Thursday, November 1, 2007

Media Ethics-Mira Kamdar

Media ethics -Mira Kamdar

Mira Kamdar had posted the following comments on South Asian Journalist Forum, published here with her permission. The more angles we see the issue from, the more informed we will be. I appreciate the enlightening comments and links Mira has provided. Thank you Mira - Mike Ghouse

I think a discussion of sensationalism in Indian media, particularly television, is appropriate. The whole "sting" thing has really gotten out of control there, and mostly is deployed on titillating subjects, as the original post points out. I also think a discussion of journalistic ethics is appropriate in this story.

An important factor not mentioned in Arthur Dudney's fine post is the coincidence of this sting with the imminent Gujarat elections and the importance of these at the national level, especially to the fate of the Congress Party.

And another point that should be made on the journalism front is the role the vernacular Gujarati-language press played in whipping up anti-Muslim fervor during the first days of the post-Godhra massacres and until today. I imagine that these publications are running stories right now supporting Modi and his henchmen, and ditto for Gujarati television news programming. With the blackout Modi has imposed on NDTV, Headlines Today, Aaj Tak, most Gujaratis simply never see or read any version of what happened in their state other than the one Modi, the RSS and the BJP support. And now you have class after class of kids in Gujarat educated on textbooks that have been rewritten from a Hindutva point of view as well.

There was a very important report on the role of the media in what happened in Gujarat published in 2002 by the Editors Guild of India, with Aaktar Patel, Dileep Padgaonkar, and B.G. Verghese as principal authors. Here is a link to it:

While I agree that strict journalistic ethics were transgressed in this latest Tehelka sting, I believe the revelations achieved by it are incredibly important,so important as to justify how they were obtained. I applaud the paper for going after the guys they got to talk. Many knew of the complicity up to the highest levels of government, the police and the judiciary in Gujarat but it had been impossible to bring any of the big players to justice. The "rot in Gujarat" to cite an expression that is not mine, runs very, very deep at this point. Muslims of all social classes live in fear for their lives on a daily basis, including the state's most prominent Muslim citizens. There is no normal social interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims at all: schools, apartments blocks, neighborhoods are completely segregated.

One of the most chilling revelations of the Tehelka sting for me personally was that Professor Bandukwala's house in Baroda was ordered destroyed by the University of Baroda's chief accountant! Professor Bandukwala, a professor of physics, was granted immediate asylum by the United States when he fled Baroda for his life in 2002, but after a short stay here decided to go back to Baroda. As he told me when I interviewed him right after the riots: "if I desert my community, who will they have?" Here is a link to the article I published after my visit to Gujarat closely following the post-Godhra carnage, "The Struggle for India's Soul," in which there is a passage on my visit with Bandukwala. : The sources I cite in the notes are worth revisiting as well.

All those who have dared go after the truth of Modi's role in what happened in 2002 have been hounded, harassed and threatened. Here is a link to an article I published in Tehelka (yes!) on the fate of Mallika Sarabhai, who was ultimately cleared by the Supreme Court of India but only after much money and effort was spent on her defense:

Those of us who are of Gujarati heritage and love the culture of Gujarat so much despair of what has happened to this state under Modi and his ilk. Will the forces of tolerance, harmony, free speech and respect for difference ever regain control of Gujarat? I think the reaction -- or lack of it -- by New Delhi will be a critical factor at this point.

Given the evident impotence of Gujarat's, or for that matter India's justice system to reveal the truth and achieve justice in this horrible episode in recent Indian history, who else but Tehelka had the courage to "out" these people? This particular sting is an immense public service, in my view, a patriotic act of the highest order.

It remains to be seen, however, if these revelations lead to meaningful steps being taken to obtain justice and begin the process of healing and reconciliation that is so badly needed. Frankly, how India deals with this will tell us much about its much vaunted "democracy," "open society," and the other values it trumpets to the world.

Imagine a governor in the United States giving cover if not outright ordering similar actions against citizens in his state? Imagine a governor ordering CNN or MSNBC off the air because he didn't like how he and the actions he had sanctioned were being depicted? That this can happen in democratic India is utterly shameful.

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