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In 2002, as the violence and fire spread through Gujarat, then chief minister Narendra Modi was shocked that TV news covering the riots 24×7 were using the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ to describe the rioters. It was breaking an unwritten tradition in news to not name the communities involved so that further hatred is not spread. But when the camera rolls, everyone’s identities and activities are shown live.
In 2002, public trust in TV news was high because 24×7 news was a new beast. In 18 years since, a lot has changed. TV channels have degraded themselves and suffer from low credibility. People prefer grainy, shaky videos captured by smartphones of the riots much more. Every riot-witness is a self-broadcaster today.
In northeast Delhi too, social media seems to have played a crucial role — in perhaps both fueling some of the violence as well as revealing the exact nature of devastation and state (in)action.
It was the steady flow of images and videos on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook that provoked widespread outrage and finally pushed the Modi and Arvind Kejriwal governments to sit-up and take notice. Now, TV news was also relying on these clips, anecdotes and photographs on social media.
The bloodshed, the stone pelting, the Delhi Police breaking CCTV cameras and the dead were accessible to everyone – courtesy a smartphone and cheap internet.