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Sunday, April 14, 2024

BBC lacks balanced reporting on issues concerning Hindus and Bharat, says INSIGHT UK report

The anti-Hindu bias of western media has become so pronounced that it’s almost considered a routine ritual of the news production cycle, and nobody questions it. It has become a norm to call Bharat’s democratically elected government a “Hindu majoritarian right-wing government” and nobody sees anything wrong in it. Imagine calling the Republican government of the US “an extreme right-wing government” or the Tory government in the UK a “far right-wing government”. The very thought of it seems farcical. Yet, the western media considers it fairly normal to invent hypothetical phrases for describing Bharat’s democratically elected government purely based on whim, or should we say prejudice perhaps.

This is just one example and barely the tip of the iceberg. The western media is full of astounding prejudices and biases when it comes to Hindus and Bharat. The deliberate framing of stories involving Hindus within the caste narrative, the obliterating of the issues of Hindu minorities across the world by portraying Hindus exclusively as perpetrators, the deliberate exclusion of stories where Hindus are the victims, the list of western media’s anti-Hindu biases is an unending one.

Yet, one rarely comes across academic research that highlights the issue of Hinduphobia in western media’s coverage of issues concerning Hindus in Bharat and elsewhere. Much of the research in elite western universities that has anything to do with Hindu Dharma focuses exclusively on the “caste” issue and portrays Hindus in terms of the caste hierarchy. Or there will be research talking about PM Modi’s nationalist project and the supposed rise of Hindu majoritarianism in Bharat. The point is that Hindu issues if investigated at all in global academia, are examined critically through a pre-conceived and biased lens. There is rarely any examination of the other side, that how Hindus haven’t just been systematic victims of persecution and conversion for centuries, but that any voices they raise to highlight their victimhood are conveniently silenced by the mainstream media.

INSIGHT UK, an organization dedicated to the issues faced by the Hindu community in the UK, recently released a research report that involves a deep-dive analysis of BBC’s reporting. The report titled “British Media and Perception: Spotlight on the BBC” is based on text mining and observations into some of the narratives of BBC’s coverage of Hindus, Bharatiyas, and Bharat.

The research exclusively focusing on the BBC follows a survey conducted by INSIGHT UK from November 2022 to February 2023 asking Hindus and Bharatiyas living in the UK what they thought of the British media’s coverage of issues related to Hindus and Bharat. In that survey, the BBC was highlighted as the least reliable outlet by respondents with claims of bias. It also received the highest number of complaints regarding the portrayal of issues concerning Hindus and Bharat in specific stories. This prompted INSIGHT UK to conduct exclusive research analyzing the coverage of BBC over the years to examine any inherent anti-Hindu and anti-Bharat biases.

The research picked up a broad list of issues and themes relevant to Hindus and Bharat and examined if the BBC coverage of these issues was balanced. Based on the analysis, it found an alarming lack of balanced reporting by the BBC on a range of topics including Hindu festivals, persecution of Hindus, sexual crimes against Hindu women, hate crimes against Hindus in western countries, Bharatiya women’s rights, cow smuggling issue, Kashmir issue, etc.

The report delves deep into each topic and picks up various examples of stories done by BBC on that issue to show the extent of anti-Hindu bias in the coverage, and the lack of balanced reporting. For example, the research aptly points out that when Article 370 was abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir, the BBC predominantly focused on voices critiquing the government’s decision. However, there were many prominent Muslim women voices from Kashmir who supported the Bharatiya government’s decision. But none of these voices were given coverage by the BBC. “There are many female Kashmiri Muslim activists who supported the abrogation of Article 370, including Syed Tehmeena and Yana Mir. But very few Muslim voices who supported the abrogation of Article 370 made it to BBC articles or programming. Shehla Rashid is another Kashmiri human rights activist with over 800,000 followers on X (formerly Twitter), she describes herself as a Muslim. Rashid posted stating that she feels that the human rights record in Kashmir has improved under the Narendra Modi government” says the report.

The research also gives an insight into the embedded systemic anti-Hindu biases of BBC. It points out how the BBC has a separate section devoted to programming on Religious Affairs, but this section has little to no Hindu representation with all the Religious Editors over the last couple of decades being Muslims. The report says that there haven’t been any Hindu religious editors, or religious editors from any other religions except Islam, for many years. The report gives a detailed overview of BBC’s previous religious affairs editors and gives an account of various controversies surrounding them.

The report further talks about how BBC’s radio station BBC Asian Network has been completely hijacked by Islamists. The station hasn’t had any Hindu representation at the Head of the Station, despite the station calling itself an Asian Radio Station, according to the report. “Ahmed Hussain has been heading the station since 2020. Hussain was overseeing the radio station when a caller was allowed to make disgusting and misogynistic remarks against the Indian Prime Minister’s mother live on air, making crass references to women’s genitalia. As a result, the BBC faced backlash in India. It must be considered having very poor editorial standards, for a radio station to have no live delay system, despite it being a live event. An immediate apology was also not given, from the host or staff, who would have clearly understood the language being spoken”, says the report.

Further, the report talks about how crimes against Hindu women are not covered in the same way as crimes against Muslim women. It gives examples of various incidents regarding crimes against Hindu women that received little or no coverage from the BBC. Also, the report highlights how if a crime against a Muslim woman is committed by a Hindu man, that is highlighted and spotlighted, but if a crime against a Hindu woman is covered by a Muslim man, BBC conveniently downplays the religious identity of the perpetrator. This, argues the report, is most evident in cases of love jihad where the crime is prime facie dismissed by calling love jihad “a term radical Hindu groups use to promote a baseless accusation that Muslim men are converting Hindu women by marriage”. Thus, the BBC coverage prejudices the reader or the viewer at the outset by suggesting love jihad is a conspiracy theory coined by “radical Hindu groups”. Not only does this go against the journalistic ideals of neutrality and impartiality, the BBC also victim shames Hindu women by essentially suggesting that their allegations are baseless since they speak of the fictitious term love-jihad coined by radical Hindu groups.

The dismissing of love jihad as a conspiracy theory is a trope one sees not just in western media but mainstream Bharatiya media as well. Most of the mainstream media, even if it covers a love jihad story, tries to play the judge by suggesting love-jihad is a conspiracy theory. It’s not the task of the media to sit in judgment and to decide what is true and what is not based on biases and value judgments. Whether love jihad is true or fabricated, the courts will decide. The task of media is to report all kinds of issues accurately and objectively and to give space to all points of view, without letting its own prejudices creep in. But that, it seems, the western media is simply incapable of doing. That’s why research like the one INSIGHT UK has done in systematically uncovering BBC’s biases in covering Hindu issues, is the need of the hour.

The report also highlights many issues pertinent to the Hindu diaspora in the west such as the issue of rising attacks on Hindu temples in western countries. The research shows how attacks on Hindus and Hindu temples receive little coverage from the BBC. That is, the BBC hardly covers the issues where Hindus are the victims compared to the disproportionately high number of issues covered by them where Muslims are victims. BBC also systematically downplays incidents of hate crimes against Hindus or omits these from its news coverage altogether, according to the report.

The report specifically talks about the 2022 Leicester violence against Hindus. It points out how the BBC ignored a plethora of evidence showing that the violence left Hindus vulnerable, many of whom had “left the area due to threats of violence from young Muslim males with an extreme anti-Hindu ideology”. British researcher Charlotte Jackson wrote a report for the Henry Jackson Society based on her first-hand interviews with Hindus in Leicester. The report points out how her research was conveniently ignored by BBC during its coverage of Leicester violence.

INSIGHT UK spoke to Littlewood and understands that the BBC did not highlight the evidence she provided. She had provided the BBC with proof that the police were indeed in receipt of police incident reports that included descriptions of members of the Hindu faith moving out of their homes”, says the report. “It is unclear why the BBC did not present this evidence or fact check the claims. They instead chose to falsely claim that there were no police reports. This error, whether intentional or accidental, resulted in some organizations attempting to paint Littlewood and the HJS in a negative light. Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), a problematic organization with a controversial history, used the information to incorrectly claim that she was the mis-informer”, says the report.

The research examines the anti-Hindu bias of BBC’s coverage vis-à-vis many other issues such as BBC’s obsession with caste and making it exclusive to Hinduism, the BBC’s coverage of the Citizenship Amendment Act and COVID-19, its portrayal of the Bharatiya Prime Minister as anti-Muslim, its disproportionate focus on Hindu healing Gurus and exclusion of absurd Christian pastor conversion ceremonies and controversial Muslim, imams, etc.

The anti-Hindu bias of western media is a pertinent issue that has received little attention in the wider intellectual community. One cannot expect much as much of the crème-de-la-crème of this wider intellectual community is itself steeped in anti-Hindu prejudices and stereotypes. But we need more pioneering research in this area for things to change at the ground level. The Media Studies departments of Bharatiya universities should take the lead in this regard by giving encouragement to various quantitative and qualitative research studies focused on unraveling the anti-Hindu and anti-Bharat biases of western media.

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Rati Agnihotri
Rati Agnihotri
Rati Agnihotri is an independent journalist and writer currently based in Dehradun (Uttarakhand). Rati has extensive experience in broadcast journalism having worked as a Correspondent for Xinhua Media for 8 years. She was based at their New Delhi bureau. She has also worked across radio and digital media and was a Fellow with Radio Deutsche Welle in Bonn. She is now based in Dehradun and pursuing independent work regularly contributing news analysis videos to a nationalist news portal (India Speaks Daily) with a considerable youtube presence. Rati regularly contributes articles and opinion pieces to various esteemed newspapers, journals, and magazines. Her articles have been recently published in "The Sunday Guardian", "Organizer", "Opindia", and "Garhwal Post". She has completed a MA (International Journalism) from the University of Leeds, U.K., and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Miranda House, Delhi University.

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