By Aditya Rangroo
Today Indian media, the traditional fourth estate, is capable of demonstrating its power as an influential instrument to shape public opinion and circumscribe the government. One of the several facets of media includes media activism. From some time, it has become noteworthy, particularly in addressing subjects like social security and good governance. For example, bringing criminals and anti-social elements into the gaze of the public and law enforcing agencies is its commendable contribution. In this context the tragic murder cases of Priya Darshani Matto and Jessica Lal make good examples. In mobilizing public opinion in a vast country like India, the power and freedom exercised by the media can work miracles which even a totalitarian arrangement may not achieve. It has given a new face and meaning to her secular democratic ethos.
But having said that it should also be pointed out that the freedom provided by our democratic dispensation is sometimes over-stretched to cross the admissible limits of ethics supposed to regulate its functionality.
The history of the privileges of the press and media in India goes to 1946 when B.R. Ambedkar declared in the Constituent Assembly Debates that editors or top management of a press were all citizens, and when they chose to write in news-papers, they merely exercise their individual right of expression. Therefore, no special mention of rights and laws were specifically designed for the fourth pillar. Media systems in the world vary from one another according to the economy, polity, religion and culture of the country. In countries, which follow communism and totalitarianism like the former USSR and China, there are certain restrictions on what media wants to report about the government. Very often its freedom was gagged. On the contrary, in countries like USA, which have a bourgeois democracy, media censorship is not much of an issue. In a country like India, the media with its immense freedom has retained its incisive and eloquent expression albeit only in some specific social or economic areas.
It is rather agonizing to note that in some areas of national and historical importance, India media adopts casual and slipshod attitude ostensibly because of political pressures and constraints. In the case of entire internally displaced religious minority of Kashmiri Pandits, the Indian press, by and large, has not been either realistic or sympathetic. This issues touches on the very core of India’s secular and democratic structure. As against this, some high profile issues receive extraordinary media hype. The mass displacement of this oppressed chunk has been severely under-reported. It has crippling effect on their future and their rehabilitation.
The story dates back to September 14, 1989 when Tika Lal Taploo, a Kashmiri Pandit and BJP provincial chief candidate from the Valley was gunned down by Islamic terrorists outside the gate of his house in Srinagar. No print or electronic media carried the story effectively. This followed by selective killings of many of their members, and thus the exodus of nearly 350,000 terrified and brutalized members of Pandit community from their millennia old homeland. Yet the media failed them miserably and did not give proper coverage to such mass exodus. The news pertaining to the Valley usually revolves round terrorism and cross-border infiltration and may also report on the of the majority community only.
It is amusing to note that incidents of communal violence and friction occurring in other parts of the country are extensively and intensively covered rather with overdone zeal.. Godhra riot is one such incident where media was applauded for producing dozens of stories about alleged predicament and suppression of minority community before and after the riots. Journalists engaged themselves in brain-storming sessions to produce the story from all imaginable angles. Popular news channels like NDTV, Zee News and CNN-IBN were buzzing with many special stories exaggerating the “oppression” on minority community in the state of Gujarat. Even national dailies like the Times of India, Hindustan Times, and The Hindu etc gave good share of space to it. Editorials and Opinions were published profusely slamming Chief Minister Narendra Modi, BJP government and the Right Wing parties. If media can volunteer to be pro-active for a certain section of civil society why should ignore identical situations at other places? Why media has been unfriendly to the cause of Kashmiri Pandits, remains to be answered. The question is why did the media deny platform to the oppressed community of Kashmiri Pandits to voice their grievances and inform Indian nation of scurvy treatment meted out to them.
Media has given good coverage to issues like demolition of Babri Masjid, reformation of Muslim minority community of India, women empowerment, judicial system etc but whenever some voice against Kashmir insurgency and Pandit killings were raised, media turned its head away from it. The killing of 23 innocent Pandits in Vandhama village of Kashmir in 1998 was never attributed as front page headline but killing of Sohrab-ud Din in Gujarat found crowds of buyers both in print and electronic media. It was media that conducted several debate shows and sms poll for social uplifting of minority community. But it never voiced its opinion for abolishing Article 370 of the Constitution which is responsible for the alienation of Kashmiris. There have been special stories, documentaries and chat-shows highlighting the life of Kashmiri nation, but there has not been a single telecast or story on Kashmiri Pandits living in destitution in camps in Jammu, Udhampur and other parts of the country,
Recently, Kashmiri Pandits protested against Election Commission during parliamentary elections 2009. They were complaining of hurdles created by the State Election Commission in their way of exercising their right to vote. They said that only a small number of eligible voters were enlisted. In Jammu Pandit protesters were attacked by the police. The media ignored the protests, lathi charge, imprisonment and prosecution of some of the protesters asking for their right to vote. It is a sad commentary on the impartiality of the media in our country.
Media, which is supposed to work as watchdog, has turned into a lapdog catering to the policy and line of the establishment. In the case of Kashmiri Pandits it chose to remain a silent spectator. Powerful and disinterested media would have compelled the government to institute a commission of inquiry into the killing and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990. It would have exposed the militant and separatist leaders like those of the APHC and the JKLF so that they would be dealt with in accordance with the law of the land. Everybody knows who killed 5 Indian Air Force personnel in Rawalpora in J & K in 1990 when they were standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to carry them to their office. Bitta Karate, a Kashmiri terrorist confessed in a television interview having killed more than 22 Kashmiri Pandits. The court has given him parole. The media was reluctant to take up the issue. The reason, of course, is “vested interest”.
Media has always acts vigorously on issues which increase their TRP and readership. It has neither been pro nor anti to any political party but always been pro-establishment, which can be examined on the kind of coverage of Gujjar agitation in BJP-ruled state of Rajasthan in 2008 and the riots in Kandhamal in Orissa, which had BJP-BJD coalition government. News channels were flooded with debate-shows on Kandhamal and newspapers were galore with stories and editorials relating to anti-right wing parties. However, the same media relapsed into deep slumber when Kashmiri Pandits needed platform to voice their agony during armed insurgency.
(The writer was the Journalist in Press Trust of India, and currently a student of MA Media and Globalization from Nottingham Trent University).