Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RJBM dispute: An appeal to the Indian media

Court Judgement on Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid (RJBM) dispute: What India expects from its media.

Almost all (99.9%) the inputs for this post are from "
Oldtimer". Couldn't have put it better than this.

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News reports of the burning (real or alleged) of the Quran have an incendiary effect on Islamists. Recently, a fundamentalist pastor in the United States threatened to stage a Quran-burning event. His threat generated a lot of anxiety around the world. Obama administration swung into action to dissuade him from his declared action. In India, the Home Ministry urged caution to the media in reporting the incident, if it were to take place. Though the pastor eventually backed out, rumors of Quran-burning still circulated, leading to riots in Kashmir and Punjab and to the loss of lives.

The dangerous ramifications of pubilicizing a (real or alleged) Quran-burning incident were known in India even earlier than the latest fracas over the issue. In early March, 2001, VHP staged a protest in Delhi against the then on-going destruction of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Rumours surfaced that copies of the Quran were burnt at this meeting. VHP denied the rumors, but a photogrpah supposedly depciting the alleged burning rapidly spread on the internet. Trouble erupted after Friday prayers in Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Pune and Mumbai. Things took a turn for the worse in Kanpur, where a violent SIMI rally confronted the police, resulting in the death of more than a dozen people.

Cut to exactly one year later. It was early March, 2002, and parts of Gujarat were burning in the wake of the Godhra incident. People were being killed, buildings were being set on fire. In the midst of this mayhem, a prominent media personlity reporting the riots from Gujarat claimed in a dispatch that the burning of Quran was witnessed. It was a beautifully caligraphed Quran, the person added helpfully. When the whole homestead is burning, stuff in that home, like books, would burn too. What then was the point of specifically mentioning the burning of the Quran? This media person could not have been unaware of the riots in Kanpur a year ago. Why add fuel to fire, as if incidents of the rioting under way in Gujarat weren't inflammatory enough to cause trouble outside the state? It is instructive to recall, in this context, that the Gujarat administration, fearing the incendiary potential of the riots coverage, prohibited the broadcast of some TV channles in riot-prone districts.

Cut to 26/11. The ugliness of the drama on TV of the terrorist attacks is so fresh in mind that it needs no repetition. Jouranlists pumped up on adrenaline turned into loose canons. Hysteria, hyperventilation and callous disregard for the safety of the people trapped in the carnage were abundatly on display. Unwittingly, the coverage provided terrorist handlers in Pakistan with live visual feedback for their direction of operations. Obviously the media learned no lessons from its Kandahar and Gujarat misadventures.

These examples illustrate the fact that the ability of the media to regulate itself is under question. There seem to be no watchdog bodies honored or deferred to by the media; there are no institutionally-mandated guidelines on reporting sensitive issues; and it does not seem that most journalists are aware of any professional code of conduct, let alone honoring it. Open, unapologetic criticism of the media within the media is nowhere to be seen. Even as TV channels and publications fiercely compete with each other for market share, they however seem to be scrupulously observing the unwritten rule that they would not confront each other on the question of conduct of journalism. Journalists seem to fear that such criticism would undermine their desired image of being society's "eyes and ears" and do-gooders.

Where criticism from within is "managed" so effectively, will scrunity from outside be tolerated? Criticism of the media by outsiders is generally met with extreme defensiveness and denial. Media bodies are deployed not to monitor the conduct of their members but to counter this outsider criticism! In the wake of complaints in 2002 that the media's reporting of Gujarat riots was incendiary, an editors' committee led a "fact-finding" expedition, and declared predictably that the media was not guilty. If only institutions like the stock markets had the same privilege of having their own people as jurors, notwithstanding the conflict of interest involved!

To cut a long story short, at a time when there exist no guidelines to regulate media's reporting of sensitive issues, another sentitive issue is upon us. The Ayodhya title suit judgement is expected to be delivered by the Allahabad High Court on the 24th of September. The government is apprehensive that there could be trouble after the judgment is announced. How should media exercise restraint in its reporting of the judgement and its aftermath so that it will not worsen an environment already rife with portents for violent conflict? To answer this question here in this blog, we, the consumers of Indian media, propose a few do's and dont's for the media. We encourage readers to leave their own do's and dont's in the comments section, and we might add the good ones among them to the list below.

1. Do NOT hype only anti- or pro-judgement views
2. If there is violence, please stick to reporting just the facts.
3. IBN is already running a ticker - 3 days to go. 2 days to go (haven't watched other channels yet). This is exactly the kind of stuff we don't need.
4. Please avoid hyper-anchoring. Avoid the use of superlatives at will.
5. Stop throwing in references to 1993 blasts, 2002 riots etc.

Please feel free to add to this list. We will send this to all editors tomorrow, and see if anyone of them care to respond. The News Broadcaster Association already framed some "
guidelines" which are not binding, but September 24th is another test of how much self-regulation the media is capable of.

14 comments:

Sujeet Pillai said...

6. Please do not show scenes from fictional movies and pass it off as riots footage.

prashhanthkpp said...

Sudhirji, I doubt it would help since these days Media is sworn to impish disdain on peace or welfare over their sensationalism and ex-chequer. However, if at all it makes a minute difference, some points are noted below for your review:

1] Ostensible conjectures of the consequences should not be concluded by the media.

2] Contemplation of the "if's" of the verdict be avoided.

3] Polarized and Partisan news-making should be curbed.

4] Extolling the virtues of the Judiciary should be avoided.

5] Do not instigate parochial dissent amongst communities in the wake of judgement.

Anonymous said...

Stop saying that Babri is the root cause of terrorism in India.

CodeNameV said...

Brilliant initiative. I hope the intellectual class takes notice. Whatever be the judgement, we should see no trouble and Media, as the blog clearly says, can improve or worsen the situation.

I 'ld add these to the five already proposed

1) Dont edit numbers while reporting casualties and injured. Report the numbers declared by government authorities. Quote the authority. Simply saying Govt Authorities wont do. How do we know you are not lying? We would like to cross check if need be. We do not need tickers on numbers. Run tickers on help lines if you will. This is not twenty-twenty tournament. Number indicates how many people died. For God's sake, be a bit more sensitive to how a ticker on number of casualties would sound!
(This might well be covered in point number 2 you have mentioned.)

2) News on attacks should not to be reported as from "sources". Mention sources if you can. Else dont report. Source could mean anything. We could assume that you are creating these sources. Worse, we could also assume you are hallucinating.

3) Judgement is going to affect India and Indians - hindus and muslims alike. There is no need to take tangents. Obviously, one side will celebrate the judgement while other side will not. Make sure you report both. There is no need to report only one side's happiness or other side's grief.

4) Continuing on point 3, the judgement is a matter internal to India. There is no need to refer to a foreign nation's judgements on similar incidents or their acts due to their internal incidents. Judgement is in India, by Indian court under the guide lines of Indian Penal Code. Frame your logic and reasoning based on what IPC says or what incidents or judgements within India say. Reference to other countries and reasoning that our judgement should have gone in a given way will only worsen the feelings of the other side.

4) There is definitely going to be some tension and there definitely going to be some political incidents. Since your reporting will affect opinions on those political parties, please make sure you have very strong evidence when you say instigators of violence are associated with a given party.

5) This judgement has not only related to the youth. Youth and Old alike are stakeholders. There is no need to concentrate on one group, just because they are born at a later time than others. Time of birth has nothing to do with this.

6) Please remember for the sake of sanity and commonsense, that this judgement has nothing to do with "Rahul Gandhi".

Ok, point number 6 is a bit too much but I think it may be necessary if you sending this to Headlines Today, NDTV, Star News etc :)

All in all, according to me, the other 5 points are very important, especially after the imbecile Mr. Vishnu Som's gyaan on Swiss minaret ban incident.

Karmasura said...

Brilliant initiative by both auldtimer and sudhir kumar. Wish both of you all the best (& of course, all the best to the motherland too)

Codename V has mentioned a lot of material already, much of which should be implemented. Additionally, news channels should avoid comparing total hindus & total muslims killed, since this may lead to more blood shed, if pointedly used as a psy-ops tool.

My Country My Views said...

Good initiative Sudhir.

maru said...

I like media to take leave on that day and Doordarshan cover the news. Like dry day we should have no media day. Generally I feel the private channels should take holiday on the weekends which may cut cost for the loss making channels.

I like to add couple of points to ur appeal.
i) No live coverage and promotional program fro the live coverage
ii) Don't advertise "your channels is the first one to bring". Like no politics on national issue it should be no marketing also on this issue.
iii) we can propose to remove TRP rating and ads for the news and programs related to this issue or news channels as a whole for critical period. This will reduce peer pressure and bring sense among competing channels.

Aditya Nishtala said...

Very insightful article.

and the point I have to add is As long as economy and TRP ratings drive the media industry , the situation is going to be the same.

All this over zealous sensationalism is because of the money.

Vacant Shanghai Days said...

Terrific initiative!!! Loved it.Hope each and every journo in our country carry a printed copy of this blog and read it thoroughly multiple times and follow it.Also excellent comments by various people and even their suggestions are too good.
But here are mine
1)The dreaded "communal" word should be banned for next 1 week
2)Teesta Setalvad,Owaisi,Vinod Sharma etc...should not be allowed to enter TV studios
3)Agree with Sujeet Pillai.scenes from Bombay,Firaaq etc.. need not be shown in the background for more "effect"

Vacant Shanghai Days said...

One more.

Dear Friend, stop watching news channels for next 3 days.Or don't watch them for more than 30 mins.

Any way we cannot change them.At least we can boycott them.

Pramod said...

very nice initiative! congratulations to both of u. my suggestions
1) Dont talk to extremists from atleast 24 hours before the verdict.
2) Dont talk to people from religious organisations of any kind.
3)Please report the facts as facts. Please donot use flowery language to intensify people's feelings. Please avoid using superlatives and generalisations as you wish!

Dirt Digger said...

Great post Sudhir and Auldtimer.
Now I guess no Indian MSM will hire you guys :)
Rather than banning the SMS, the Govt should shut down the media and internet for a few days.
Chances are if verdict goes against the BM folks they will cause a lot of riots.

CodeNameV said...

DD, you unsecular, funademantalist, blashpemous, barbaric, right wing looney-toon! Religion of peace doesnt cause riots, wokay? It wonly demands "stoning" from its followers, wokay! :D

rashid1891 said...

I like media to take leave on that day and Doordarshan cover the news. Like dry day we should have no media day. Generally I feel the private channels should take holiday on the weekends which may cut cost for the loss making channels.

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