Myth of Media Impartiality and Objectivity
By Amba Charan Vashishtha
To say or claim that our media is free, fair and impartial is only to live in a world of make-believe. It is not a reality but just a daydream. The first principle of news reporting generally taught to journalism school entrants is that if a dog bites a man, it is no news.
If a man bites a dog, it does make one. India’s media derives its legacy from the great journalism of the British era and from the numerous illustrious editors and journalists who brought laurels to Indian journalism with their commitment to objectivity, freedom and fairness. They suffered a lot for this. But that now seems practically past.
Today, before it flashes the news, it would certainly try to find who is the man who has bitten the dog and whose dog is it. Its report will then get tinged with the subjectivity of the man and the dog. This is true about the news channels and the print media. The media, by and large, suffers from its own prejudices and preferences. Discerning objectivity, fairness and fearlessness is like the ordinary mortals boasting that they have had darshan of god. These pious souls who shout about their so-called secularism, objectivity and truthfulness’ from housetops are in reality rank partial, communal and narrow-minded in their real self.
If the National Human Rights Commission gave a clean chit to the Delhi police in the Batla House encounter, they doubted its impartiality and integrity because the report failed to satisfy their whimsical conclusions. The report would have been “fair and objective” to them only if it had been according to their tastes.
If the accused in Gujarat riot cases, if they happen to be Hindus, are acquitted by a court, they shout that the government did not perform its duty. But they have never shed tears when hundreds of accused involved in terrorist cases were acquitted in Kashmir and various parts of the country as the prosecution failed to prove the case against them, perhaps, only because the accused were not Hindus. These great pious souls who beat their chests everyday at the denial of justice to the victims of Gujarat riots but not to the thousands of the families victims of anti-Sikh riots that took place only in Congress-ruled States in the aftermath of the unfortunate assassination of Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi.Comparisons are odious but essential too. In Gujarat, according to an official estimate, 1044 people were killed in the violence — 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus including those killed in the Godhra train fire. Another 223 people were reported missing, 2,548 injured, 919 women widowed and 606 children orphaned. Unofficial estimates put the death toll closer to 2000, with Muslims forming a high proportion of those killed. In anti-Sikhs riots the victims were only Sikhs and their number was much more than the casualties in Gujarat: more than 4,000 all over the country, about 3000 in Delhi alone.
While in Gujarat criminal cases were filed immediately, it took weeks and even months for filing of cases concerning anti-Sikh riots even when there was a ‘secular’ government at the Centre. In 7 years more cases have been decided by courts ending in convictions too in Gujarat. Hundreds of cases remain under investigation concerning anti-Sikh riots even after 25 years and convictions have resulted only in one or two cases.
Nobody in government justified the Gujarat riots, but the late Rajiv Gandhi who became Prime Minister after the death of Mrs. Gandhi is on record having justified anti-Sikh riots saying: “When a big tree falls, the earth below is bound to shake”. Yet Mr. Rajiv Gandhi continues to be secular while Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi is called maut ka saudaagar. Hinduism, nationalism, Hindutva and anything to do with the great Indian history and culture generates instant hate and derision in the minds of the media which claims itself to be ‘liberal, secular and broadminded’.
Mrs. Brinda Karat launched a campaign against the famous yoga guru Swami Ramdev. Besides other allegations, she charged that the medicines produced in his pharmacy contained animal bones. There was a great hue and cry. The NDTV channel which is reported to be related to Mr. Prannoy Roy gave great coverage to her.It even organized many discussions live. In the end when the Health Minister of the then Congress government of Uttarakhand held a Press conference to declare that they had conducted laboratory tests and found no bone contents in ayurvedic medicines of Baba’s pharmacy, the NDTV which had led of anti-Baba the campaign blacked out this news from its viewers.
This writer wrote to Mr. Prannoy Roy in March 2006 through e-mail and by post also highlighting this act of infringement of the journalistic morality. But no response. In the meantime, INDIA TODAY included Mr. Roy and his wife among the top 50 personalities of the country describing them as the “credible face” of journalism. Contradicting this I wrote to INDIA TODAY putting all these facts. It was so nice of them that they published it as the first letter in their “Letters to the Editor” column with the heading “What credibility?”
I kept waiting for Mr. Roy to respond at least to what has appeared in INDIA TODAY. But I had to feel contended with disappointment. My charge is that NDTV had blacked out this news deliberately to avoid its own embarrassment. It only proved that the channel had launched a deliberate tirade against the yoga guru without ascertaining facts. So can you say that NDTV was free, fair and objective, at least, as far as this episode was concerned? Even now, we would be happy to hear them.
And the latest instance has been the treatment given to the electronic and print media to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and others. It was the media which created the monster of a “Hindu terrorism” and “Hindu fundamentalism” and “radicalism”. Surprisingly, these very great souls who spoke of “Hindu terrorism” never had the guts to dub any instance as “Muslim or Christian terrorism” because, perhaps, of their high standard of objectivity, fairness and fearlessness.Our print and electronic media devoted pages after pages and hours after hours highlighting how “Hindu terrorism” had developed and spread, who were the persons involved, their sources of finance and how they were operating. In fact, our media had declared the Sadhvi and others as ‘guilty’ and they wanted them to be hanged even before they were tried in a court of law and found guilty. Media went to the extent of alleging their involvement in numerous untraced cases of terrorism, like the Samjhauta Express. Later, reports have disproved these allegations and surmises. When MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) was invoked against Sadhvi Pragya and others they found nothing wrong in it. Even when NSA was invoked against Mr. Varun Gandhi for what he spoke in a public rally in Pilibhit, our media, liberals and seculars had no sympathy for him.
When Sadhvi Pragya Thakur alleged in the court that she was tortured and maltreated in jail, the ‘liberal, secular’ brigade among the intelligentsia and the media went deaf, dumb and blind. Even the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Women who jump into action at the fall of a hat failed to take cognizance and investigate whether the allegations were right or wrong. Why? It was not their sense of ‘secularism’ but their brand communalism that stood in their way. On the other hand, contrast the coverage our media gives to the only surviving terrorist of 26/11 Mumbai attacks Ajmal Kasab who every other day demands newspapers, a rakhi, perfume and gets the food of his choice. He seems not an accused under trial for the heinous crime of killing numerous innocents and waging a war against the nation but a valued honourable guest of the country. Not only that. A renowned journalist on the editorial board of an important English daily published from Mumbai described Kasab as “a pawn”. On July 31 the designated judge presiding over the special MCOCA court dropped the provisions of the stringent MCOCA invoked against the Sadhvi and others saying “none are part of an organized crime syndicate” He said that “none of the accused had more than one charge sheet failed against him or her ” – a prerequisite for invoking provisions of MCOCA. But for the electronic media which had devoted miles of its footage and print media spent innumerable pages on the Sadhvi and others this time became miser by making just a scant report. Their investigative prowess then went dull.
For our media the report of an alleged fake encounter of a person or persons involved in terrorist crimes is more alluring to report than the terrorist strikes. For days together – at times even months – they are after such reports pursuing the matter. But they never devote their time and space for reporting the plight of the bereaved families of innocent victims of the terrorist crimes. For them it does not become a human interest story to cover the life of those who were widowed, orphaned or deprived of their life-earners because of terrorists.
For our self-righteous media the truth seems to be an evil which like Mahatma Gandhi’s legendary monkey, they do not wish to see, hear and speak.
This article originally appeared in the Voice of India site http://voi.org/index2.php. Its an excellent resource for articles around Indian politic, history and current affairs.