Posts Tagged ‘Naxals’

‘TV doesn’t want debate; it wants whipping boys’

12 June 2013

The dastardly ambush of a Congress party convoy by Maoists in Chhattisgarh on May 25, in which 28 people including the founder of the Salwa Judum movement Mahendra Karma perished, led to the by-now ritual witchhunt of human rights activists on television—and their ostracism by newspapers.

On one level, in a Pavlovian sort of way, the media randomly accused “Naxal sympathisers” of staying silent. On another level, the media was accused of allowing them to speak. (In fact, one former IAS officer even goes so far as to say that he “almost felt like taking a gun and shooting these people, as also the TV anchors who gave them time and space.”)

Lost in the noise is nuance—and balance.

Here, Nandini Sundar, a professor of sociology at the Delhi school of economics, provides perspective on how the media is distorting the debate with its shrill “us vs them” tone.

***

By NANDINI SUNDAR

I am sick to death of TV panel discussions which ask whether human rights activists are soft on the Maoists, romanticise the Maoists and so on. Why doesn’t someone ask if our honourable politicians and security experts are soft on police torture and extra judicial killings?

Television is not interested in a serious discussion – all they want are whipping boys.

The sight of Arnab Goswami mocking Prof Haragopal for giving an “academic analysis” was especially nauseating, compounded by his showing off about “Emily Durkheim” (sic).

Why bother to have a panel at all,  if only hysterical calls for the army to be sent in to wipe out the Maoists count as ‘analysis’, and every other viewpoint is seen as biased?

The media’s vocabulary is also very limited.

I remember a particular excruciating interview with Binayak Sen where he said he “decried” violence and the anchor repeatedly asked him if he “condemned” it. As far as I know, the two words mean roughly the same thing.

Nowadays, even before the media asks me, I start shouting “I condemn, I condemn.” I wake up in my sleep shouting “I condemn.” I am scared to use other words to describe complex emotions, because the media is unable to understand anything else.

The only reason why I agree to participate in any TV discussions at all or give interviews to the media, is because I have such limited space to express my views. Most of the time the media is completely unconcerned about what happens in places like Bastar, and when there are large scale deaths of civilians, no-one runs non-stop news or panel discussions.

Perforce “human rights activists” have to speak in unfavourable circumstances, because that’s the only time when the media is interested in our views; and that too, not because they want to hear us, but because they need a “big fight” to raise their ratings.

That’s what is called ‘balance’.

One can almost see visible disappointment on the anchor’s part when panelists who should disagree actually agree on many issues.

Since May 25 I have been inundated with calls from journalists asking for my views. But when I want to write, there is little space. A leading national newspaper refused to publish me on the killing of Mahendra Karma, till they had enough pieces which promoted a paramilitary approach.

Even when I do get published it is under strict word constraints. I wrote the first opinion piece ever written in the national media on the Salwa Judum in 2006, but was given 800 words, under the fold. In the first year of Salwa Judum, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of articles on Salwa Judum.

I personally met several editors and showed them photographic evidence; and begged TV editors for panel discussions, but no-one was interested. If they had been interested then, perhaps things would not have come to such a pass.
I am unable to write my own book on Salwa Judum because of the court case and all that it takes.

I have been wanting to write on it since 2005 because I am, above all, an anthropologist.  In any case, my mental space is so clogged by the media noise and the strain of being confined to “opinion pieces” that keep saying the same things because no one is listening, that I can’t write.

I am almost glad the IPL has taken over again, and we can all forget about Bastar and the Maoists till the next major attack.

***

I reproduce below an extract from my article, Emotional Wars, on the public reactions to the death of the 76 CRPF men in April 2010.  This was published in Third World Quarterly,  Vol. 33, No. 4, 2012, pp 1-17:

“Government anger was directed not just at the Maoists but at their alleged ‘sympathizers in civil society’, whose verbal and written criticism of government for violations of the Constitution and fundamental rights, was morally equated with the Maoist act of killing in retaliation for those policies.

“Within minutes then, given the government’s role as the primary definer of news, whether the alleged sympathizers had adequately condemned and expiated for the attack, became as critical to the framing of the news as the attack itself. 

“The largely one-sided government and media outrage – the targeted killings or rapes of ordinary adivasis rarely, if ever, invite direct calls upon the Home Minister to condemn each such incident – easily summon to mind Herman and Chomsky’s distinction between “worthy and unworthy victims” as part of what they call the media ‘propaganda model’.

“While news coverage of the worthy is replete with detail, evokes indignation and shock, and invites a follow-up; unworthy victims get limited news space, are referred to in generic terms, and there is little attempt to fix responsibility or trace culpability to the top echelons of the establishment.

“…In times of civil war, the emotions performed by the state range from the inculcation of fear to a calculated display of indifference to the exhibition of injured feelings, as if it was citizens and not the state who were violating the social contract, and that the social contract consisted of the state’s right to impunity.”

Also read: EPW tears into TV’s ‘hawks, hotheads, hysteria’

‘TV is now a site for manufacturing news, consent’

‘Is news TV becoming a national security hazard?’

How police are gagging media on Naxals

10 May 2010

What are the occupational hazards of interviewing a Naxal leader in India today?

Two notices under four Acts.

Rahul Belagali, a reporter of the mass-circulation Kannada daily Praja Vani, met a leader of the communist party of India (Maoist), at an “undisclosed” location last year.

His paper subsequently printed the interview.

Gauri Lankesh writes in Tehelka that the reporter was first threatened with action under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967 if he did not cooperate with the police who were trying to obtain more information about a Maoist leader.

Then, in a subsequent notice, the police have threatened to book him and his paper’s associate editor Padmaraj Dandavate under the Indian Arms Act, the Destruction of Government Property Act, the Explosives Act, and the dreaded UAPA.

For the record, the police who have threatned action belong to the home-district of Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

Read the full article: Operation media gagging

There’s a new ism in town, and it’s Arnab-ism

5 November 2009

The Indian government’s “Operation Green Hunt” to track down Maoists—described by prime minister Manmohan Singh as the “gravest internal threat facing India”—is the flavour of the season in newspapers, magazines, and on TV stations.

In reporting from the ground; publishing long essays; interviewing key players in studios; debating the whys and the wherefores of various aspects of the promised assault; throwing light on the situation in the tribal belt, the media, it would appear, is doing its job.

Is it, or is it just “manufacturing consent for war”?

From the website Radical Notes:

“It has been assumed that the Maoist movement is not a mass movement; it’s only a bunch of ‘outsiders’ imposing themselves upon hapless tribes. The absurdity of the ‘outsider’ clause becomes obvious if one spares a moment’s thought to the way in which they function. The nature and width of their activities could not have been made possible without mass support. This is not the place to substantiate this assertion. What one needs to recognize at the primary level is that this is an open question and needs to be treated as such.

“If it is an open question with many opinions, the least the media can do is give space to these opinions, and accept the complex nature of the issue.  It might be pointed out that the debate shows on news-channels do bring in people of different opinions. However, a closer look at the dynamics of these shows will demonstrate how easily the biases of the mainstream hijack the entire debate.

“The newer, uncommon opinion cannot be expressed in the 10 seconds given to the participants, unlike the hegemonic narrative that we are all so familiar with. This inability to say everything in the imposed time limit is read as the lack of substance in these new voices, and a consensus on the issue is ‘created’.”

Arnab Goswami [of Times Now] is a good example. He seems to have found answers to all questions posed by him on his show. Furthermore, his show is an exercise in forcing his moment of epiphany upon others. ‘Mr Varavara Rao, is Kobad Gandhy an ideologue or a terrorist, ideologue or terrorist, yes or no?’ We need to move beyond these multiple choice questions – reality is more layered than the media’s projection of it. We can all do with some thinking, including our editor-in-chief. Arnabism is actually symbolic of the lack of depth, and the fear of depths that haunts the journalism of big news houses.

“Maoist violence is highlighted again and again, often with cheap melodrama (showing the lack of humanity implicit in this form of reporting) as if it exists in a vacuum. Such portrayal denudes an act of its nature as an utterance, which responds to a situation (possibly another violent act on the state’s part) and is informed by necessities of a spatio-temporal/socio-political position.

“In the same way the struggles for self-determination are defined only in terms of their separatist or fundamentalist tendencies’, (one could go out on a limb and suggest that the refusal to understand or explain Islamic violence, as something more than madness or blood-thirstiness is a sign of the same problem). Just touching the surface, there too a very small section of the surface, the mainstream media presents it to its consumers (for that is what passive reception is) as the entire reality, the sole and complete truth.

“It needs to be understood, and this cannot be stated any other way, that the media is responsible for manufacturing consent for war. It has taken the State’s call for war forward by eliminating dissenting voices within. In addition to several other things, the majoritarian nature of the media poses serious questions about any semblance of internal democracy. We have to make a choice between pushing for greater democracy within and allowing ourselves to get subsumed in the state’s narrative. If we choose the latter then we need to question the idea of journalism being ‘free and fair’ and see it as an instrument in the hands of a few who hold power and seek to keep it in their hands.”

Photograph: courtesy Outlook

Read the full article: The media question

Link via Shobha Sarada Viswanathan and Nishant R.

BBC journalists secure abducted cop’s release

23 October 2009

BBC News_Subir Bhaumik_23012009

It’s one of journalism’s oldest questions: should journalists in the line of duty play a part in unfolding news events?

Should they be the eyes and ears of their audience at all times, as expected of their profession, regardless of the situation? Or, are there occasions when exceptions can be made like, say, a life at risk?

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr Sanjay Gupta, MD, while reporting from Iraq in 2003, conducted an emergency brain surgery on an Iraqi boy. Yesterday, in West Bengal, two senior BBC journalists helped broker a compromise between the State government and Maoists, leading to the safe release of an abducted police officer.

The policeman had been kidnapped after a raid on the police office three days earlier and held him hostage demanding the release of 14 tribal women.

According to a report in The Times of India, the BBC journos stepped in and acted as “facilitators and served as a bridge between the rebels and the government” when the leader of the Maoists Koteshwara Rao alias Kishenji, refused to deal directly with State officials.

“Initially, the government was a bit confused. On Wednesday morning, they sought our help. Having worked in the North-East for several years, I have been involved in facilitating several such hostage negotiations. We wanted to start a dialogue immediately but couldn’t since we needed at least one government official to participate but there was none,” the BBC’s veteran eastern India correspondent Subir Bhaumik is quoted as saying.

Subir Bhaumik later reported the story of the policeman’s release for the BBC without mentioning the role played by him in it. All’s well that ends well, of course, but what if the journalists had been caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the State police?

There is also a strange irony in the involvement of journalists to secure the policeman’s release from the grip of Maoists. In late September, a top Maoist leader Chattradhar Mahato had been nabbed by police who were dressed up as journalists of a Singapore TV station. The impersonation had led to an outcry among journalists.

Photograph: courtesy Subir Bhaumik

Read the full reportJournalists brokered cop’s release

Also read: Dressing up (and dressing down) as journalists

Michael Moore takes on Sanjay Gupta of CNN

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