On November 11, Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami hosted a prime time segment on the “chaos and mayhem” created by students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi “for a mere Rs 290 fee hike”. As the channel flashed the hashtag #JNUFreebies, he asked if “those who want to freeload forever” should be allowed to “hold a university and its administration to ransom”.
The students are protesting a proposed 999% increase in their hostel fees, cited in the Inter Hall Administration draft manual. On Wednesday, the JNU Executive Committee announced a “major rollback” in the proposed hike which students have criticised as being “misleading”.
Goswami’s show is one of many reasons why the protesting students are furious with some mainstream media houses. A protest against the fee hike on November 11 outside the All India Council for Technical Education saw students shouting at reporters covering the event, asking them to leave. They accused TV channels of peddling biased news with a specific agenda.
Students also accused the media of “outright lying”. “A Republic TV reporter said there are water cannons which the police ‘might’ use,” one of the students told Newslaundry. “This when the police were deploying water cannons right in front of her.”
Shanu Priya, who is doing her PhD in social science at JNU, said TV news channels repeatedly highlight that the fees have risen from Rs 10 to Rs 300. “What they aren’t saying is the overall burden for someone paying Rs 2,500-3,000 has now risen to Rs 7,000,” she said. “People from marginalised sections — who are about 40% of JNU — will be affected by it.”
This is precisely what Goswami did on his show. He said, “JNU students can’t have their own kingdom, that is it. Students of Delhi University aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth.”
When one of his panellists supported the protesting students, Goswami shouted, “I went to Kendriya Vidyala for my schooling, then to Hindu College for graduation. When I went to a British university, I did it on 100% scholarship. So you’d better understand who you’re talking to.”
Republic TV’s on-ground coverage of the protests saw its reporters asking students why they couldn’t afford to pay Rs 300 per month. Students responded on camera that it wasn’t an issue for all students; it would be a struggle for those who come from families earning less than Rs 1 lakh a year. The anchor in the Republic TV studio concluded that the protesting students were “causing traffic jams and creating chaos on the streets”.
Zee News followed the same pattern. On his show Daily News Analysis on November 11, Sudhir Chaudhary said students used taxpayer money to “sloganeer against the very government and nation that gives them subsidies”.
“With Rs 10 you can buy a cup of chai, and these students are saying they can’t afford it,” Chaudhary said. “In the area where JNU is situated, if you want to rent one room — just one room — it will cost you Rs 10,000. And these students are paying Rs 10 per month. The remaining is paid by the government.”
Chaudhary reminded his viewers that these were the same students who “supported Afzal Guru” and raised “separatist slogans”. “Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar used the hostel facilities for about eight years, and went on to become politicians,” he added.
The draft manual hiking the fee also updates the rules for hostel residents. For one, it introduces a curfew of 11.30 pm, and advises female students to “dress appropriately” for meals in the dining hall. Chaudhary justified this, saying, “All the college authorities have asked is that students return to their respective hostels by 11 pm, and students are protesting against it. They use your and my money to have fun, do politics and say anti-national things.”
JNU students pointed to this segment as an example of how the media wasn’t trying to understand the “nuances” of the issue. “We’re being called unruly and whatnot,” said Advika, a student of MA English at the university. “But we’ve been asked to wear clothes that reach our knees. Time restrictions have been imposed — libraries won’t be available to use 24-hour…The media only shows what it wants to.”
Dolan, an M Phil student, said TV channels have a history of “deriding” their struggles. She referred to the JNU protests of February 2016 against the hanging of Afzal Guru. “During that movement, we saw how Times Now vilifying students for no reason. Led by Arnab Goswami, they shouted down the ‘tukde tukde’ gang. It derides out struggles and the issues we’re fighting for. If you’re saying students whose parents are sanitary workers or fruitsellers are after ‘freebies’ or don’t want to spend money, what kind of journalism is that?”
She pointed to a tweet by Aaj Tak’s senior executive editor, Sweta Singh. “Everyone knows which people these media houses are serving,” she said.
JNU students hold TV channels responsible for portraying them in poor light. “There have been instances where students are heckled and harassed just for going out wearing a T-shirt that has JNU written on it,” Shanu Priya said.
As a result, some students have decided not to give interviews or speak to certain TV news channels. “It’s completely on us whether to speak or not,” said Smita Sabu, a master’s student in political science and international relations, “and we are tired of the media representing us as students who don’t want to study. None of us wants to be here.”