensified around how Muslims prefer and consume beef and majority Hindus deem it a blasphemy to. A larger point that doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention, except as footnote, is that of the 20 million people who consume beef in India, 12.5 million of them are Hindus and a large number of them Christians too. Projecting Muslims as the only consumers of beef suits the political stipulation of these hate mongers and media has fallen prey to this strategy and has unwittingly or otherwise become a convenient tool in the hands of extremists and opportunists, whichever religion they belong to.  

Indian Muslims, Christians, tribals and many Hindus have been eating beef for centuries now. So why this sudden hullabaloo about confrontation between beef eaters and non-eaters? Why this sudden xenophobia that seems to be only escalating? Squarely placing the blame on BJP might be a little too simplistic while it may be argued that the PM's silence and refusal to openly rebuke the fringe and motor- mouths in his own party is only prodding them further. And that might even be a political strategy. BJP and other right-wingers might be seen to be on the back-foot on this one, but to think so would be naïve. Political pundits believe that they are not just catering to their vote bank but in fact creating one for themselves. Media incessantly preoccupied with beef and reporters constantly thrusting mikes in front of every Tom, Dick and Harry's face for reactions is only galvanising the hate mongers.

To give media the benefit of doubt, they may have their heart in the right place and somewhere this over-emphasis on beef might be for the right cause. But for the greater good, media may have to modulate its coverage, at least to break the pattern and deny the beef brigade of a perfect podium for free marketing. The Dadri episode almost was a prelude to the Bihar elections and now with West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh assembly elections in the offing, media should deprive the politicians and their honchos of the opportunity to harp on food as an election issue and steer the debate towards more substantial issues. 

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