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HVK Archives: Hit and run

Hit and run - Mid-day

T V R Shenoy ()
1 November 1996

Title: Hit and run
Author: T V R Shenoy
Publication: Mid-day
Date: November 1, 1996

Who, what, when, where, why, how - these six are supposed
to be the foundation stones of all journalism. All I can
say is that with such a foundation we have built a lop-
sided house.

Because, make no mistake about it, some questions are
definitely more equal than others. In fact, what makes
news is really defined by the first of the lot - 'who'.

If Citizen X attacks Citizen Y the great Indian public
will never hear about the incident. (Unless Citizen Y is
murdered in some particularly revolting manner, and even
that is a purely temporary sensation.)

But what happens when Kanshi Ram attacks journalists? If
you don't know the answer you haven't been reading the
newspapers or watching television for the past week!

I hold no brief for the Bahujan Samaj Party leaden It is
nonsensical to claim that he was provoked, leave alone
that it was the media which assaulted him! Kanshi Ram
was caught in action by TV camera crew and press photog-

But do pardon me if I find the resulting burst of senti-
ment a little more than I can stomach. Crocodiles may be
proverbially famous for their tears, but in real fife
they are better known for their teeth.

Which is why I find Sitaram Kesri's alleged remorse so
thoroughly bogus. Where was his love for the media when
the late Rajiv Gandhi was trying to ram home the Anti-
Defamation Bill?

Again I take umbrage at Mulayam Singh Yadav's mischievous
suggestion that the BSP and the BJP are now fully quali-
fied to join hands - a reference to the BJP's mistreat-
ment of journalists at Ayodhya.

It was the same Mulayam Singh Yadav who organised the
"halla bol" campaign against select sections of the media
as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. This consisted, in
part, of rank interference in the distribution of "un-
friendly" papers.

The truth is that no political party is innocent in this
instance. But the flip side is that the media at large
are far from being innocent lambs.

It is an open secret that Mulayam Singh Yadav, for in-
stance, is treated with kid gloves by several journal-
ists. This would be understandable if they did so for
ideological reasons. Regrettable, but understandable.

But that cynical chieftain didn't trust to ideology
alone. As chief minister, he distributed Rs 40,000,000
to journalists.

One of those who partook of this golden shower was a
certain agency man whose share of the goodies came to a
neat Rs 10 lakh. In return, he systematically censored

anti-Mulayam Singh Yadav stories.

This gentleman was one of many. Worse, these journalists
are still active in the profession.

Which is why the story of Mulayam Singh Yadav's largesse
received such a quick burial And it is also why the
"halla bol" campaign is never remembered in stories
lauding this apostle of 'secularism'.

One of Mayawati's gravest tactical blunders was her
exposure of Mulayam Singh Yadav's handouts. A section of
the journalistic corps is yet to forgive her for this.
There is, I am afraid, a germ of truth when the BSP
complaints of bias.

There was, for instance, a case when a newspaper in Uttar
Pradesh published the "scoop" that Mayawati had an ille-
gitimate daughter. There was only one thing wrong with
the story - it wasn't true.

Did the journal in question withdraw the allegation?
Yes, but the redaction came only after the BSP
threatened an agitation.

Can you imagine the same junk being written about more
'progressive' politicians? Not in the least. If any-
thing, there is a general tendency to bend over backwards
- even if they story is true.

Some weeks ago Communist activists murdered an RSS worker
in Cannanore. The story made news for a while in Kerala,
but was ignored by the national media.

I suggest that murder is a far graver matter than simple
assault and battery. Or are double standards acceptable
when the victim isn't a journalist but (ugh!) a member of
the Sangh Parivar? And the goons are Reds, instead of
the BSP variety?

In an ideal world I wouldn't need to ask such questions.
But we of the Indian media are very far from the ideal.

We bemoan the cult of personality in Indian politics.
But nobody works harder to popularise that cult - not
even the politicians themselves.

Indian political journalism has, I am ashamed to confess,
been reduced to the level of Italy's paparazzi. We dis-
cuss personalities, not programmes. In the process,
assaults on an individual's privacy are justified in the
name of Article 21, the Constitutional right to freedom
of expression.

There are remarkably few constraints on the Indian media.
Libel laws are all but toothless compared to Britain's
notoriously tough regulations.

Earlier this year, a British court ruled for Sukh Ram,
who had been accused of corruption! It is hard to imagine
an Indian bench extending him the same benefit of doubt.

I am fairly certain that in Britain Mayawati wouldn't
have had to issue threats before obtaining the redaction
mentioned above.

Does the Indian media's mistaking licence for liberty
justify anything that Kanshi Ram did? Of course not, he
acted boorishly and he should be brought to book for it.

But let us not demand special rights for journalists in
the name of freedom of expression. We flay politicians
on a regular basis for doing just that. A few years ago
we mocked the legal profession for demanding special
privileges for lawyers. Now it is time to five up to
those fine words.

Forget about Article 21 and all that. Kanshi Ram's
actions fall under the category of common assault and
battery. It is a matter of applying the appropriate
section of the criminal code, not dragging in the Consti-

Assault should be condemned, no matter who is at the
receiving end.

And not just when the victims are the ones who control
the levers of publicity.

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