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Media hypocrisy and humbugs

Media hypocrisy and humbugs

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: The Afternoon
Date: May 10, 2002

Introduction: It's not the English media alone, but even the Gujarati press should be made responsible for fanning communal hatred.

It is not, alas, the English media alone that has been guilty of fanning communal hatred specifically in Gujarat and, incidentally, all over India. From available reports, the Gujarati press must also be made responsible for the same.

In a perceptive report in The Hindu (April 28) Sevanti Ninan writes: "When Hindus vandalise Muslim places of worship and plant small statues of Hanuman in each of these mosques what does the media do - tell it like it is? In a state that is already burning? Star News and Aaj Tak decided not to show these Hulladia Hanumans as they were called in Gujarat last month, even though neither news channel has much of a reputation for restraint - The Gujarat Samachar, however, saw no reason not to report it". Ninan reports that The Indian Express "did carry one day a picture of one of these Hanumans planted on the razed remains of a mosque".

Shameful incident
On February 28 Gujarat Samachar carried photographs of the dead on the Godhra platform and the burning bogies avove its masthead" and the banner headline below the masthead said in Gujarati: "Most barbaric and shameful incident of the country at Godhra station". Its rival Sandesh, while matching the photographs and the banner headline was more graphic. It said bodies of the burnt victims were glued to each other and, according to reports, the paper bristled with horror stories.

In his article Ninan asks: "Should TV and print report that a foetus was ripped from its mother's womb and then burnt? Should they report that people were electrocuted in a room by avenging mobs? Should they carry pictures of bodies in wells? Do our editors know that hardly any American paper published horror pictures of dead bodies in the ruins of the twin world towers in New York following the 11 September attack? What kind of juvenile reporting - and commenting -are our newspapers indulging in?

Or consider this: Prime Minister Vajpayee made a speech in Goa in Hindi, the English text of which was not available until The Indian Express published it 12 days later. But the damage to Mr. Vajpayee's image was done. The prime minister was reported as taking a virulent Hindutva line (The Times of India) reaffirming the BJP's commitment to Hindutva (Indian Express) and speaking Hindutva language (The Asian Age). There was nothing but hatred of Hindutva, BJP and Vajpayee in everything that was published by the English language press. Who is more guilty of spreading hatred in the country? The Gujarati press or the English language press? One would presume that the English media and its equivalent in television is run by sober elements. But that would be misleading. One can have only contempt for those who preach against hatred but have no compunction in spreading the same.

Prabhu Chawla, editor of India Today magazine and Aaj Tak television channel is reported by the Free Press Journal (May 3) as urging the prime minister to make a specific complaint against the media instead of painting the entire media with the same brush. Is he aware that media has been painting the entire BJP and Sangh Parivar with the same rotten brush when it should know better? Mr. Chawla says that he is indignant about accusations of exaggerated and biased news reporting. Either he is suffering from temporary blindness or does not know the elements of reporting in times of major crises.

He is reported to have said: "Just as the prime minister has the right to choose his team, the editor has the right to choose his news. What media decides to show or print is its prerogative'. That is utter nonsense and one is amazed that any journalist could show some arrogance. A responsible editor will think not just twice but a hundred times before publishing or showing anything that could be considered inflammatory. Prabhu Chawla must think again.

Some newspapers have returned to the road to sanity. Thus The Telegraph (1 May) carried a very perceptive article on "Why Ahmedabad continues to burn?" by Anuradha Kumar -probably the first sane voice to be heard in the print media. The Hindu (30 April) carries an article by C.B. Rau, equally balanced, wondering whether if Modi resigns and does a Laloo or Jayalalitha and installs a puppet, the problem of communalism will be solved. As Rau puts it: "A Modi is just a matchstick. The haystack is bone dry and drenched in venom".

Even Tavleen Singh, an admirer of the BJP writing in The Tribune (27 April) has come up with some sane words. Questioning the Leftist view that the educational system in Gujarat had already been 'saffronised' because the BJP has been in power in that state, Tavleen writes: "This is too simplistic a view because it overlooks the fact that Ahmedabad has been one of India's most communally sensitive cities long before it was ruled by a BJP government. It also overlooks the fact that communal riots were a regular yearly event in the 40 years that we were ruled by 'secular' Congress governments".

The Gujaratis have been grossly misunderstood. To quote Bharat Variawalla again writing in The Tribune (27 April): "Hindutva nationalism prospers here (in Gujarat) and it cuts across party lines. There are Congress supporters who are as ardent Hindu nationalists as the BJP supporters... Godhra is seen by them as an assault on Indian national pride by the Muslims whom they regard as the agents of Pakistan... Suicidal attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Indian Parliament have greatly disturbed the Gujarati Hindus. Many Gujaratis link the Godhra event with those of September 11 and December 13. They see the terrorism as the religious warriors of Islam out to destroy India as a modern, secular democracy.

Hindutva nationalists
Paradoxically, many Hindutva nationalists see no contradiction between their ideology and secularism. They sincerely believe that a Hindu cannot but be secular". Incidentally, The Times of India has just woken up to what happened to Kashmiri Pandits. In a story on page 3 it quoted Panun Kashmir spokesman Ashok Pandit as saying that "about 10,000 of them have been shot dead by Muslim fundamentalists and 3.50 lakhs have been thrown out of the state" and that "the only crime of the Pandits was that they were Hindus". He didn't say that they had indulged in torching three railway wagons at Srinagar to deserve their fate. He didn't even say in what abysmal conditions they were living in Jammu and elsewhere.

So what if 10,000 Kashmir Pandits were killed and 3.50 lakh have been turned homeless? They are Hindus? aren't they? What right have Hindus to complain of being terrorised and thrown out of their own homes? But one has to be grateful to The Times of India for publishing the interview even only on page three. The paper's secular credentials are touching, like those of Star News. We live in a strange, strange world, full of media hypocrites and humbugs.

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