Seven men were brutally killed in two separate incidents by a mob in a complete breakdown of law and order in Jharkhand on May 18th. Even as the horrific images of a blood soaked man begging for his life continued to rock the social media, for the three days that followed, the lynching of seven men did not meet the criteria for prime time outrage by national news channels. There were no screaming anchors presenting different conspiracy theories, moderating half a dozen panelists and demanding answers to questions that the nation wanted to know.
The media coverage of Jharkhand mob violence is in sharp contrast to other news that gets days of air time. It took media several hours to bring out the complete picture and several days to finally start asking some questions. For three days, there were no hashtags to drum up public support. There were no outpourings of outrage. There were no demands for booking the culprits. An incident that should have shaken the collective conscience of the nation was not newsworthy enough.
After the news of the lynching first broke out, public reaction was driven by the videos that were doing rounds on the social media. There was a complete absence of any credible information from both local administration and the mainstream media. This lack of information led many to initially believe that the incident was communal in nature. It was much later when the information about the child lifting rumors and a second lynching in the area was shared, that many of the initial rumors were quelled.
All the leading mainstream media also have presence on social media with millions of followers. They use their accounts to regularly share breaking news and other stories and also build public opinion about critical issues through their tweets. Let us look at how much importance they gave to this story from Jharkhand by analysing their Twitter accounts.
The channel that routinely engages with twitter users through its controversial twitter hashtags, did not immediately run a special one for this incident. When it first reported the killings on May 19th, as the headline said it, the incident was too “remote” to get any more attention – “The killings took place in the remote state of Jharkhand state earlier in the week”.
Even as details of the horrific lynching were unfolding, it was hashtags like #PakDesperation, #PakistanKeDalal, #KaifSmashesPak and #HurriyatKaHafta that were the focus for the news channel. It was two days later on May 21st that the channel tweeted the story with a featured hashtag: “#LynchMobRaj Is killing spree with state approval?”
As the outrage on social media built up, finally on May 21st night, Times Now carried an exclusive interview of CM Raghubar Das. The story made it to the morning news hour next day as #JharkhandJungleRaj. The story finally got the attention it deserved.
The newly launched Republic was also busy with its nationalist agenda. #NationWithForces, #PakKashmirStunt, #CongForPakLawyer, #PakVersusICJ, #PakShamed were its featured hashtags.
Over the two days that the story of the murders unfolded and till the time of writing this article, there was not a single tweet from Republic on the topic. Meanwhile, it had time to tweet inane trivia like “Sprinklers and coolers installed for animals at a zoo in Ahmedabad to bring respite from prevailing heat wave”.
The interest in the topic was low and there was no opposition leader that this could be blamed on
On May 20th, Zee News tweeted about “Jharkhand villagers clash with police over child lifter rumors.” That was the only news from Zee, highlighting that Jharkhand government has already announced a compensation of 2 Lakhs to the kin of the victims.
There was no other tweet sharing information on the topic.
The topic drew a blank from CNN News18 with not a single tweet on the topic.
Among the news channels, NDTV was the first to carry it as a lead story. After reporting the news on 19th, NDTV featured it as a lead story on 21st as full details of the horror emerged. Details and a video were shared several times and the coverage continued on to the next day as well.
Perhaps the best coverage of the incidents was reported by print media. Indian Express and Hindustan Times stand out in terms of the coverage as they helped not only in sharing information but also in dispelling the rumours.
It was the Indian Express story that brought out the fact there were seven murders and that these were not communally motivated as initially assumed. Indian Express revealed that in addition to four Muslims, there was a second lynching of three Hindus, all based on rumours of child lifting.
Hindustan Times carried four articles with the details. The initial story was about the Muslims who were killed, this was followed by a detailed story on the seven deaths when more details emerged. The stories were widely shared on social media.
Hindustan Times also brought us details of how a WhatsApp message incited the mob.
Times of India covered the story on first day followed up by an update on the next day. Only one story on the role of WhatsApp in spreading the rumors was tweeted and that too on May 22nd.
The coverage in The Hindu was also sparse with no tweets on the story.
While The Telegraph carried the story on the front page with the headline on May 19th, “Three cattle traders killed near Jamshedpur city” and extensive details of the second lynching incident on the next day. Due to low presence on social media, many missed the coverage.
India Today tweeted the story once on the 19th with some brief details.
As the outrage over the incident built up on social media, we can see an increase in coverage in mainstream media too, particularly in the case of TimesNow hashtags. However the question for the mainstream media remains – who is going to question the government for its silence? Who is going to question the district administration for not controlling the WhatsApp rumours after they led to two deaths, a week before this incident? Who is going to question the police who watched helplessly as the mob pulled out a man from their jeep and lynched him in front of their eyes?
The news about lynching of seven men, did not involve opposition leaders and celebrities. It did not involve the armed forces or Pakistan. Neither did it involve cows, beef, gau rakshaks, anti-romeo squad or any of those elements that capture the fancy of the target audience. Sadly, the senseless death of these seven men, like the two others before them, did not meet the criteria of being newsworthy enough.
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