Posts Tagged ‘Hindutva’

‘People, not the press, are the real fourth estate’

28 June 2009

The press in India, like the press elsewhere, holds on to the belief that it is the Fourth Estate of democracy, after the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, although the press in India, as much as the press elsewhere, finds its institutional and individual integrity increasingly under question.

In an article on the Open Page of The HinduRadheer Mahendrakar uses the results of the recent general elections to argue that the people are the real Fourth Estate, acting as a more effective countervailing force than the press, especially when they perceive a threat to democracy.

Mahendrakar says the collective wisdom of the people—the “miracle of aggregation“—showed up when Indira Gandhi clamped the Emergency, when V.P. Singh indulged in social re-engineering, when the BJP made religion an electoral platform through Hindutva, and when regionalism threatened to get ahead of nationalism.

“For generations, we have accepted the ‘press’ as a vital element of democracy….

“In politics, it is fair to say that the Indian voter is the Fourth Estate representing a counterbalance to the political parties of different ideologies—the left, right and centre. Time and again, the Indian voter has drawn the contours of do and don’ts in politics and chastened the parties when our democracy showed signs of dilution.”

Implicit in the point is the suggestion that a profit-hungry media in its quest for eyeballs and bottomlines, has forgotten, abandoned or is ignoring some of its fundamental duties. In other words, despite the press, the people as a group seem to be able to reach a decision that is very likely the correct decision.

Read the full article: How the miracle of aggregation works

Should the media be honouring politicians?

8 February 2009

Should a designated prime ministerial candidate of a mainstream political party be chosen and given an award by a television channel which might have to cover him if and when he takes charge? Should the candidate so eagerly accept such a public honour?

The candidate is L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the channel is New Delhi Television (NDTV). On 20 January 2009, in the midst of its annual awards ritual, Prannoy Roy‘s channel called Advani on stage and handed him the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.

According to a news item put up on Advani’s website, the NDTV citation read:

“He (L.K. Advani) is a grassroot (sic) leader and is credited with having made the BJP a formidable force in Indian politics, through clarity of vision, precise statements and an astute sense of timing. Always in favour of anti-terrorism laws, he abolished Press Censorship and repealed anti-press legislation during his tenure in 1977-1979 as the I&B Minister. BJP has named him as a Prime Ministerial candidate for the party and the National Democratic Alliance for the 2009 general elections.”

There were two surprising things about this:

1) Advani was being given an award from an English language television station that he and others of his ilk have firmly cast in the “pseudo-secular” mould, a cynical portmanteau that is Advani’s sad and singular contribution to the English language.

2) The jury comprising, besides Roy, Anu Aga, executive chairperson, Thermax group; Fali S. Nariman, senior advocate, Supreme Court; William Dalrymple, historian and writer; Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator; Rahul Bajaj, businessman; Shashi Tharoor, former UN official, were reportedly not aware that such an award was being bestowed on Advani.

There is a third element that is even more unsettling: the unwholesome sight of a major journalism outlet handing out a “lifetime achievment award” by talking of his pro-media stand 33 years ago, while ignoring his more recent “contributions” to Indian society.

The media website, The Hoot, run by Sevanti Ninan, wife of Business Standard editor T.N. Ninan, has picked holes in the ethics behind the handout.

“What exactly, some of us want to ask, have been Advani’s  contributions to Indian politics which deserve an award? Setting in motion the events that led to the destruction of the Babri masjid?  And contributed  to a heightened  communalising of the Indian polity?

“An award coming from a channel that helped to expose the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat which took place under the watch of a BJP government? The party Advani is leading into the elections this year? A channel that doubtless sees itself as a champion of secularism?”

The seven-member jury, according to The Hoot, had not voted to give Advani an award on awards’ night.

It was also not made clear to the audience at the NDTV awards’ function or the audience viewing the spectacle back home that the jury had no role in choosing Advani for a lifetime of achievements.

Indeed, two members of the jury wrote to Roy on the issue, with one of them reportedly saying “he would not want to be associated with any award which gave prizes to communal hatemongers”.

(At least one member of the jury, Anu Aga, is known for having confronted Advani’s protege, Narendra Modi, with the situation prevailing in the relief camps set up in the state for the victims of the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.)

Roy reportedly clarified that it has been “normal practice every eyar for NDTV to reserve the right for its editors to select and present one or more non-jury awards.”

***

Just who NDTV’s editors picked in previous years is uncertain, but one of the strongest criticisms for this year’s choice has come from Siddharth Varadarajan, the strategic affairs editor of The Hindu.

On his blog, Varadarajan writes:

“After all, Advani was widely acknowledged as being one of India’s worst Home ministers when he held the job between 1998 and 2004. And he’s no great shakes in his current avatar as Leader of the Opposition either.”

Varadarajan then goes on to make a “brief list” of Advani’s “achievements” during just 11 years of his life, starting 1992, a period NDTV clearly ignored in its citation, while waxing eloquent on his “anti-terror” stance:

1. Demolition of Babri Masjid (contribution to conspiracy thereof), 1992
2. Hijacking of IC 814 and release of deadly terrorists like Masood Azhar, 1999
3. Massacre of Sikhs by terrorists at Chittisinghpora, 2000
4. Massacre of Kashmiri Pandits at Nadimarg, March 2003
5. First-ever terrorist attack on Amarnath yatris, 1999
6. Terrorist attack on Parliament, December 2001
7. Godhra and the Gujarat massacre of Muslims, 2002
8. Terrorist attack on Akshardham and Raghunath temples in 2002
9. Harassment of media from Tehelka to Iftikhar Gilani
10. Failure to take any decision on dozens of death row mercy petitions pending before him from 1998 to 2004 and now demanding the Congress government move swiftly on the mercy petition of Afzal.

So,does L.K. Advani really deserve a “lifetime achievement” award? Should a media organisation be giving an award to a potential prime minister it might have to cover? Should a potential prime minister be so over-eager to receive it?

Adapted from a longer article on churumuri.com

Also read: ‘The man who sowed the dragon seeds of hatred’

‘Weak Manmohan, yes, but what about Advani?’

CHURUMURI POLL: Is L.K. Advani lying on IC-814?

Indian media is large & vibrant, but how free is it?

11 January 2009

KPN photo

BHAMY V. SHENOY writes from Houston, Texas: Every newspaper reader in India should be shocked at the way B. V. Seetharam, the publisher and editor of the Kannada daily Karavali Ale, is being repeatedly harassed by a democratically elected  government in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

According to this version, Seetharam was arrested last week in a defamation case filed by Bhoja Shetty, a resident of Udupi district, in July 2007. Shetty alleged that Seetharam tried to “blackmail” him for a financial consideration of Rs 1 lakh [approximately $2,000]. When that did not come, the editor reportedly portrayed him as a “rapist” in his newspaper, resulting in the defamation charge.

The charge is certainly serious, doesn’t show journalism in good light, and deserves to be taken to its logical conclusion.

But it is the backdrop of Seetharam’s arrest (a few months after the BJP came to power in Karnataka); the timing of the arrest (after he had accused Hindutva forces of attacking his newspaper for publishing); and the manner in which he has been handcuffed and chained like a common criminal, and taken from city to city (he is currently lodged in the Mysore jail), that should make the world sit up and take notice.

We assume, wrongly, that India has a free and vibrant press with unbridled freedom.

We assume, again wrongly, that India’s newspapers have the full and unfettered freedom to expose individual or institutional malfeasance, in politics, business and other spheres of public life.

In the event the press fails to expose the corrupt practices of politicians or businessmen—like, say, the gigantic Rs 7,000 fraud of Satyam Computer Services—we think it is only because the press is not using its freedom and does not have the courage to stand against the big government or deep pocketed companies.

That is largely true, of course, but B.V. Seetharam’s plight shows that is not necessarily the full story in the minefield that is Indian democracy.

The truth is there are plenty of people who do not want negative stories to come out, and are willing to go any distance and adopt any means to ensure that. And there are plenty of people, inside and outside the corridors of power, who are willing to help them in that endeavour.

B.V. Seetharam’s case is an example.

While we may question Seetharam’s methods and targets based on our individual preferences and prejudices, it must be admitted that he also published articles exposing the wrong doings of corrupt politicians, incompetent bureaucrats, and dishonest businessmen, among others. More recently, he has turned his eyes on the growing communalism on the west coast.

What we are witnessing through his arrest is that in a surcharged milieu, this can be a lonely battle—and very, very messy.

In a political system where the use of extra-constitutional muscle power seems to sit comfortably well with rule-based democracy, an editor like him is bound to have enemies. Such individuals are harassed by the establishment to send a strong signal to others not to follow his example.

Seetharam’s victimisation is a sign of that.

This is not the first time Seetharam has been punished by taking him into custody. Many may recall the way he was whisked away to jail along with his wife in the middle of the night for publishing a story questioning the propriety of Jain monks to walk around naked in public in 2007.

While the solidarity shown by the press to Seetharam’s harsh treatment should be admired, we, the public, should wonder why only one section of society has expressed disgust at the treatment meted out to him. What is involved is the freedom of the press to boldly publish the news without fear and favour. Without such freedom, democracy will lose out as it has been happening in India.

Every citizen irrespective of his/ her ideology should condemn the treatment doled out to B.V. Seetharam.

Photograph: Journalists take part in a protest against the arrest of B.V. Seetharam in Bangalore on Wednesday. (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world go blind’

Mangalore editor held for ‘inciting’ hate

Pseudonymous author spells finis to Mint editor?

How media demonises Muslims in war on terror

28 February 2008

GAURI LANKESH writes from Bangalore: Recently, three young men were arrested in Hubli and Honnali towns in the southern Indian state of Karnataka on charges of vehicle theft. Since all of them happened to belong to the Muslim community, within a day of their arrests, police sources leaked to the media that they suspected the trio might be involved in planning terrorist attacks all over the country.

This was enough to trigger a series of speculative stories in the State’s media. Every publication and television channel, without exception, went into a competitive frenzy, all of them clamouring for a first shot at the most ‘horrifying’ story about the ‘terrorist trio’.

Almost every reporter with imaginative talent wrote reams of articles quoting unnamed ‘reliable police sources’ or ‘police sources who did not want to be named’ and narrated how the three young men were planning to blow to smithereens most of Karnataka’s key buildings, such as the Vidhana Soudha, place bombs on (predictably) the premises of IT giants Infosys and IBM, detonate bombs in public places, destroy Hindu places of worship and so on.

What was remarkable about these reports was their contention that the three young men had links right up to Osama bin Laden and down to the local ’sleeper cells’ of various outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). The men were also suspected of conducting arms training in nearby forests, of flying the Pakistani flag, of possessing RDX, of having already distributed arms and weapons to various ‘sleeper cells’ across the state, of recruiting hundreds of youth to terrorist organisations, of possessing AK-47s, of having procured Israeli manufactured arms, etc, etc, etc.

But how much of the content of these reports, well laced with the terms ’suspected’ and ‘alleged’, had unsubstantiated and un-sourced ‘facts’ attributed to ‘reliable sources’?

As citizens and discerning readers, can we merely accept in good faith that these reports were genuine?

How much of the information carried (leaked) in these reports was a product of the imaginative powers of local reporters? How much was fed by our increasingly inefficient police force? How much was ’spiced’ up by senior journalists who are forever looking to increase their TRP ratings or circulation figures?

Having already said that all these reports on the ‘terrorist trio’, without exception, were sourced to ‘police officials who did not want to be named’, let us look at one such report to assess how genuine the overall media reports were.

The Mangalore edition of the Kannada daily Udayavani, which adopts a marked pro-Hindutva stance, carried a front-page report that read: “last December Riazuddin Ghouse, Mohammed Asif, Mohammad Abubakkar and Hafeez held a secret meeting where they condemned America’s treatment of people imprisoned at Cuba’s Montessori (!) jail. A copy of the resolutions taken at the meeting has been seized by investigating officers.”

Udayavani is a leading Kannada daily with several senior journalists on its rolls. What is surprising is that not one of them could tell the difference between the word Montessori, used to describe a system of education, and Guantánamo Bay, the name of the prison run by the American government in Cuba. Apparently, in the race for ‘exclusive’ reports, none of them could be bothered with such minor factual details.

Even if one were willing to overlook this rather glaring slip-up by the reporter who filed the story and the senior journalists who okayed it, giving it prime space on the front page, other important questions remain. For example, since when has condemning American atrocities at Guantánamo Bay become a crime? Does this assumption by the police mean that anyone who condemns the unjust imprisonment of people at Guantánamo Bay is a terror suspect?

Are such questions of no importance to the local media?

Apparently not, for instead of raising these valid and significant issues, they carried on blissfully with their ‘exclusive reportage’ based entirely on police sources.

One report, which appeared in The Hindu, can be summed up thus: The fact that one of the arrested youth claimed before the magistrate that his human rights had been violated by the police made the magistrate suspect that he was no ordinary youth. (Does this mean that knowledge of the Constitution, fundamental rights and human rights are not for ordinary Indian men and women?) On the basis of this assumption, the magistrate instructed the police to subject him to a thorough interrogation. And that was when the terrorist links were revealed.

Another report, this one in The Times of India, stated: A warden at the jail became suspicious of Riazuddin Ghouse and Mohammad Abubakkar’s behaviour in the prison where they were jailed on charges of vehicle theft. The duo spoke to each other in low voices, did namaaz five times a day, spoke to one another in English and did not seem to show respect for the national flag when it was hoisted in the morning.

The jail warden conveyed his suspicions to senior police officials and they subjected the duo to interrogation. That was when the youth spilled the beans about their terrorist plans. Had the warden not been such a keen observer of their behaviour the men could well have been let off by the police.

These reports raise a few fundamental questions. Since when has it become a crime to speak of human rights violations? Or speak in a low voice? Or communicate in English? Since when has offering namaaz five times a day become a suspect activity?

As if this were not enough, most or all of the media reported that “religious books and material” were found in the trio’s possession. The media also ‘arrested’ a number of students in its reports even when the police had not in fact done so! Reporters also labelled as “having terrorist links” people who were total strangers to the arrested trio. The list is endless. The end result of all this ‘hyperactivity’ in the media was that the three arrested men were depicted as the most dreaded terrorists this part of the world has seen in recent times.

This reportage took place even as a senior police officer, additional director-general of police Shankar Bidri, told a television channel:

“So far no proof has been unearthed to label these youths as terrorists. The media is indulging in blatant fabrication of news. What if their case too turns out to be another Dr Mohammed Haneef case? (Haneef, who worked in Australia, was mistakenly arrested by the Australian police after being wrongly accused of links to a failed UK terror plot.) Let us not turn into terrorists those who are innocent.”

Sadly, his words of caution fell on deaf ears as the media made merry about Muslim terrorists.

Surely the police need to interrogate the arrested youth and the courts have to pass their judgements before such serious conclusions are drawn? This is why such institutions exist, why the machinery exists in our democracy. It is their job to catch and punish the guilty. But the media seemed to have no time for such ‘niceties’ of democracy or its institutions. It chose to sidestep the process of law altogether and took it upon itself to ‘investigate’ the so-called crime and then pronounced ‘judgement’.

(Gauri Lankesh edits an eponymous weekly in Bangalore. A fuller version of this article appears on churumuri.com)

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