French historian Jean-Pierre Chrétien describes the behaviour by journalists in inciting hatred and violence as ‘the democratic alibi’. A democratic alibi divorces the question of ethics from the political, and employs the mechanisms of mass conditioning and mobilisation required to create group hatred. A democratic alibi is the precondition to riots, lynching, political trials, extrajudicial killings, military occupation and genocidal violence. Its legitimacy lies in the justification of collective violence either by the state or the mob, and begins by creating a dispensable enemy of the state – the “anti national”, “the secular”, “the minority”
An established pattern of presenting and commenting on the news transforms political debate into righteous passion against individuals and groups that disagree with the status quo. The targets of violence are marked with precision, taken as public hostages and accused of being enemies of the state. Later they explain what has to be done to this enemy. Through constant repetition, they construct a political, moral and historical alibi that eventually becomes the accepted truth. In this steady journey into the abyss of intolerance, journalists and news anchors become agents of the state and even annihilators of society. All the ingredients for conditioning a democratic alibi that existed in Nazi Germany and Rwanda exist in India today.
In the case of Gujarat and other instances, sections of the media were not only complicit in conditioning, inciting and producing the riot; they were also responsible for explaining, and interpreting the violence. They repeatedly justified the carnage as spontaneous mob violence, used language that neutralised “the horror and injustice of the subsequent violence”. Similarly in the case of the recent lynching in Nagaland of a Muslim man, Sayed Sarif Uddin Khan, on allegations of rape, there was a clear instance of misinformation and fabrication that amounted to incitement in the local media.