Friday, December 11, 2009
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
The media coverage of the Jamia Nagar police operation at Batla House in New Delhi is a sad reminder of the diminishing credibility of the media, says this critique by the Delhi Union of Journalists. Besides the shocking confusion over the reported facts of the case, the media displayed implicit bias and uncalled for dramatisation on television. Excerpts from the DUJ report
The Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and its ethics council are concerned at the falling standards of reporting as evident in the manner in which the police operation at Batla House on September 19, 2008, was reported by various newspapers and TV channels in the capital.
Accuracy in reporting facts is the first responsibility of the media. Where facts are disputed, the discrepancies should be pointed out and the sources questioned. Presenting several versions of incidents and using multiple sources of information is an inalienable part of credible reporting.
Uncovering the truth may not always be the job of the media. The media is not equipped to investigate and uncover the truth in severely complicated cases like the incident being examined in this report. But presenting different facets of events as they emerge is part of the professional responsibility of the media.
In this report we have analysed the reporting of The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, and The Indian Express (Delhi editions of September 20 and 21, 2008). Among the Hindi newspapers we have examined Dainik Jagran, Amar Ujala, Dainik Hindustan, Jansatta, Punjab Kesari and Rashtriya Sahara; the Urdu newspaper we looked at is Rashtriya Sahara.
We wish to make it clear that we hold no brief for either the police or the suspects, two of whom were killed and several rounded up. We are not passing judgment on whether it was a planned encounter or a fake encounter or a police operation gone wrong. We do not know the truth. We are only examining the professional conduct of our co-professionals with a view to pointing out the casual manner in which serious issues have been handled right from the day of the serial bomb blasts in Delhi.
A research team of the DUJ decided to examine the way in which the print media reported the police operation on September 19, 2008, at L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar in Delhi in which two alleged terrorists and one inspector of the special cell of the Delhi police were killed.
Analysis of newspaper reports dated September 20, 2008
The facts first.
1 Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma of the special cell of the Delhi police killed.
2 Two young boys, Atif Amin and Mohammed Sajid, killed.
3 Mohammed Saif arrested.
The rest of the facts regarding the police operation at L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar, Delhi, on September 19, 2008, are uncertain. Although the incident took place in India’s capital, and all newspapers and TV channels used the same source -- the police -- even the basic facts are not in place. Every daily newspaper and television channel seems to have its own set of ‘facts’ and often these contradict each other. Accuracy seems to have been sacrificed in the rush to be first with the news and provide the more sensational coverage. Let us examine how the incident was reported in the Delhi editions of the dailies.
The time of the shootout
The Hindustan Times and Dainik Jagran have given the time as 11 am. The Indian Express, quoting a resident, says the first shot was fired around 9.45 am. The Times of India report does not mention any time. The Mail Today says it began at 11 am. The Hindi Hindustan report would have us believe that it all began at 10.30 am. Amar Ujala says firing began at around 10.45 am and lasted until 11 am.
The duration of the shootout
The Hindustan Times says the shootout lasted 15 minutes, whereas its Hindi publication, Dainik Hindustan, says it lasted 90 minutes. According to The Times of India, the entire encounter took 25 minutes. The Mail Today says the operation lasted 30 minutes. The Veer Arjun says the shootout lasted between 30 and 45 minutes. Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu, claims that the shooting lasted nearly two hours. Amar Ujala says the encounter lasted one hour and 15 minutes. Punjab Kesari claims the encounter lasted one hour.
Number of rounds fired
According to The Times of India, 25 rounds were fired by the police and eight by the ‘terrorists’. The Indian Express, The Hindu, Dainik Hindustan, Punjab Kesari and Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu, say the police fired 22 rounds. They are all silent about the number of rounds fired by the suspects. Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi, and Amar Ujala say the police fired 22 rounds and the ‘terrorists’ fired eight rounds.
Interestingly, the Navbharat Times claims that both the police and the suspects were armed with AK 47s but did not use them!
All the dailies reported the police claim that those shot at Batla House were terrorists responsible for several bomb blasts.
The Hindustan Times quoted Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal as saying that “explosives made by him (Atif -- our clarification) and his team bore their signature -- two detonators, wooden frame, ammonium nitrate and analogue quartz clocks”.
In light of this claim, the list of explosives claimed to have been recovered from the flat occupied by the suspects is interesting.
Dainik Hindustan says one AK 47, two pistols, one computer, and important papers were recovered.
Veer Arjun reports one AK 47, .30 bore pistols, cartridges, and 21 country pistols were found.
Navbharat Times says one AK 47, two .30 imported pistols, 20 live cartridges, a magazine, two laptops, mobile phones and other items were recovered.
Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi, says the police recovered one AK 47 and two .32 bore pistols, one computer, and books.
Punjab Kesari says the police found one AK 47, two pistols and one computer.
Amar Ujala says the police seized one AK 47, a .30 bore revolver, two laptops, half-a-dozen mobiles and six pen drives.
None of the dailies report the recovery of any ammonium nitrate and analogue quartz clocks. No question is asked about the recovery of these chemicals or equipment, claimed to be part of the terrorist group’s signature.
How many policemen were there?
The Indian Express reports that Sharma went there along with five officers.
The Mail Today reports a 15-member team led by Sharma.
Veer Arjun claims 50 personnel led by Sharma landed there.
Navbharat Times says a total number of 24 police personnel went there.
Amar Ujala reports that a 22-member police team cordoned off the area under the leadership of Sharma.
The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, Jansatta, Dainik Jagran and The Hindu refrain from mentioning the number of policemen involved in the operation.
How many bullets hit Sharma?
The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, The Mail Today, The Hindu, Veer Arjun, Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi, all say three bullets hit Sharma.
Navbharat Times says four bullets hit him.
Jansatta claims that five bullets hit him in the abdomen, thigh, left arm, upper part of the shoulder and right hip (anchor story).
Rashtriya Sahara, Urdu, reports four bullets hitting him, one each on the shoulder, arm, back and right hip.
Rashtriya Sahara, Hindi claims that all three bullets were taken out during an operation in Holy Family hospital.
Amar Ujala also claims that bullets had been removed and quotes Dr Rajesh Chawla to this effect. It says Dr Chawla was summoned from Apollo hospital. He reportedly told the paper that there was excessive bleeding because the bullets hit the lung and the lower part and that after “bullets had been removed” it was felt that Sharma may survive.
Subsequent post-mortem reports quoted by some of the dailies said that Sharma had been hit by only two bullets and that both bullets had exited the body. No bullets were removed from his body.
About Mohan Chand Sharma
Even in paying tribute to Inspector Sharma the papers have reported different facts. The Hindustan Times says that he had “shot dead 75 criminals and terrorists”. The Times of India says he was “credited with the killing of 35 terrorists and the arrest of 80 others”. The Indian Express says that “Sharma’s ‘kill tally’ stood at 75 criminals including 35 terrorists”. The Hindu says he was instrumental in “neutralising 35 terrorists and arresting as many as 80 militants”. It goes on to say he had “gunned down 40 gangsters” and arrested “120” criminals. Amar Ujala reports that Sharma killed 35 terrorists and 40 gangsters, nabbed 80 terrorists and 129 gangsters. It says he was involved in 75 encounters.
The sensation trap
Apart from the confusion over facts, we are deeply concerned at the implicit bias in many news reports. This becomes blatant in screaming headlines in print or uncalled for dramatisation on television. Far more caution is called for in reporting events that pose a grave threat to communal harmony. We wish to use this report to warn our co-professionals of the danger of demonising an entire community by questioning their loyalty to the country and putting their lives at risk. It is vital that we exercise utmost restraint while reporting events that further polarise communities.
Regrettably, in the competition to grab eyeballs we sometimes resort to hype, forgetting that some issues are too explosive for such treatment. They are volatile enough without the media adding fuel to the fire. Unfortunately there are several instances of such coverage. We cite one blatant example. On September 20, 2008, The Hindustan Times devoted all of page 3 to reports on terror, with the bold page slug saying ‘Terror Hunt’. The shrieking banner headline was ‘India’s Bin Laden was a good boy in school’. This was the headline for a report based on interviews with the schoolteachers of alleged terrorist Abdus Subhan Qureshi, one of the men arrested in Mumbai for his involvement in the bomb blasts. The teachers claimed that he was a quiet boy and a good student. The story opens with the sentence: “The world may be calling him India’s Bin Laden but it’s an image Abdus Subhan Qureshi’s teachers find hard to reconcile with his school-day persona.” The story did not warrant the headline. Such headline-givers live in a world of their own. It is sheer exaggeration to label someone hitherto unknown to the average citizen as a ‘Bin Laden’.
Frequently, the language used by the media to describe such incidents and suspects leaves much to be desired. It lays the media open to the charge of being judgmental and biased.
By and large, the press has forsaken the use of certain prefixes like ‘alleged’ and ‘suspected’. Most newspapers have described those who were killed and arrested in Delhi as ‘terrorists’. It is a basic premise of Indian law that no person may be presumed guilty unless proved otherwise. The media’s use of epithets like ‘terrorist’ without the qualifying adjective ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’ amounts to a declaration of guilt without trial in a court of law. This is equivalent to trial by the media. Journalists should know better. We understand that reporters in the field work under tremendous stress and pressure to be the first with the news. However, some editorial control of language should be exercised at the desk, which is sadly missing in many reports.
Television reports have been even more blatant, with the words ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’ simply missing from the language used by both reporters and anchors.
On September 19, TV channels first began breaking the news around noon that policemen in the city were battling ‘terrorists’ holed up in L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar. The reporters in the field sounded breathless with excitement, reporting whatever they saw or heard. Some talked to residents without taking the elementary precaution of blurring their faces or concealing their identities. These residents, we presume, did not seek anonymity but some of them later complained to the DUJ team that visited the area that cameras were flashed at them without even seeking their permission and they wondered if that exposed them to risk. Since the TV reporters were vying for more news, in conditions that must have been rather confusing at the site of the incident, the editors in the studio could perhaps have exercised some restraint, keeping the safety of the residents in mind.
The newspapers carried the reports in the next day’s edition. Newspapers had at least eight hours to finalise their reports. Despite this, most of the newspapers mentioned in this report used only one source, the police, in their lead stories. The line between the reporter and the source is completely blurred in these stories.
For instance, The Times of India said in its first lead “…Delhi police killed two terrorists including key SIMI operative, Bashir alias Atif, who allegedly played a crucial role in the September 13 Delhi blast”.
Note that Atif has been killed, so the press has not been able to talk to him. Yet, the police version that he was a terrorist has been taken at face value without appending any evidence.
Reporters by definition must be Doubting Thomases. They have no right to suspend disbelief whilst on the job. Otherwise all reporting will become meaningless. In fact the search for new angles not only forms the cornerstone of the serious competition between reporters but throws up new facets of any unfolding story. It is clear that at least to begin with, most reporters suspended disbelief while reporting the operation. Considering the fact that the Delhi police has attracted a lot of flak from the media in the past for its inept handling of crime, this suspension of disbelief and showering of encomiums on the police seems strange. This can either be a result of ‘lazy’ reporting dependent solely on handouts, or the belief that people accused of serious offences can be bumped off with impunity. Both have serious implications for the profession and cannot be justified on any grounds, moral or professional.
In this case the media seems to have competed for superlatives to describe the martyrdom of special cell Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma and abusive epithets for those accused of being terrorists. Some sections of the media have even dubbed Azamgarh, identified as the hometown of many of the suspects, ‘Atankgarh’ (den of terror).
An exception to the trend
In contrast to most other dailies, The Mail Today did a good job of reporting the incident, incorporating the weak points in the police version and some questions in its lead story. In fact, it is the only paper that in its lead on September 20 played up the fact that Atif Amin had recently filled up a tenant verification form at Jamia Nagar police station, with a copy of his driving licence, his mobile number and his previous address in Sangam Vihar. All these details were later found to be correct. The paper argues that if the police had actually moved to verify the form, they could perhaps have averted the bomb blasts. It also says that either this points to Atif’s innocence or indicates that he was a devious terrorist who wanted to avoid raising suspicion.
The Mail Today had even made an effort to talk to the Azamgarh police and the SHO of Saraimeer police station under whose jurisdiction Atif’s village falls. The SHO, S N Singh, according to the paper, said none of Atif’s family members had a criminal record.
The picture of Sharma being led away by two men has also been used in full. However, the picture is not credited to anyone.
The day after
On September 21, The Hindustan Times, in an intriguing headline, says ‘Solved’. No questions are asked about how the police, which was clueless a week earlier, had within 24 hours solved all the bomb blasts in Delhi, Ahmedabad, Varanasi and Jaipur.
On page 2, alongside pictures of two people arrested and two killed, it gives thumbnail sketches of the boys. These are given out as facts and the source obviously is the police.
A notable feature of the second day’s reporting by several dailies is that still only police sources are being quoted. And no attempt has been made to cross-question them about some of the facts. For instance, according to The Times of India’s front-page story, the police is now claiming that Bashir alias Atif is the mastermind of the Indian Mujahideen.
The Navbharat Times, in a front-page story on September 21, says that the police used personal cars for the raid because the special cell had no vehicle available. It also says that “because the bad-quality 35 kg heavy bullet-proof jacket hampers activity the police personnel started the mission without wearing bullet-proof jackets” (a loose translation). Quoting unnamed personnel from the special cell, the story says that “Atif fired shots” after Saif had been overpowered in the drawing room of the flat.
The previous day (September 20), the same paper had said that when Inspector Sharma knocked on the door and Atif opened it and yelled, suddenly Sajid fired from his .30 pistol that pierced the left shoulder of the inspector. Another bullet wounded him in the lower abdomen.
Now which version is to be believed?
In the same Navbharat Times story on September 21, the last paragraph creates a new record in contradictions. We quote:
“Balwant (constable) tried to get in, but either Shahzad or Junaid, present in the room behind, opened fire. His bullet hit Balwant. Despite this Balwant had a scuffle with them. It is suspected that Junaid and Shahzad were not in the flat.”
Although, in most cases, the lead stories in the dailies depend entirely on the police version of events, almost all of them have carried separate stories on the atmosphere in Jamia Nagar. They talk about the anger and fear prevalent in the area. Some papers published pictures of residents alongside their views.
TV channels talked to residents too about what they saw and what they felt.
These reports present the different opinions of local people and some, like Jansatta, carry their photographs. The Indian Express on September 22, in Newsline, carried a story reporting how residents said they could have been of help to the police had they been taken into confidence. These reports say that Muslims in Jamia Nagar support the killing of terrorists but not of innocent people. One resident says that people are scared that they may become the next target of the police. But this story too does not ask them how the operation was executed, whether they witnessed it, or what they saw. It records only their opinion.
The Mail Today has done some of the best reporting, both from Delhi and Azamgarh, recording the various views of the Delhi and Azamgarh police, as well as residents of Jamia Nagar and Sanjarpur village in Azamgarh where the boys come from. It carries the opinions and photographs of several relatives of the suspects. Most importantly, it has maintained its objectivity and questioned the official version, pointing out discrepancies in the facts given out.
The Jamia Nagar episode is a sad reminder of the diminishing credibility of the media. Instead of playing the role of society’s ‘watchdog’, the media seems to be getting increasingly lazy and dependent on police handouts. The main job of the media is to question and not accept whatever is being served to it on a platter.
Because of this increasing laziness of the print media and increasing ‘greed’ for sensationalism on the part of the visual media, news tends to be presented to the public without proper investigation, which is the most important job of the media. Investigation does not mean that every media person has to become an ‘investigative journalist’. That is not the job of the daily reporter, nor is it expected from him. What is expected is that the reporter tries to give different sides of the incident after questioning as many eyewitnesses as possible.
In most of the papers the boys killed were declared terrorists much before any proof could be established against them. It is unfortunate that not even the prefix ‘alleged’ or ‘suspected’ was used. Every TV channel was competing with the other to sensationalise the raid as much as possible, perhaps with an eye on TRP ratings.
Fortunately, there are still people in the media who caution their colleagues against such gullibility and try to present more reliable reports.
The magazines are definitely much better at analysing facts, maybe because they are less constrained by ‘deadlines’ than are daily reporters. Some columnists are also critical and reflective.
In The Week, Antara Dev Sen, in her column ‘I Witness’, comments (The Week, September 29 to October 8, 2008): “Terrorism is bad enough, worse is the eerie suspicion that we may never know what really happened, that instead of addressing terrorism we are pursuing cosmetic security while the real culprits plot the next attack.” She laments that “the days of sceptical caution, of not accepting a one-source story, are numbered. What started as lazy journalism, as reporters warmed to PR handouts, is now news etiquette”.
Sevanti Ninan, reviewing the media’s role in Dainik Hindustan (September 28, 2008), points out the slanted reporting against Muslims. She notes that when there are reports flowing out of Orissa and Karnataka about the activities of the Bajrang Dal we never get to know anything about the people involved in it. “Are their pictures, addresses, life stories plastered in all the newspapers and on TV channels? Why is their profiling not done?”
The language used to describe the Bajrang Dal also indicates the way the media treats them. They are described only as “goons of Bajrang Dal,” they are never thought of as anti-national or terrorists. “Where do they get money from? This never becomes a subject of debate. But when it comes to those Christians and Muslims who are accused of religious conversions, the media takes great interest in filing news on where they are getting their money from.”
In Outlook, Smita Gupta and Chandrani Banerjee raise a number of questions. They cite a central minister as expressing concern over not just the fact that the Delhi police’s special cell may have botched up the case but of the long-term consequences it may have. “At a time when the majority of young Muslims are vying to join the mainstream, moving to the big cities to get better education and improve their opportunities, we appear to have alienated the community further.” The article says, quoting a senior intelligence officer, “At an early stage of the investigation, when the police are just exploring leads, such detailed press conferences are irresponsible. It only creates panic and reinforces cultural stereotypes,” (Outlook, October 6, 2008, page 30, 31).
The bias continues…
Despite the criticism it is a matter of concern that some TV channels continued with the strident note, describing the accused as ‘terrorists’. On the night of Sunday, September 28, 2008, IBN7 telecast a programme showing pictures of each of the four accused and calling them ‘terrorists’. It said they were absconding and gave short profiles of each of them.
NDTV at the same time was telecasting a discussion in its regular programme ‘Hum Log’ on whether Muslims should introspect. A point made forcefully by some of the participants was why should only Muslims introspect; why should India as a whole not do so. It also had a section on the way the media reported the incident.
Some attempts to act more responsibly are now evident. In Dainik Jagran, September 28, the picture of a woman from Mehrauli who claims to have seen the two motorbike riders who planted the bomb has been blurred. The blurring is not as good as it could have been, but an attempt has been made. However, the story carries her name, so any good done in hiding her identity by the blurred picture is cancelled by this oversight!
Other papers too have carried the story of a woman having had an altercation with those who planted the bomb. The woman was interviewed by at least one television channel which concealed her identity by showing her with her face covered with a pink dupatta, revealing only her eyes.
The growing reach and influence of the media, both print and electronic, has unfortunately not been accompanied by a corresponding growth in a sense of responsibility and accountability to society. The media plays watchdog to society, but there is no one to watch the media itself. As a consequence, public dissatisfaction with the media is on the rise.
Journalists have long held the view that they are beyond scrutiny. The ‘freedom of the press’ argument has been stretched to permit abuse and licence on the one hand and sycophancy towards the powers-that-be, on the other. Cases where the media has overstepped its brief, indulged in defamatory stories or relied on dubious sources are becoming common. The damage done to individuals’ lives and careers can sometimes be irremediable. It is vital for journalists to protect the media from such self-destructive tendencies. We need guidelines and more training for journalists, both those in the field and those at news desks and studios, to sensitise them to some of these issues.
Sensationalism, trivialisation, gender, caste and class bias are problems inherent in reporting, and exposure to ongoing discourse on these problem areas needs to be built by instituting more training courses and on-the-job refresher courses.
The profession has long held out against any code of conduct or regulatory mechanisms. The Press Council has limited powers and its jurisdiction is restricted to the print media. It is clearly time to amend the Press Council Act, extend it to the electronic media, give it statutory powers and rename it a Media Council.
Further, there is an urgent need for more media watching, more research and more media studies. This report is only one small attempt in that direction.
We hope that through such critiques of some of the stereotypes that the media perpetuates in society and the overt and covert biases in day-to-day reporting, we will be able to make our co-professionals introspect on these issues. A responsible media is essential for the defence of democracy and the rule of law.
By Sadanand Menon
Monday, September 22, 2008, was an extraordinary day in the annals of the Indian media. I would like to call it a day of shame. For, on that day, our media collectively displayed its herd-like mentality and its entirely uncritical attitude towards the use -- and misuse -- of the photographs it publishes.
At least eight mainstream English language newspapers (including The Times of India, The Indian and The New Indian Express, The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Deccan Chronicle) and many more in the language press from north to south, east to west, uncritically published almost identical photographs on their front pages. The photographs were not generated by any single agency. They were neither taken by ‘citizen’ photographers nor were they official handouts. They were shots by individual staff photographers as well as professional syndicated photographers. What is amazing is what news rooms across the country chose to do with the image.
The photographs were of three suspects involved in the Delhi blasts who were arrested at their residence in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. Reports also claimed they were students of the Jamia Milia Islamia. What was fishy about the photographs was that they showed three totally unidentifiable people, their heads and faces swathed in generous lengths of cloth, flanked by gun-toting policemen in mufti and other hangers-on. Yet, it seemed obvious that this was a photo-op provided to the media -- not to protect anyone’s identity but to precisely create a definite sense of identity.
To mask the identity of all three suspects, they were dressed up by the local police in identical Palestinian rumaals or kaffiyehs or abayas or cassavas as this piece of head-dress is variously known. Though none of their faces were visible, to any casual reader of the newspaper it would be abundantly clear that they were of ‘Arab’, ‘West Asian’ or ‘Islamic’ origin. A clear case of racial profiling!
Some sceptical comments about this on the Net, primarily generated by documentary filmmaker Yousuf Sayeed who lives in the same area, led to a small critical piece in The Hindustan Times two days later, raising some crucial questions. The sceptics wondered how it was that the three arrested suspects came to be in possession of identical, brand-new rumaals, which they could readily pull out of their pockets to cover their faces. As if, on realising that they would be arrested soon, they went shopping and bought identical scarves so that everyone would recognise them as ‘Islamic terrorists’. Critics pointed out that, usually, suspects arrested on various charges mask their faces with their own handkerchiefs or borrow towels or a black cloth to cover their faces; never before had it seemed like such a costume drama as the Delhi police had managed to stage.
Then came the stunning revelation by the Delhi police commissioner. He confessed that it was his department that had dressed the suspects up in such a suggestive manner and, even more alarmingly, that the Delhi police had purchased these pieces of cloth “in bulk” for use by those arrested. Obviously, every arrested person could now be given a suggestive ‘Islamic terrorist’ look, thereby setting up dangerous subliminal propaganda within the media.
Repulsive as it is, most people will agree that the police and its dirty-tricks department are not beyond using such obnoxious methods. What is beyond explanation is how the media collectively fell into the trap and carried the images without a single question or doubt about what they were so readily displaying on their front pages.
For those not used to thinking about such things, the question can be framed a little differently. It has to do with conceptual issues related to the use (or misuse) of the image in the media. On any given day, hundreds of thousands of photographs are taken. Of these, by common consensus and governed by a largely abstract logic dealing with the received wisdom of ‘news-value’ or ‘news-worthiness’, around 500-1,000 pictures are considered for use within the media. After that it is a matter of chance or dependent on strong editorial choices as to why a particular photograph makes it to the papers, in particular the front page.
The front page photograph, in the world of the print media, is usually associated with having an iconic status. It is supposed be a quick encapsulation of what a paper or a region or a nation or a civilisation imagines as its primary concern. It frames the news of the day with a kind of visual evidence or back-up which then illustrates how it wants to set up the communication and how it wants readers to enter the narrative.
Very seldom, across 365 days in a year, do we find identical images on the front page of the newspapers. It is supposed to be the greatness and the strength of democratic media practice that the editorial position and interpretation of events could vary. It is also part of the notion of healthy competition in the media that variety, diversity and contrariness are seen as virtues -- that a news item or image which is used sycophantically by one section of the press can as easily be used critically by another section of the same press.
That is why, when you come across a substantial section of the national press using one common image on their front pages, that too without any critical remarks or interrogative comments, one begins to smell the workings of an ‘ideology’, which is nothing but a blind acceptance of certain ‘ruling’ ideas of a class or of a moment -- ideas that indicate the power structures within which ‘information’ and ‘meaning’ are manufactured.
To me it is shattering that on the evening of September 21, across the news rooms of the best of Indian newspapers, not one editorial discussion chose to evaluate the photograph of the three arrested youngsters draped in checked cloth and use their judgment to ‘read’ the picture in a dispassionate manner worthy of a free press. Instead, the Indian media collectively behaved as they had not even during the period of the Emergency and its draconian censorship. They all fell prey to their own prejudices and communal mindsets. The Nazi propaganda machine could not have produced better results!
Obviously, the Indian media needs to re-investigate the ‘frame’ within which it is presenting, colouring and analysing news. Such evidence of a collective cop-out is a serious failing, which it must critically examine to carry out correctives. In fact, this is a case fit to be taken up before the Press Council.
Shame, a little shame is all that the media needs. For shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary sentiment.
(Sadanand Menon is a senior journalist who has worked with The Economic Times and other publications)
Friday, December 4, 2009
By Fact Finding Report30 November, 2009
Fact Finding Report of Narayanpatna Firing on Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha
As this report gets written Singanna and Andru’s bodies are being cremated at Podapadar village amidst a throng of police platoons waiting to arrest any member of Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS) who exposes herself or himself to the police. Already 20 have been arrested and there is evident fear of many more hundreds being detained or arrested. The total clamp down on participation of the media, activists, leaders and any sympathizer of CMAS is not only condemnable but totally unjustified. The district has been turned into a hunting ground of tribals and there is fear written all over the faces of tribals in this remote block of Koraput district. A small team of three members made a two-day visit to Narayanpatna to ascertain the situation and understand the truth behind the firing incident which killed two tribals.
Blocked roads, long walks up and down winding hill paths and petrified tribals afraid to open their mouths to any unknown persons were the memories etched in the team members’ minds. But what left the members shocked during their visit on 21st and 22nd November 2009 was that democracy had fallen to its worst during those three days after the firing and murder of two tribals.
There is much to be asked about the firing but the question foremost on our mind is – who ordered the firing? did the police take the permission of a magistrate before setting off their guns and why was tear gas and other non-fatal measures not used to disperse a crowd which police thought might create a law and order situation? the time gap between the protest gathering and the firing is just about 30 minutes? but police say they requested and warned and then opened fire? all these things happened in 30 minutes? sounds a little preposterous and forces one to wonder whether it was cold blooded murder or a freak incident or a well-planned strategic elimination of a leader who held sway over a large number of fearless and empowered tribal cadres of CMAS.
As the days pass rising police brutalities destroy brick by brick the euphoric notions of ‘democracy’ so carefully packaged and sold to people of India by a political class sold out to corporate greed. Every night and every dawn brings shivers to the tribals as they await an assault on their hamlet, whether on the hill top or on the plains or deep in the jungles, by the marauding security forces. No one knows from which end and at what time under cover of darkness these cobras and scorpions will attack their village, break open their doors, kick them out of their homes and beat the blues out of them. The CMAS has been persistently branded a frontal organization of the CPI (Maoist) despite their vehement rebuttal and lack of any evidence to show their Maoist connections.
Facts and observations stated in this report are based on information and statements collected during interviews with Narayanpatna residents who were witness to the firing, local mediapersons and villagers of Kumbhari and Narayanpatna Panchayats.
Fact Finding Team Members -
1. K Sudhakar Patnaik – Senior Journalist
2. Manoranjan Routray – Journalist
3. Sharanya – HumAnE, Koraput
The Facts of 20th November 2009
About 200 CMAS members including 100 women came to Narayanpatna Police Station to protest against harassment of tribals in particular women during the previous days’ combing operations by security forces. They reached the police station at around 2 pm and since the two gates of the police station were closed they called on the OIC to come out for a discussion. The police refused to let them in and began verbally abusing tribals who had assembled at the gate.
When the police did not respond to their repeated requests to let a team of tribals into the police station for discussion on their complaints with the OIC, CMAS leader Kumudini Behera and CMAS President Kendruka Singanna broke open the lock of the small side gate of the police compound with an axe. As the gate opened 5-6 main leaders of CMAS including Singanna and Kumudini went to meet OIC Gouranga Charan Sahu. During a heated exchange between the OIC and Singanna, the OIC began to shout that he was being attacked by CMAS leaders and he ordered the IRB guards on the roof of the police station to open fire on the crowd gathered outside. The police fired three shots in air and then began to indiscriminately fire at the crowd standing outside the police compound. The firing was done by the IRB as well as CRPF and Cobra at 2.45 pm. The firing continued for half an hour and 300 bullets were fired at people.
Hearing the sound of firing Singanna and others came out of the police station. Singanna was hit in the chest while he was walking out of the police compound. He received ten bullets in his chest and fell in front of the small police gate. Another CMAS member Andru Nachika of Bhaliaput village received bullet injuries and fell face down outside the police compound. Their bodies were left there by CMAS members who ran helter-skelter as the police began firing at them. Around 300 bullets were fired at the people. In this firing, while two have died it is being estimated that around 60 more persons have been injured and some are in a serious condition.
Singanna is survived by his wife who is also pregnant, three sons and a daughter. Andru is survived by his wife who is also pregnant and two children.
The Reason for CMAS Protest
During a fact finding visit on 22nd November 2009, all CMAS members and villagers interviewed stated that they had gone to the Police Station to lodge their protest against police harassment of tribals and in particular women who were being harassed by the security forces.
One of the main reasons for CMAS members’ protest was that they wanted an answer from the OIC regarding violation of an assurance made to the tribals earlier. The CMAS members stated that about two months back they had held a protest rally regarding harassment of tribals in the name of combing and deployment of security forces in their villages. Following the rally, the OIC had given a written assurance to CMAS leaders that forces would not enter their villages and harass the tribals. They would conduct combing operations without harassing the locals. But the CMAS members stated that the police had violated this assurance and hence they came to ask the police the reason for this gross violation which was a serious breach of trust.
Of particular importance is people’s statement that the security forces categorically told them during combing operations on 18th and 19th November that they should leave their villages immediately or else they would have to face dire consequences. They even told them that the non-tribals whose lands CMAS had ‘grabbed’ (sic!) would come back soon to claim their lands !
Combing operations and related harassment of 18th and 29th November was reported from Odiapentha, Dandabeda, Palaput, Dubaguda and Badhraguda villages.
Apart from warning them, they did not allow the women and men to continue their harvesting work. Some said that they even took away their harvested paddy and mandia crops. The tribals explained to us that this season is the most important time for them because they are engaged in harvesting, husking and storing of their foodgrains. Hence such combing operations and threats to people would destroy their harvesting operations and affect their food security.
When the tribals related this to their CMAS leaders, the latter decided to go to the police station to demand an explanation for this warning and also protest the harassment. The CMAS leaders sent cadres to different villages and assembled the members and took a decision to hold a peaceful march to the police station to make their protest and put their demands before police.
About 50 tribals whom we interviewed and most of who had attended the march to the police station, categorically stated that they did not carry any firearms and that they carried a few axes and thick bamboo sticks. None carried any bow and arrow because they explained to us that on previous occasions their bows and arrows had led the media to brand them as Maoists. So they said that they had consciously not carried any bows and arrows or local swords.
Situation of 22nd November 2009
As of today, it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of persons injured as CMAS members have returned to their villages and have not been able to meet or communicate with each other about the actual injuries to their members. Medical aid to these persons is not available as the injured are afraid to come to Narayanpatna Primary Health Centre (PHC) for medical treatment for fear of being arrested. They are taking treatment from their traditional tribal healers (disaris). Doctors are also reluctant to go to the villages for treating any patients for fear of abuse by the police and security forces. Local Anganwadis and ASHA workers are unable to teat the injured as they do not have the necessary medicines, spirit and cotton to clean and dress the wounds.
Far flung villages and constant combing by the security forces is also making it difficult for the leaders to move to different villages to ascertain how many have been injured and what is their condition. Most leaders are in hiding as there is a reported shoot-at-sight order against them.
On 22nd November early morning there was a combing operation by security forces and seven persons were arrested from their homes between 5 to 6 am. Apart from this, forces forcefully broke into homes and searched for ‘red flags’ (whatever that might signify as evidence!?). They abused people, in particular the women, kicked and beat young boys with thick bamboo sticks who did not answer questions. They seized axes, sickles, knives, bows and arrows and bamboo sticks from every house they entered and told the tribals that these are ‘dangerous weapons of murder’ and that they would be arrested if they were found in their homes next time. The tribals asked us, “these are our agricultural implements and daily household needs so how can we not keep them at home? How will we get fuelwood, cut vegetables, harvest paddy and cut branches to feed our animals? Where should we hide them and why should we do that when we never use these as weapons of murder as accused by the police?” We had no answers ….
Four CMAS members from Narayanpatna and three persons from Palaput, 1 km away from Narayanpatna. The details of persons arrested are : 1. Raju Huika – Narayanpatna Kandha Sahi, 2. Dora Nachika – Narayanpatna Kandha Sahi, 3. Masi Sirka – Narayanpatna Kandha Sahi, 4. Ramesh Khosla – Narayanpatna Ghasi Sahi, 5. Kumudini Dora - Palaput Tala Sahi, 6. Debendra Behera - Palaput Tala Sahi 7. Satyanarayan Bangu - Palaput Tala Sahi (his commander was seized)
These seven persons have been taken into police custody on 22nd November and will have to be produced before Judicial Magistrate at Laxmipur within 24 hours. If this is not done then the police would be violating its own laws.
Apart from this, the fact finding team also met three persons who have received bullet injuries. A boy of 18 years received two bullet injuries in his leg and in the same village another person has a bullet injury wherein the bullet is still lodged in his hip. Yet another person of that village has a bullet wound which whisked past his left calf and has left a slit which needs immediate stitches. Another older man of another village has received a bullet injury in his left hand. This person was marketing dry fish near the police station when he was hit. He had no idea about the rally and the reasons for it. He is also partially hearing impaired. Apart from this, the people the fact finding team spoke to said that about 60 others have also received bullet injuries and are hiding in the villages. None of these persons are able to get medical help.
As the fact finding team wanted to give some medicines to the injured patients and went into Narayanpatna town for purchasing these at around 3 pm on 22nd November they were stopped by DSP Jagannath Rao and Semiliguda IIC Sarat Sahu along with some armed constabulary. After initial questions on where the team had gone and why and checking of vehicle, they asked the team to leave the town immediately or else they would have to detain the members. This warning came despite knowing the fact that two of the fact finding members were journalists.
Impact of Firing on People
All people whom the fact finding team met in the last two days are under tremendous fear that the police would kill every tribal they set their sight on including all members of CMAS. There is fear in their eyes as they spoke to the fact finding team members. They asked, “what should we do when the police comes to our village?” When they were told not to run upon seeing the forces, they asked, “if we do not run then how can we save ourselves? they will definitely kill us”. The women stated that they heard forces warning them in low breath that if the CMAS male members did not hand themselves over to the police then they would rape the all the women to ‘teach them a lesson’. One old woman asked us, “what wrong have we done? We only asked for lands to cultivate and live a life of dignity and freedom from hunger?”
People are afraid to move out of villages due to fear of arrest and are constantly discussing about what will happen to them after this. Every village we went to we found women and men assembled in their village meeting place discussing the impending dangers. They are afraid to stay in the jungles as the forces are patrolling the jungles as well. They say that if they stay in the jungles they will be hunted and killed and if they live in their villages then they will be hunted out into the jungles and then also killed. “So either ways we die”, tell the women.
The leaders of CMAs have several questions : why did the police not use tear gars to disperse the tribals if they thought there was going to be a law and order situation? Why were rubber bullets not used? The firing took place within half and hour of the protest rally so how did the police state that they gave the people adequate opportunities to break the rally and disperse?
The CMAS leaders also asked us, “when the police comes attacking us in our villages we do not retaliate and kill them? In fact we allow them to search us, our homes and even beat us up mercilessly? So why did police kill us when we came to their home to seek answers to simple questions?” They told us, “even if we had snatched the weapons we could not have fired because we do not know how to use them? So how did we become threats to the life of the OIC or the IRB guards standing on the rooftop?”
They asked us to reflect on why would they, the tribals, want to attack the police in their own compound? And why would 200 tribals come to the police station to loot arms when the OIC did not even have a gun on him when they confronted him? They explained to us that the IRB guards stationed on the roof, who fired at the crowd, were beyond the reach of tribals and hence it is impossible that they were trying to snatch their weapons at the roof.
A very pertinent question was asked to us by a few tribal youths at a meeting in a village of Kumbhari Panchayat. They told us that the Government wants tribals to keep peace and help the Government and use democratic means to state their complaints. But the CMAS members asked us, “why should we help Government when it has not even given us our basic survival needs like PDS, NREGS, schools and health? Government forced us to fight for our survival but killed us because we went to ask them a question? Is that so undemocratic? And what the police did to us, is that what you call democracy?”
The fact finding team also observed that the local mediapersons have not been reporting the truth behind several facts of the firing incident and are tracking movement of other reporters and fact finding teams visiting the area. They are conveying this information to the local police. The team felt very strongly that local mediapersons were doing this with malafide intentions.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
In the post liberalization scenario, two things are clearly emerging in India. One the enormous power of the media and second the powerful cocktail of media-corporate-hindutva to rule over the country and destroy its cultural resources. And therefore Mumbai’s incidents have to be seen in a broader framework and not what is being made visible to us. Mumbai’s ugly incident has given media a tool to justify its jingoism and spread lies and rumors to fix up an agenda which is anti poor and anti Dalit-Adivasis-Bahujan.
It is no doubt that those Islamic Jihadis or Hindu fundamentalists or fanatics who are at war with each other in India are poor cousins of each others. They strengthen each other. Both of them have no love for democracy and democratic values. At both the sides of the story, whether it is Muslim Jehadis or Hindutva fundamentalists, there is ample number of patrons who will come out and speak for the community. Unless people, come out openly against such ‘patrons’, the fight against terror can not be won.
What perturbed me most about the Mumbai coverage is that when on the next day of the attack on Taj, V P Singh, the former P.M of India, who changed the course of the Indian politics and history, none of these news channels and news papers bothered to talk or write about him.. Taj continued to remain the ‘symbol’ of India and ‘Indians’ were ‘outraged’ continued the commentators. Mr. Bachhan’s sleepless nights, Shahrukh’s and Amir’s open criticism of terrorism, and C.M visit to Taj along with the film director Ram Gopal Verma and actor son Ritesh continued to remain the headlines.[i] It was no coincident that over hype of attack on Taj was in away media’s clever attempt to hijack things and decide an agenda of its own. On the eve of new year, it is the debate on ‘war on terror’. ‘We must now ‘do or die’ said some of them. People like us who have been working on the people’s issues are concerned with this fixation of agenda by the media in these circumstances where each one of us needs to ponder. That Muslim community is now under tremendous pressure to ‘show’ its faithfulness and ‘condemn’ terrorism is the new media hype around the issue.
It is not complicated why media made Taj such an issue. The shaheeds whom we witnessed at hotel Taj reflect media’s mind which will discredit our leadership (though I too have no love for them) and glorify the armed forces. Its like what George Bernad Shah wrote in his famous drama ‘Arms and the man’. During those days every English woman would aspire to marry a military man fighting against the enemy. But we live in strange time today. The glorification of the death of a soldier comes from those who would in no way send their children to army or armed forces. Indian army need good officers and this is a well known truth that we seriously need young dynamic youths in the army who can lead. Yet, despite the glory, how many of these ‘candle wallahs’ masses would opt for the army.
Secondly, the media has been projecting that they only believe in India shining story which was actually rejected by the people of this country many time. But ‘people’, for media, means those who eat at Taj. The concerned media became so enraged after the event of Taj that they started instigating people against the entire political system as they were not part of it. And in doing so they started claiming (read miss-claiming) that now the ‘middle class is in danger’. They failed to understand the very basic reality that middle class has always been on the target of terrorists, it is not because of this attack on Taj as how many of the middle classes would afford to eat and sleep at Taj.
Denigrating democracy and glorifying military power is part of a brahmanical culture which is worried about growing challenge to its hegemony. Today, knowledge and power is not its only domain. It controlled Indian power structure and the man who shook this in the 1990s coincidently passed away in the same period. Thanks to media’s over hyped coverage of terror strike, all his work went unnoticed for the entire brahmanical class. This man had challenged the hegemony of the ruling brahminical class and created a new set of the rulers like Mayawati, Lalu Yadav, Ramvilas Paswan and many such others. He made us realize that this rule of the new ruling class is going to stay here as a matter of fact. Thus the brahmanical forces started working on the politics of cooption. Though they agreed to some extent at the later stage on the agenda of social justice but they never condone any one who dares to change their agenda. The current war on terror is clearly an exercise of shifting the agenda of the politics in past 20 years from social justice to ‘terrorism’ which in Indian situation is bound to help the brahmanical ruling elite. That only those will get the title of Shaheed who will die at Taj and the policemen and army people who fight against the insurgency operations and against the Naxals are not Shaheeds. Why didn’t our media stalwarts like Barkha Dutt, Rajdeep Saardesai, Ashutosh, Praveen Swami and their look likes ever visit Kandhamaal or Khairlanjee to share and show the pain of those suffered in the massacre. How can those people who still eat rats say ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ as people like Arnab Goswami would make all believe. The way the word shaheed was being used by these news channels, it looked as if they are not independent media organizations but government’s spokes person. On the contrary, in the past few years, if you agree, DD News as well as DD Bharati and Lok Sabha TV seems to be the best news and current affairs channels, as they do not cry and exhibit their nationalism in public. Their debates are impressive, unlike those organized by the ‘mathadhishs’ in the paid channels where the anchors want all to speak their language.
There is no doubt that the events in Mumbai were traumatic, but they were over played by an overzealous media which wanted to project that only terror is the issue before the country. The media made us believed that they ‘represent’ the nation and therefore none had the decency to speak about a former prime minister who passed away during this period. Was it pressure of the Mumbai news that forced media to ignore this news or was it their inherent bias against the forces of social justice that they did not want to speak on the subject which had taken most of the space during the past 20 years. Yes, the media could not have ignored had any other political leader passed away during this period as Kancha Illaiah rightly said in his tribute to V.P.Singh in Deccan Herald, comparing the latter with Abraham Lincoln.
Communalization of media
The problem lies in the people who head our media institutions. There is a stark change in the perceptions of the editors these days. Once upon a time, media was a watch dog and voices of dissent were part of their struggle. During the dark days of emergency when the Akashwani was termed as ‘Indirawani’, the ‘Indian Express’ lonely under Ram Nath Goenka became the voice of the masses. In 1986-87 when V.P.Singh was exposing various deals of the government, the entire media fraternity was united in discrediting him. Except for newspapers like Indian Express, the Hindu and the Statesman, the papers provided their space to government agents masquerading as journalists write reports which were totally fabricated and fictitious. Veteran editors were used in this regard to defame the man who challenged the Congress. Making a clever move, the government of the day, also learnt how to censor media without officially censoring it and hence journalists were lured into becoming party spokespersons. Today this trend has been well taken by almost all the political parties which have rootless paratroopers whose only quality is ‘connections’ with media.
However, in the last decade of the 20th century, the course of the history of Indian media was changed by three important events. In 1990, we entered into an era where international warfare was directly being broadcast by CNN. It was amazing to see bombs being hurled on Iraq. India soon became a party to it, thanks to an indecisive Prime Minister Narsimha Rao whose lonely commitment to the people was through open market economy. Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister of India allowed all the doors wide open for foreign direct investment. Hundreds of private TV companies were allowed to have their space in the Door Darshan.
The second important event was the acceptance of the recommendations of Mandal Commission by Prime Minister V.P.Singh. This sparked off the violence in the entire north India. The violence was not spontaneous but was sparked off by the goons of Sangh parivar pretending to be journalist. Since they had visualized in advance that opening of the levers of powers for the shudras would endanger the brahmanical hegemony hence they were hell bent to oppose it. So much was the hatred among the upper caste that students immolated themselves in the streets of Delhi. Every bad news is good news and hence media used this opportunity. The beating of students by an insensitive police in the streets of Delhi was actually the high point of India today brand of journalism (please clearify it). Editors of several newspapers exposed their dirt openly and shamelessly that they stand for an upper caste India with no rights for the dalits. Articles were published against reservation granted for the dalits too who were outside the ambit of Mandal Commission report. Arun Shourie in particular, who was then heading the Indian Express group remained more shameless using his newspaper to spread lies, falsehood and rumors. Shourie felt that he was the sole proprietor of truth but the fact is that he spoke truth which was useful for the Hindu upper castes.
The third important event of the decade was the demolition of Babri Maszid. However, Shourie’s campaign did not end only with opposing the legitimate rights to Shudras. He went on to support demolition of the Babari Mosque and attacks on Chrisitans and Muslims also. Later on he wrote a book on Ambedkar terming him as a British stooge. He is the best example of how a journalist who claims to be torch bearer uses ‘truth of convenience’ for his constituency. He knew it very well that the communalization of the middle classes was easy and anything written against the Muslims, Dalits and OBCs would be sold as hot cakes. And it did happen. The Mandal reccomondation saw the worst ever protests of the upper caste youths all over the country and in turn completely and unjustifiably communalized them. With more and more media men getting into politics, the Hindutva fundamentalists were the first to understand the wide power of media and benefits of communalization of the middle classes which is basically opinion maker. It started with a number of editors joining the bandwagon of the Hindutva followed by political reporters. Hence when Lal Krishna Advani said that Ram Mandir Movement was a movement equivalent to 1942’s quit India movement, several editors cum owners of the newpapers jumped into the fray. Dainik Jagaran was the biggest example. The newspaper is the highest circulated Hindi daily from UP became an avid Hindutva protagonist and its editor cum owner Narendra Mohan felt that nothing could be greater than dying for the cause of Ram Mandir.
Thus, most of the Hindi media then turned into Hindu media and the cause of the Ram Mandir became a national cause. At the same time every Muslim became a suspect and every Muslim criminal who was arrested became an ISI agent. Those supporting the demand of a court settlement or who were seen to be with Muslims were termed as Maulana. Both the mandal and mandir issue in 1990 exposed two important myths of Indian media and and their ethos. The liberal media or a tolerant and respecting dissent got exposed the way media became a party in the entire anti mandal charade. Editors became preachers and their gospel forced students to commit suicide. V.P.Singh and other leaders of National Front became the villain. Later when Advani started his rath yatra, a large number of the media men became party to it. The reporting of the event was done at a grand scale. When Advani was arrested in Samastipur Bihar, various states went for communal disturbances instigated by the Sangh Parivar and their elements. But the India media had no regret as it was determined to destroy the greater unity of the Dalit Bahujan communities in the aftermath of the mandal. Thus media’s corruption came in open.
The language of media became aggressive and abusive. The so called saffron saints and sanyasis who were supposed to be very polite got wide publicity in the media spewing venom on the highest political leadership. The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister became the figures highly abused. Awards were put at their heads and newspapers were reporting from every where. Different editions of one newspaper published one report of a reporter in different edition in different ways, often in highly outrageous headlines. In fact, the Press Council of India censored many of them but then how many of media barons respect press council.
In fact, when Justice P.B.Sawant became chief of press council and censored many of the news papers, majority of the media barons turned against him. None ever bothered about the rebuke of the press council. Media gets worried only when an authority asks them do so. Every suggestion is countered under the guise of ‘freedom of expression’. They feel uncomfortable if they are asked to remain unbiased and unprejudiced. After the Gujarat riots (read Sangh Parivar engineered riots), the entire Gujrati media turned highly against Muslims and every report that was asking for justice to Muslims in the state was considered an assault to ‘Gujarati Asmita’ as if Gujrati Muslims do not have a Gujarati identity, as if they do not have right to live in Gujarat and get justice. The vernacular press too was very loud in spreading the message of the ruling political class all over the state. Those who tried to remain rational was banned by the Narendra Modi government of flimsy ground. While none of us would ever recommend the prohibition measures, media events expose their own positions.
Dalits and Media
In the 1990s, the Hindi media had become Hindu media on the issue of Ayodhya question, the English media, with some eceptions, had opposed the demolition of the Babari mosque. The leading luminaries of the media decried demolition of the mosque as an assault on the constitution. But nevertheless, when the political movement for the Ramjanambhoomi was build up, the English media too did not remain behind in carefully crafting the image of Lal Krishna Advani as a national leader. No one felt that the forces of the destruction of India should be given the space they deserved. In fact, media research showed that the Hindutva and its frontal organizations had become household names. Their strength was displayed in such a way as if the entire nation wanted them.
In the post 1990s when the Dalit assertion grew diametrically higher in India, an Indian journalist B.K.Uninyal wrote an article in the Pioneer about the presence of dalits in the Indian media. It became a ‘hallmark’ for the dalit writing activism in the media. The Pioneer which was one of the finest newspapers under Vinod Mehta in the 1990 championing secular cause became the mouthpiece of Sangh Parivar once Chandan Mitra purchased it. Later it was understood that it was a tactic adopted by him to make his way to Rajya Sabha. Mitra degraded a people’s news-daily into a bundle of calumny, lies and propaganda of the hindu right wing through his editorialized news reports. The circulation of the daily was virtually nothing yet Chandan Mitra, was a brand himself. Earlier in his position as an assistant editor of Hindustan Times, he expressed his anti mandal views during his caste aspersion reports on some of the judges of Supreme Court for which he was indicted by the Supreme Court and later shunted out by the management of Hindustan Times. As BJP led NDA took power in Centre under Atal Bihri Vajpayee, the Sangh parivar and its sympathizers in the media grew and so were their greed to extract mileage to power.[ii] Hence even person like Aruh Shourie, who once condemned Ambedkar, RSS and its sympathizers worked hard to bring the Dalit ‘intellectuals’ to its fold (its not clear and it contradicts the earlier statements on Shourie). Of course, they know it well that it would be suicidal for any so-called dalit intellectuals to side with the Sangh Parivar and Hindutva forces directly so the media provided them space. Uniyal, a Brahmin actually paved the way of some of the dalits intellectuals to write in Pioneer. A separate column was granted in Sunday Pioneer for this purpose. The careful scanning of these columns easily reflect that the target of these writings were so-called communists and socialists.
In the present scenario, it is interesting to note that maximum glorification of Mayawati comes from the brahmanical media when she started reviving the bramins in Uttar-Pradesh. When she along with Kanshiram was talking about ‘Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, Maro Inko Jute Char (it means throw shoes on Brahmins, Vaishyas and Kshatriyas), the media disowned them and rebuked them. Rightly or wrongly, BSP was always portrayed itself in a much negative fashion. But later Maywati realized that her dream to gain power could not become a reality without the support of other communities, especially the brahmin in particular. However, the upper caste dominated media saw it as an opportunity. Giving tickets to Brahmins for assembly in excess to their proportion was termed by them as ‘social engineering’. They forgot that when VP Singh did the same for OBCs under mandal recommendations, they had termed it as ‘casteism’ and they did the same during the recommendation of reservation in higher education for OBC by the central government in 2006.
Media, therefore, is keeping its caste interest ahead of anything else. When Arun Shourie writes abuses against the Dalits, Muslims and other minorities in his self-proclaimed ‘research’, the media jumps into it and starts debating it without involving others who can ‘expose’ Shourie in his own ‘web’. The Chandan Mitras and Shouries know well how to use the upper caste dishonesty towards dalits and Muslims for their nefarious purposes and the rest of the media follows quietly. It is this that the BJP and Hindutva exploit very well. When Shourie writes, Vasant Sathe would not disagree with him in his final analysis. All together feel that Hinduism is the most tolerant religion.
Media uses and misuses its right to ‘freedom of expression’ when the history is being analyzed from the dalit bahujan view point. Hence writings of Periyar and Ambedkar are highly intolerable. When Shourie was writing against Ambedkar, it was this intolerance of the upper caste which did not allow any dissent in our social cultural life.[iii] However, Ms Mayawati making a strange move in Uttar-Pradesh has deleted Periyar from BSP’s list of icons. It is said that Behenji was worried about the Brahmin votes and Periyar, being the staunch anti Brahmin and anti Ram was therefore replaced by Ravidas.[iv]
But the biggest surprise is that when Ms. Mayawati banned ‘Sachchi Ramayan’, (true Ramayan) in Uttar-Pradesh, none in the brahmanical media defended the book. On the contrary when Teesari Azadi, a docu-drama made by some Dalit Bahujan activists, was getting very popular in among the community people, IBN -7 , a news channel in Hindi started a campaign against it, asking for its ban. Ashutosh, another loud mouth anchor from the channel termed it as a ‘Jehrili CD’ (poisonous CD). He said that it was spreading social discord and the channel broadcasted the news several times. Those in the Dalit Bahujan movement know well that this is nothing but an upper caste intolerance to accept fair criticism.
Rather it is media’s double standard that is creating discord among the people. Their selective criticism to serve their interest is a great hindrance in Dalit people’s right to information. It can make a Lalu Yadav great when he protect the business interest of the private parties dominated by the upper castes and lumpunise him when he talks of the rights of backward classes. The media negligence and apathy towards V.P.Singh is yet another example. While the foreign media wrote him in terms of Indian Mandela or a person in the category of Abrahom Lincoln, the Indian media not only ignored his death but asked people like Megnath Desai to analyse him. It is the travesty of truth that persons like Megnath Desai, who remain stooge to British interest in India, are allowed to judge a person who remain most relevant in today’s politics. It seems that the brahmanical media continued to feel threatened with even the ghost of V.P.Singh.
Media’s tactic of making and unmaking of leader has resulted in its disprortionate respect for itself. It was important for it to remain as a watch dog of the civil society and fight for people’s right. It should not have hesitated in defending human rights and boycotting social evils, but unfortunately, no one does so. A death due to hunger does not get reflection in our media and violence against dalits only reflects when it serves either the political interest of a party or the market interest of the news channels and news papers.
When Mayawati, after becoming the Chief Minister of UP, expressed her desire to become the Prime Minister of India, Jug Surraiya, well known humourist yet anti reservationists wrote a piece comparing her with Barrack Obama, the first black US President, asking when India can have its Obama. His colleague Swaminathan Aiyer also appreciated Maya’s aspirations. How did this sudden change happen! The basic fact is that Maywati’s ‘social engineering’ (as proclaimed by Brahmins) is nothing but brahmanical revivalism. It has fascinated the upper caste intellectuals as well as those who find greatness in clubbing with the new global capitalist agenda and if any appreciation of the new global order comes from the Dalits intellectual then it legitmise the anti people stand of the votaries of this system.
When media reported the anti mandal agitation in 1990, the basic question raised was why the government do not take steps in supporting the OBCs in education. It was often remarked that supporting the dalits and OBCs in education would help the ultimate cause and not through providing separate quota for them in jobs. But in 2007 when the government wanted to reserve seats in the higher education, all the hell was let loose. AIIMS castiest doctors went on strike against the government order. Purely and openly supported by K.Venugopal, the dalit students became victim of their vicious campaign.
Newspaper gave disproportionate representation to anti reservation news while supporters of the pro reservation got little space in their channels. The Times of India reported it as ‘Apartheid’. Does Times of India mean that providing reservation to the marginalized sections of society is tantamount to be equal to apartheid in South Africa? If a newspaper which claims to be more progressive and represent the voice of the middle classes write such an obnoxious story and claim that the affirmative action programme are apartheid in reverse order, one can understand their mindset and their appreciation for the dalit writers and dalit activism.
Media and market
Octavio Paz, who got Nobel Prize in 1990 said in his acceptance speech,
[T]he market economy can not be simply a cause for joy. As a mechanism, the market is efficient, but like all mechanism, it lacks both conscience and compassion. We must find a way of integrating it into society so that it expresses the social contact and become an instrument for justice and fairness.
The advanced democratic societies have reached an enviable level of prosperity and at the same point of time they are islands of abundance in an ocean of universal misery. A society possessed by the frantic need to produce more in order to consume more tends to reduce ideas, feeling, art, love, friendship and people themselves to consumer good. Everything becomes an item to be bought, used and then thrown on the rubbish dump.
Today, media’s commitment to the people’s cause is reflection of what Paz predicted 15 years before. Unfortunately, it has degenerated into a vulgar act of glorification of market world and superstitious mindset that exists in India. We can estimate where media stands when even sophisticated channels are producing ‘tarot reading’ every day and NDTV in its entertainment section is forced to produce ‘Ramayana’ and ‘Shani Ki Mahima’. The surge of religious programme on the Indian silver screen, i.e. television is a new phenomenon of religious revivalism in the country. Hundreds of channels have come up which are broadcasting religious discourse of semiliterate Babas who have targeted the ignorant middle classes which have no social concern yet want to adhere to its age old taboos and traditions in the name of identity. This identity is being carefully crafted in the silver coated pills of religiosity added with a new flavor of ‘art of living’ style morality and keeping yourself fit with yoga. Hence both yoga guru Ramdev and Art of Living champion Ravi Shankar are the most sought after Gurus apart from morality preacher of the middle classes like Shiv Khera and Deepak Chopra. All these and others represent religious revivalism of Hindus, particularly of the upper caste variety. Most of them have their anti backward, anti Dalit stand open and hence come handy to media to use them as a tool against these sections of society. So in a debate for reservation people like Shiv Khera and Ravi shankar are a part for TV news room.
Danger is not just with these kind of religious revivalism. What we are witnessing today is the dose of religiosity added with hardcore superstition is being displayed by the TV channels. The cut throat competition and the fight for TRPs have forced them to bring more such stories such as miracles and extraordinary happenings around us. India TV of Rajat Sharma is notorious for bringing such news. One day it brings out sensational story that the statue of Sai Baba in Sirdi is ‘weeping’ and tears coming out from his eyes. The explanation given to the people was that the Sai is deeply hurt and unhappy on the condition of the society at large. The channel played this news the whole day as the only story. However, the other channel Aaj Tak jumped into the fray to debunk the theory of India TV, suggesting that the said story is fabricated and edited carefully by a software engineer and there is no such news and the management of Sirdi also condemned the channel for broadcasting the ‘fabricated’ news.
Every day we are witnessing such glorious news. Some claims that it has gone to the place where ‘Ravana’ was killed and where his ‘mummies’ are kept, the other finds ‘Ashoka Vatika’. There seems to be more interest in religious revivalism particularly of the Hindutva variety. The Setu Samudram Controversy was also raked up by these channels, each one of them following and allowing hardcore anti rationalist and anti Dravidian politician like Subrahmanyam Swamy and others to fulminate against the Tamilnadu government.
Why the Channels are doing so?
It seems today that the news channels have become more important than news. And with enormous growth of the middle classes in India, the growth of the semi literate people craving for Masala news has increased. The news channels have created new experts who are inherently biased in their opinion. Of course, in the name of putting the other view point, the channels also invite some ‘dissenters’ but the priority is given to those who speak as if they only have the monopoly over patriotism. The anchors are becoming aggressive and they do not allow any dissenting voice to dominate. They always like to have their voice at the end. Whenever any dissenting voice dominates the discussion, the anchor would cut it short.
Arundhati Roy recently commented on them how they were challenging every one who disagreed with the idea of ‘government as responsible for the Mumbai incident’, as if the Mumbai incident happened because of absent of laws.
These anchors are habitual of putting their words into Indian ‘experts’ but when they interview the foreign experts, they forget they are not interviewing an Indian hence we have seen how they fight with experts other than Indians, who do not agree with their view point. For our media, a Pakistani or Bangladeshi or an English expert is supposed to speak our voice. How would it be possible? If journalism is nationalism then the same is true for the journalists in other countries. We can not and should not expect them to speak our language. But then our pundits in the media are the same as happening to American media. I call it is as CNNisation process in Indian media which is embedded media. We do not really follow the BBC and its credibility as a news channel but the commercial CNN which is embedded to American establishment and that is one reason why Al-jejira was born.
The sermonisation of the Indian media is worst as they do not even pretend to have a dissenting voice in them. Eric Alterman has wonderfully narrated the entire sequence of Punditocracy in American media in his book ‘What Liberal Media’ in the following words;
[B]ut where journalism adopts the pretense of reporting only ‘the facts maam’ , the need for ‘opinion writers’ dedicated to placing the news in a larger and more useful context for readers, rises accordingly.
Pundits can be particularly influential in the United states owing to amazing degree of ignorance and or apathy many Americans share regarding politics and public affairs. In a nation where six out of ten high school students lack what the department of educaton term ‘even basic knowledge of US history and where more people can give pollsters name of all the three stooges than any three members of the Surpreme Court, the importance of some one helping out with a reasoned and intelligent contextual view of events hardly be overstated.[v]
Going through the Indian media and the lack of indepth analysis in it, one does not wonder why it has happened. A Newspaper like Indian Express which used to the voice of middle classes and under privileged once upon a time, today, represents the voice of the elite Indians. It’s conspicuously denigrated everything that is pro-people and anti American as if the people do not have a right to speak and express themselves. The Times of India, which often represented voice of the liberal India today talks of tougher laws against terror.
Media’s Ethical Failures
After the Mumbai incident, the media has disproportionately shunned every kind of criticism and dissent. I have been witness to many communal disturbances and investigated role of media and its bipartisan nature. We know how Gujarat incidents were reported and justification was sought. The regional media became the campaign manager of BJP and the Hindutva elements. As I write this analysis amidst my Padyatra (foot march) on the issue of the land ceiling and land redistribution in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the shocking events have forced me to share this with all. The Padyatra was in its 12th day, since it entered Uttarakhand through Nepal border. The issue of the land ceiling and land redistribution are of immense importance for the empowerment of the dalits and other marginalized sections of society, but the intelligence agencies had launched an operation against us. No governments in the world can ignore the issue of land redistribution as it is a way to secure social justice to those who have been denied for long. A way to understand the social inequities in our social system. One is amazed that despite a strong anti ceiling law as well as Zamindar abolition Act in UP and Uttarakhand, the government has not been able to provide justice to the rural poor and now the situation has come to a stage where the government and its authorities are in the process of protecting the interest of the powerful land mafia. Hence any voice to support the cause of the rural poor and their voices are scuttled in the name of nationalism. The governments have failed to protect the lives of the poor. On the contrary those who raise the issue of this fundamental right of the people are termed as anti national. People like us who are raising this issue can be termed as Maoists, while those who are Muslims with us, may be linked to ISI-Maoists set up. Without understanding the ideological perceptive, every one who is raising the voice, is a terrorist here.
Coming to our main focus, during this trip what I could observe was that media has totally lost its ethical responsibilities. The journalists were acting as a tool to the intelligence agencies. Our programme was primarily focused on public awareness, social audits and marching through the street. We had also decided to keep this trip a low profile and march `without mush slogan shouting, due to the prevailing tension in the region. As a precaution we selected to cover villages from only those areas where the land problem really existed.[vi] However, what disturbed us was that the media leakages to authorities and their combine network questioning us in different ways to find out our ideology. They kept interviewing us in front of few members whose names and identity they disclosed. Fact of the matter is they were Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) of the Intelligence Bureau. The government of the day has made up an impression that issues related to land rights are just raised by Maoists only, and therefore they wanted to have an eye on us. But why the media sided with them, is highly questionable.
It is strange that media has become a party to government’s (primarily of the upper caste) propaganda. This is dangerous not only for democracy but our fundamental rights too. How can a journalist disclose his sources of information to the police authorities and make the lives of those endangered who might disagree with the functioning of governance. It is not necessary that a dissenter has to be a Maoist. I still remember former Prime Minister V.P.Singh’s interview to a magazine where he said that he would like to become a Maoist if the rights of the people continue to be defied. Unfortunately, our authorities and now the media too feel that all the dissenters are Maoists.
This all sufficiently shows media’s aggressively anti people campaign. It is carefully carving its corporate agenda which are openly anti poor and anti dalit-Adivasi. Hence all the campaign for the dalits and Adivasis are considered to be anti national. In this hour when the nation should remain united and work for poor and the marginalized, the media does not want to miss any opportunity to turn it upside down. Can there be anything more irresponsible than indulged in war mongering when the world is facing a global meltdown and when the rural poor of India are facing uncertainty of their lives. Actually, their main agenda is to push the developmental agenda into the backburner. It is shocking that saner voices are no longer visible in the media. Though the government itself denied that there is any war effort, yet the way all the dissenters including Arundhati Roy was chided by the popular channels and rebuked, makes us believe that media in this country has lost its senses and has completely sold its conscience. It may force people now to resort to internet gimmickries if it continues to present such ideas, voices and opinions. Nevertheless, with the growing availability of internet, blogs and various web groups have come up for discussions, and slowly and steadily media seems to be a gone case. People suspect newspapers for any in-depth analysis; however, they continue reading them for ‘news’, which again are edited carefully to suit certain interests.
Looking at this biasness of the mainstream media, the dalits and other marginalized groups have now come up with their own medium of mass communication. This silver lining is growing as alternative media resources by the dalit-bahujan communities. Whatever claims all these ‘pundits’ might make; they are under vigilance by the people and thankfully to the growth of internet in the world. The Barkhas, Rajdeeps and Arnabs will not go unchallenged today.
The dalit-bahujan groups and their web logs fought valiantly against the misinformation campaign of the brahmanical news channels and their newspapers against reservation as a whole when the government allowed reservation in the higher educational institutions. One is optimist that two years from now when the second or third generations of these communities will emerge and become a strong middle classe, the media and their tarps will find it more difficult to ignore their voices. The writing is on the wall. A new middle classes of dalit-bahujans and Muslims is emerging and the mainstream media will have to change according to aspirations and emotions of these communities.
There is still time that mainstream media provide voice and representations of dalits and minorities, otherwise the days are not far when the mainstream media would turn like mainstream parties which have become almost defunct and non existence. The marginalization of our mainstream political forces and the mainstreamification of our regional parties are the prime example of the growing nature of new dynamics of our socio-political system. The media must reflect them if it wants to survive. It should keep a check on the business of creating ‘suvidha ka satya’ (truth of convenience). It must allow deserved space for those living on the margins, if it wants to remain credible and purposeful.
[i] NDTV continued to broadcast it as ‘breaking news’ until he got some one condemning it.
[ii] Many new connectors joined the shouting brigade of Lal Krishna Adwani. In this age of globalization, the Sangh was working in different direction and hence the brahmanical agenda remained unfulfilled if the Dalits, OBCs and Adivasis remained out of touch for them.
[iii] RSS though did not have the courage to disown Ambedkar for long, it could not ever criticize Shourie and he continues to be their hero.
[iv] Even Kabir does not find place into the Bahujan movement of UP. May be the need of the hour is to look for the caste of a great leader and reformer and then add or delete as is suitable to the politicians.
[v] Eric Alterman, ‘What Liberal Media, p.31
[vi] We all know it very well that the Sikhs here are big landed peasantry and many of them have robbed land illegally from the poor dalits and tribals.