Friday, 22 August 2008

SC's observations: A warning singal for Media

The supreme court's comments on the media's overreaching itself seem to have not got the attention they deserve, but they need to be studied carefully by practitioners in the media business. the court was referring to the coverage of the aarushi-hemraj double murders, where the media played the "other" investigating agency, taking it upon itself to cast aspersions on the characters of the accused and of family members, to speculate wildly about what could have happened and to then set itself up as an alternative court of law. most of this, of course, happened on the plethora of news channels which disport themselves on our television screens but the print media is also guilty of sensationalising the case.
the media has already been under the scanner, with the information and broadcasting minister ready with his b! roadcast bill which aims to set some limits for tv news channels. this is something to be avoided. as has been discussed, the government should be kept out of getting involved in trying to "regulate" the media. however, the manner in which news channels have been conducting themselves is laying them open to more and more official scrutiny. they must now take action themselves or find themselves being acted against.
the apex court has castigated the media for behaving like a "super super investigative agency" and super is used in the latin sense of "over" rather than the colloquial sense of "wonderful". that is, the media is being seen guilty of extending its own brief and falling on the wrong side of the law. the result is the apex court sending notices to the union and uttar pradesh governments asking if there was any mechanism to restrain the media from reporting sub-judice cases. there is a certain vibrancy in the media which has a positive side too. it can be argued that had it not been for journalistic enterprise and aggression, instan! ces like reopening the jessica lall case would not have happened. this is true enough. but this has another side too, which is often seen in sting operations gone wrong and over-enthusiasm in covering stories that affect real people who may be innocent.
the supreme court's observations should be seen as a warning signal which, if not taken seriously, will affect the media as a whole, not just a few news channels hungry for higher television rating points. tv news has become a business desperate for consumers and all rules are being broken as a result. errant tv channels have to be made to realise that their actions are detrimental to the public interest. some amount of maturity in the tv media will have to emerge and the ethics of the news profession must be inculcated.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

SC asks media to observe restraint:

NEW DELHI: The hounding by the media of Rajesh Talwar as a key suspect in the Aarushi-Hemraj double murder case till he got a CBI clean chit made the Supreme Court on August 18 to ask aloud - Is there an urgent need for guidelines on responsible reporting of cases under investigation or pending trial?
The pitch was prepared by a PIL filed by advocate Surat Singh, who cited the case of Talwar and asked — Does media have a right to report whatever they please on the basis of police briefing, irrespective of the damage to the reputation and mental agony it inflicts on the accused?
A Bench comprising Justices Altamas Kabir and Markandey Katju, which during the last hearing had observed that the media - both print and electronic - should exercise restraint while reporting the Aarushi case, on Monday agreed with the petitioner that the reporting of the case left a lot to be desired. It issued notices to the information and broadcasting ministry, Press Council of India, Uttar Pradesh government and media houses on the PIL seeking to put in place guidelines for the media for reporting cases under investigation and trial. It sought assistance of additional solicitor general Gopal Subramaniam in this matter.
“We want to lay down general guidelines and not target individuals,” the Bench said while posting the matter for further hearing on September 23. The respondents were asked to file their replies within two weeks. Both the print and electronic media, the bench said, had a powerful influence over the masses. “The media has to be more responsible. It must not do anything by which investigation be prejudiced against the accused,” it added.
Accepting criticism as part and parcel of public life, the Bench said it was not worried about the judiciary or the judges. “We have sufficiently broad shoulders. But we are concerned about the reputation of people like in this case, Dr Talwar,” it said.
So moved was the court by the plight of Dr Talwar that at the stage of mentioning of the PIL on July 22, the Bench had passed an interim order observing that the media, both print and electronic, should exercise restraint in its reporting so as not to tarnish the reputation of Talwar.
Continuing its interim order, that is tying the media with the leash of responsibility, the Bench clarified: “There is no attempt to gag the media. But media has to be responsible at the same time.”
Source: The Times of India, August 19, 2008

Ideal and reality: media’s role in India

Reproducing here a thought-provoking article of Justice Markandey Katju, Judge of the Supreme Court of India

The media, along with art and literature, must help the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils in contemporary India.
Having discussed, in a previous article, the role of art and literature in a country such as India as it stands today, we should consider the role of the media in such a context. What do we see on television these days? Some channels show film stars, pop music, disco and fashion parades (often with scantily clad young women), astrology or cricket. Is it not a cruel irony and an affront to our poor people that so much time and money are being spent on showing cricket, film stars, disco-dancing, and pop music? What have the Indian masses to do with cricket, film stars, fashion parades, disco and pop? The Indian media today are largely acting irresponsibly and not serving the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils, as they ought to be doing.
Historically, the media were born as organs of the people against feudal oppression. In Europe, they played a major role in transforming a feudal society into a modern one. Everyone is aware of the role the print media played in preparing the people for, and during, the American and French Revolutions, as also in Britain. The only medium at that time was print, and writers such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Junius, and John Wilkes used it in the fight against feudalism and despotism. We know about the stir created by Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense during the American Revolution, and by Junius’ letters during the reign of the despotic George III in England.
The media became powerful tools in the hands of the people at that time. They could not express themselves through the established organs of power, which were in the hands of feudal and despotic rulers. Hence the people had to create organs that would serve them. In Europe and the U.S., the media represented the voice of the future, as against the feudal or despotic organs that wanted to preserve the status quo in society. In the 20th century, other types of media have emerged.
What should be the role of the media? This is a question of great importance to India today.

Big responsibility

To my mind, in underdeveloped countries such as India the media have a great responsibility to fight backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and help the people in their struggle against poverty and other social evils. Since a large section of the people is backward and ignorant, it is all the more necessary that modern ideas be brought to them and their backwardness removed so that they become part of enlightened India. The media have a great responsibility in this.
Underdeveloped countries like India are passing through a transitional age, between a feudal society and a modern, industrial society. This is a painful and agonising period. A study of the history of England in the 17th and 18th centuries, and of France in the 18th and 19th centuries, shows that such transitional periods were full of turbulence, turmoil, revolutions, intellectual ferment, and so on. It was after going through this fire that modern society emerged in Europe.
India is now going through this fire. The barbaric “honour killings” in western Uttar Pradesh districts such as Meerut and Muzaffarnagar of young men and women from different castes who get married or wish to get married show how backward we still are, full of casteism and communalism.
Our national aim must be to get over this transitional period as quickly as possible, reducing the inevitable agony. Our aim must be to make India a modern, powerful, industrial state. Only then will we be able to provide for the welfare of our people and get respect in the world community.

Need for cultural struggle

Today the real world is cruel and harsh. It respects power, not poverty or weakness. When China and Japan were poor nations, western nations referred to their people derisively as ‘yellow’ races. Today nobody dares to call them that as they are strong industrial nations. Similarly, if we want our country to get respect in the comity of nations, we must make it highly industrialised and prosperous. For this purpose, our patriotic, modern-minded intelligentsia should wage a powerful cultural struggle, a struggle in the realm of ideas. This cultural struggle must be waged by combating feudal and backward ideas such as casteism and communalism, and replacing them with modern, scientific ideas among the masses. Art, literature, and the media all have an important role in this cultural struggle. But are they performing this role?
Today in India there is a total disconnect between the media and the mass reality. A speech delivered by P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu and Magsaysay award winner, on September 6, 2007 in Parliament House in the Speaker’s Lecture Series, had some revealing facts.
The mass reality in India, which has over 70 per cent of the people living in the rural areas, is that rural India is in the midst of the worst agrarian crisis in four decades. Millions of livelihoods in the rural areas have been damaged or destroyed in the last 15 years as a result of this crisis, because of the predatory commercialisation of the countryside and the reduction of all human values to the exchange value. As a result, lakhs of farmers have committed suicide and millions of people have migrated from the rural areas to cities and towns in search of jobs that are not there. They have moved towards a status that is neither ‘worker’ nor ‘farmer’: many of them end up as domestic labourers, even criminals.
We have been pushed towards corporate farming, a process by which farming is taken out of the hands of the farmers and put in the hands of corporates. This process is sought to be effected not through guns, tanks, bulldozers, and lathis. It is done by making farming unviable for the millions of small family farm-holders due to the high cost of inputs such as seed, fertilizer, and power, and uneconomical prices.
India ranked fourth in the list of dollar billionaires but 126th in human development terms. This means it is better to be a poor person in Bolivia (the poorest nation in South America) or Guatemala or Gabon rather than in India. Some 836 million people (of the total of between 1.10 billion to 1.20 billion) in India exist on less than Rs.20 a day. Life expectancy here is lower than in Bolivia, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. According to the National Sample Survey, the average monthly per capita expenditure of the Indian farm household is Rs.503. Out of that amount, 55 per cent is spent on food, and 18 per cent on fuel, clothing and footwear — leaving precious little for education or health.

Hungry millions

A report of the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that between the period from 1995-97 to 1999-2001, India added more newly hungry millions than the rest of the world taken together. The average rural family now consumes significantly less than what it was consuming earlier. Indebtedness has doubled over the past decade. Cultivation costs have increased exorbitantly and farming incomes have collapsed, leading to suicides by farmers.
While there were 512 accredited journalists covering the Lakme India Fashion Week, there were only six journalists to cover the suicides in Vidharbha. In that Fashion Week programme, the models were displaying cotton garments while the men and women who grew the cotton were killing themselves an hour away by flight from Nagpur, in the Vidharbha region. Nobody told that story except one or two journalists locally.
Is this a responsible way for the media to function? Can the media turn a Nelson’s eye to the harsh economic realities that over 75 per cent of our people face, and concentrate on some ‘Potempkin villages’ where all is glamour and show biz? Are not the Indian media behaving like Queen Marie Antoinette who, when told that the people did not have bread, said they could eat cake?
No doubt sometimes the media mentions farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra, the rise in the prices of essential commodities, and so on. But such coverage at the most constitutes 5 to 10 per cent of the total coverage. The bulk of it goes to cricket, film stars, pop music, fashion parades, astrology, and so on. Is this not really trying to divert the attention of the people from the real issues, which are basically economic, to non-issues?

Opium of the masses

Some TV channels show cricket day in and day out. In India, cricket is really the opium of the masses. The Roman emperors used to say: if you cannot give the people bread, give them circuses. This is precisely the approach of the Indian establishment. Keep the people involved in cricket so that they forget their economic and social plight. What is important is not the price rise or unemployment or poverty or lack of housing or medicines. What is important is whether India has beaten New Zealand (or better still, Pakistan) in a cricket match, or whether Tendulkar or Ganguly has scored a century. Is this not sheer escapism?
To my mind, the role of art, literature, and the media in our country today must be to help the people in their struggle against poverty, unemployment, and other social evils and to make India a modern, powerful, industrial state.
For this purpose, scientific thinking should be promoted, as science alone is the means to solve our country’s problems — not physics, chemistry, and biology alone but a whole scientific outlook, which must spread widely among the people. Our people must develop rational, logical and questioning minds, and abandon superstition and escapism. For this, the media can, and must, play a powerful role.
Many TV channels today show programmes on astrology frequently. Astrology is but superstition. Elementary common sense can tell us that the movement of the stars and planets can have no rational connection with our lives and cannot determine whether one will become a lawyer or a doctor or an engineer, or whether one will die at the age of 40, 50 or 60. Astrology is totally unscientific, but many TV channels propagate it, which is in my opinion is against the national interest.
The nation faces a socio-economic crisis. Artists, writers, and mediapersons must act responsibly and help the people solve their problems. This they can do by focussing on the real issues, which are basically economic, and not by trying to divert the attention of the people from the real issues to non-issues.

Source: The Hindu (

Monday, 18 August 2008

Indian Journal of Media Studies launched

My compliments to Prof Veena Noble Dass, the Vice Chancellor of Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, to have encouraged and supported its Department of Communication and Journalism (DoCJ) to launch Indian journal of Media Studies.

Media educators in India would certainly join me to offer similar compliments to Prof Dass because vice-chancellors of most Indian universities fail to support such initiatives in media studies. It could because they do not realise that there is no media research journal for communication researchers, teachers, and students. It could be because of paucity of funds, or could be because such a journal for media research is always a low priority.

Prof V Durga Bhavani, the Editor and DoCJ Head and Associate Professor P Vijaya Lakshmi, have utilised the support to bring out the 98-page journal that has carried seven research papers. These deal with Telugu Press, Television and children, Internet use in Andhra Pradesh and gender sensitisation through media intervention.

The journal will be brought out every sixth month. The Volume I Issue I includes papers submitted by teachers from Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam. I do hope that the editors will make every effort to make the journal a useful platform for educators and researchers from other universities as well to justify 'Indian' in the title of the publication. Perhaps, eventually, the journal will be made peer-reviewed to ensure quality of the contents.

Indian Journal of Media Studies, Volume I Issue I (March 2008) published by Department of Communication and Journalism, Sri Padmavati Mahila Visvavidyalayam, Tirupati 517502 Andhra Pradesh.

Contact details:, telephones: (91-877) 2284536 and (91-877) 2284516, Fax: (91-877) 2284568 email:

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Causeless Journo/s in India

Following discusses media scenario in Kerala, but I have no doubt that situation in other states of India is no different. It does not matter if the newspapers are in regional language or the English ones. Any comments to offer?

Causeless Journo/s (CJs)?
Fourth Estate In The Age Of Social Movements

By Dr. T T Sreekumar (

The rise of social movements in the political horizon of neoliberal India heralds a transformation in the modes of reflexive social praxis involving a rupture with the overly familiar cultural nationalist and class based movements in the country. Beginning with the peasant movements in the 1980s, the appearance of what could be collectively called new social movements began to take concrete political forms. The feminist movement and the ecology movement have been particularly active in articulating a complex set of new themes and notions, which were strikingly dissimilar to the major concerns of the hegemonic political ideologies.

These movements have been largely territorial and often, in a political sense, marginal. What is significant is that despite the peripheral character of their existence, they have been able to influence political agenda and state policies, acting together as allies to a limited extent. Moreover, despite their reliance on spontaneity and crystallization of issues emerging at the provincial level, they exhibit a tremendous capacity for social survival.

Gail Omvedt has identified the dalit and anti-caste movements, women’s movements, environmental movements, and farmer’s movement fighting against hegemonic market production issues as the major new social movements in India. Conceding that the implications of the role of social movements in recent historical events depend on the definition and characterization of the movements, Omvedt seemed to reject the idea that new movements have been of negligible consequences compared to the class-based struggles. According to her, this is true only if the dalit movement is obliterated and farmer’s movement is disregarded as a new social movement. She provided a strong case for including farmer’s movement within any possible categorization of new social movements in India. The trajectory of the farmer’s movement has been brought to spotlight following the repression of farmers in Nandigram and Singoor in West Bengal and Chengara in Kerala.

Despite the massive surge in spontaneous grassroots movements that changed the social space of resistance and survival in India, the Media has been as a rule reluctant to come to terms with this emerging political reality. One of the reasons for this indifference was ideological. It has missed Media’s notice that the fact that new social movements are ideologically different from the old national and political movements. They are less hierarchical, following non conventional resource mobilization strategies and organically disinclined to stake claims to State power. The old movements comprised of political parties, organized trade unions or frontal mass organizations owing allegiances to central political formations. The issues that they took up A theoretical functionalism that underlie media practices in India failed to accept the transience, and evanescent nature of new social movements. They seem to be perplexed by the fact that movements arise without programmatic causes to uphold till dooms day. Multiplicity of temporally and spatially bounded causes upheld by varied social movements rather than a familiar practice of swearing by a single cause of usurping state power, has been particularly inconvenient to journalists who remain loyal to their Stalinist or cultural fascist roots.

Besides the exemplary examples of Sainath and a few others, scribes in the main stream media mostly present themselves as “causeless journo/s” (CJs) with pretensions of neutrality and a derision for those who stand up for the causes of the marginalized. The disdain probably arise from their own kinship ties or alliances with corrupt politicians or past association with Stalinist or cultural fascist media organizations. It seems to be the dictum that in the absence of a Supreme cause like class struggle or Hindu India, you should remain causeless as an indication of your neutrality and non-partisanship.

This phenomenon is becoming increasingly visible in Kerala’s political scenario. Social movements in Kerala are confronting an unprecedented and thoroughly hostile Stalinist and Savarna fascist repression. The ruling Stalinists in Kerala has unleashed an unprecedented spate of rhetorical and physical violence against people’s movements and activists probably in an effort to distract attention from a series of governmental and administrative failures and inner party squabbles. The mainstream media has been ignominiously indifferent to the excesses against marginalized communities, particularly dalits while devouring CPI (M)’s internal dissentions. “Classlessness” is perhaps a gripping contemporary politico-philosophical problem.

The first in the new series of salvos was gunned by a causeless rhetorician and columnist of the CPI (M) daily Deshabhimani (‘Patriot’ in Malayalam) Sukumar Azhikode. When Mahaswetha Devi visited Kerala to protest the forceful eviction of scores of households for the Vallarpadam road project in Moolampally, Sukumar reportedly called her “an insult to the nation”. Sukumar’s puerile outburst against Mahaswatha Devi was not an isolated incident. Overwhelming support for the intensifying land struggle in the Chengara plantation where landless dalits and adivasis have raised the demand for redistribution of agricultural land exposing the hollowness of widely trumpeted land reforms implemented by the CPI-Congress coalition in the early 70s with CPI (M) in the opposition, has been a major cause of infuriated assaults on social activists and progressive writers in the State. The neo-liberal revisionists in CPI (M) in Kerala have apparently taken a position that land redistribution is no longer a substantive political agenda.

One of the most hilarious yet disturbing manifestations of the harm that “causelessness” of CJs could engender was the virulent attack of the official ruling party media on a group of young activists who observed a Night Vigil in front of the State secretariat in support of the Chengara land struggle. Their hidden camera caught a husband and wife sitting close to each other in the Night Vigil and repeatedly flashed it as an example of “sexual anarchy” of social movement activists in Kerala. Interestingly, a Nietzscheian shock greeted the Stalinist media the next day when the participants held a press conference to declare that they believed in public expressions of love and affection and the hideous spying was perhaps a cultural proclivity that only the Stalinist 'parivar' shared.

The apathy of CJs in Kerala’s mainstream media has made the Stalinists bolder and at times Fourth Estate itself at the receiving end. Sumantha Banerjee has recently written in Economic and Political Weekly that the media photographer who photographed an SFI march in which they attacked a Youth Congress leader was assaulted to prevent him from “reporting and photographing their misdeed” resulting in “serious injuries to three journalists”. What is described as “petulant exhibitions of reprisal and violent intimidation against the media” Banerjee feels that “CPI-M is fast resembling the Right-wing parties like the Shiv Sena, and the chauvinist regional outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA)”. While the attack on media should be seen as part of the larger tactics of intimidation and violence unleashed against activists and social workers, the complacence of CJs of Kerala Media can be interpreted as tantamount to complicity in this criminal outburst. With civil society emerging as the last bastion of resistance to neo liberalism in India, the causeless journo perhaps has a final cause to destroy it.

(E-mail: )

Monday, 4 August 2008

Media Mimansa offers rich contents on University Education

Media Mimansa (Volume II, Issue 1, July-September 2008)) of Bhopal-based Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Avam Sanchar Vishwavidyalay, deserves kudos for providing us a glimpse of the contemporary higher education scenario in India. The Editor and Vice Chancellor, Shri Achyutanand Mishra has taken pains to bring together veterans in academia to write about "University: Then and Now", the theme on which he had organised a seminar in Bhopal in June.
I am in a position to appreciate the efforts undertaken by him and his team because I have experienced in the recent past how difficult it is to involve so many scholars, from different parts of the country, for a seminar and later to bring out a comprehensive issue on the same theme. The editorial team has succeeded in bringing out the articles in Hindi and English, with a layout that is pleasing to the eye and easier to revert to specific topics that might be needed for reference later
The Media Mimansa is still in its infancy, yet it holds a promise for quality well-researched papers and articles of interest to academia in general, and communication educators in particular. I am confident about it because this issue has rich contents that enlighten the readers about the higher education in India, from 800 BC to the present era.
I do wish that the editorial team decides to put this and subsequent issues online so that anyone anywhere can access the journal anytime.

Price: Rs 30.
For details: Phone 0755 4228065 Mobile: 9425643429
Address: Makhanlal Chaturvedi Rashtriya Patrakarita Avam Sanchar Vishwavidyalay, E-8 Trilanga, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

Film Institute Revives Lensight

Lensight, once a 'technical' journal for the celluloid professionals, has been reborn at the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) after about eight years. The new avatar of the publication will deal with a variety of facets of films and media, such as critical appreciation of films, personalities, music, and the dialectics of their organic interaction with society and its trends, according to FTII director Pankaj Rag.

The Institute had ceased publication in 2001 due to resource crunch. Mr. Rag, belonging to the 1990 IAS batch, took the decision to revive the journal immediately after he took over as Director in February last. This is part of his plans for the development of the Institute, which is to celebrate its Golden Jubilee year in 2010.

The bi-lingual journal was re-launched with contributions in English and Hindi from movie veterans, faculty, and students of the Institute. Govind Nihalani, an alumnus of the FTII, formally released the journal for publication recently, saying this would meet the expectations of both, the serious students of Indian cinema and moviegoers.

The 96-page issue covers a wide range of topics focussed on films such as critical evaluation of memorable Hindi films of the 1950s and 1960s, Renoir's masterpiece 'Rules of the Game', examination of 'looking' and 'image making' in literature, theatre and cinema through the story of Sakuntala.

The journal has articles covering experience of cinema through 'A space Odyssey', struggles faced during the making of award winning films, reflection on writing in films and a commentary on films and social change. Also included are articles on V Shantaram, and Nabendu Ghosh, and interviews with Rajkumar Hirani and Enoch Daniels and a serious discourse on recorded film music by editor Pankaj Rag himself.

Journal's Associate Editor Chandrashekhar Joshi says concerted efforts are being made to invite contributions from veterans in the profession and academia from different parts of the country. The plan is to publish at least three issues every year.

Single issue is priced at Rs 100 and annual subscription is Rs 300. For details: email:


Saturday, 2 August 2008

Sourcing the news

Young journalist Yogesh Joshi wonders:
With the following stringent rule-book, that reuters follows, can we a part of indian press ever be able to deliver, or shall we deliver better ?

Accuracy entails honesty in sourcing. Reuters' for that accuracy, and for freedom from bias, rests on the credibility of our sources. A Reuters journalist or camera is always the best source on a witnessed event. A named source is always preferable to an unnamed source. We should never deliberately mislead in our sourcing, quote a source saying one thing on the record and something contradictory on background, or cite sources in the plural when we have only one. Anonymous sources are the weakest sources. …

Here are some handy tips:

  • Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.
  • Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.
  • When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews.
  • Cross-check information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from unnamed sources, weigh the source's track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further.
  • Talk to sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
  • Be honest in sourcing and in obtaining information. Give as much context and detail as you can about sources, whether named or anonymous, to authenticate information they provide. Be explicit about what you don't know.
  • Reuters will publish news from a single, anonymous source in exceptional cases, when it is credible information from a trusted source with direct knowledge of the situation. Single-source stories are subject to a special authorisation procedure.
  • A source's compact is with Reuters, not with the reporter. If asked on legitimate editorial grounds, you are expected to disclose your source to your supervisor. Protecting the confidentiality of sources, by both the reporter and supervisor, is paramount.
  • When doing initiative reporting, try to disprove as well as prove your story.
  • Accuracy always comes first. It's better to be late than wrong. Before pushing the button, think how you would withstand a challenge or a denial.
  • Know your sources well. Consider carefully if the person you are communicating with is an imposter. Sources can provide information by whatever means available - telephone, in person, email, instant messaging, text message. But be aware that any communication can be interfered with.
  • Reuters will stand by a reporter who has followed the sourcing guidelines and the proper approval procedures.

We don't always get it right. There are times we should have pressed harder to get a source to go on the record with his or her name; there are times when we should have spiked (thrown away) a story because the sourcing wasn't totally up to our standards.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Media needs to be more circumspect in literate Kerala

Kerala trembled', screamed the nine-centimetre deep headline in the state's largest circulated newspaper Monday. Those words summed up the totally literate state's response to some sensational media reports that it was the terrorists' next target.

On Sunday afternoon, as the nation was slowly recovering from the impact of the serial explosions in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, the Bangalore office of a television channel informed a Malayalam channel that a caller from Pakistan had said blasts would occur in Kerala at 7 p.m.

Holiday-makers scurried home from parks and beaches as channels flashed the news. The state police, already on alert following a central advisory, persuaded cinema houses in several places to abandon the evening and night shows.

As it happened, the deadline passed with no untoward incident reported from any part of the state.

Kerala has witnessed many violent incidents of a political or communal nature in recent years. However, they have generally been limited to a small area. There have been explosions but no serial blasts. Mercifully, the state has only experienced low-tech violence. RDX and AK-47 have come up in TV serials but not in real life.

Muslims constitute a quarter of the state's population. The banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had a large network in the state. Some of its members have been apprehended in connection with incidents that have occurred outside the state.

SIMI, founded at the Aligarh Muslim University at the end of the emergency regime in 1977, with the proclaimed goal of 'India's liberation through Islam' was proscribed by the Indian government in 2002.

The state government told a tribunal set up to examine the legality of the ban that its cadres had links with various bodies abroad, including Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organisation. According to official sources, SIMI also had a women's wing in the state.

Abdul Naser Mahdani, chairman of the People's Democratic Party (it has no connection with the Jammu and Kashmir organisation with the same name), was one of the principal accused in the Coimbatore blasts case. It arose from a series of explosions that rocked the industrial city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu shortly before Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Kishen Advani arrived there.

Mahdani was acquitted after being in prison for close to ten years. The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which lead the rival fronts that alternate in power in the state, had associated themselves with the campaigns conducted by his party and human rights activists against his prolonged detention without bail or parole.

People of Kerala take keen interest in developments outside the state as migration to other lands in search of jobs is common. An estimated two million Keralites work abroad, mostly in the Gulf States.

Sensing a groundswell of sympathy for ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein among the people, especially Muslims, the state's political parties had vied with one another to champion his cause at election time.

The Left effectively wove the cause into its anti-US rhetoric. All this did not prevent recruiting agents from finding catering personnel to serve the American soldiers in Iraq and carpenters to build cages at Guantanamo in Cuba to hold suspected Al Qaeda men.

Although Kerala has no experience of high-tech terrorism, a terrorist strike anywhere is a matter of concern here as immigrants from the state are scattered all across the globe.

At least one person of Kerala origin was among those killed in the 9/11 strike. Workers from the state have been kidnapped in foreign lands. While a Border Roads Organisation driver in Afghanistan died at the hands of Taliban militants, many others have come home safely after ordeals which gave not only their immediate relatives but the whole population anxious moments.

When reports of violent incidents come in from distant places, the local media make special efforts to trace persons with possible Kerala links. Even so the presence of a woman from Kerala among the victims of the World Trade Center tragedy took time to surface.

The media plays a large part in the Keralite's life. He became an avid newspaper reader in the last century and the newspaper's influence is discernible in his conversations. Fifteen years ago, the first private satellite channels appeared.

Now there are close to a score of them, including four 24x7 news channels. There is a streak of sensationalism in both the print and electronic media, which can be attributed charitably to compulsions of competition.

Keralites are vulnerable to manipulation by the media. The alacrity with which the media takes up material fed to it suggests that it is susceptible to manipulation, too. The authorities have to take warnings seriously, whoever the source, but the media needs to approach material emanating from dubious sources with circumspection.

(B.R.P. Bhaskar is a veteran media commentator. He can be reached at The commentary was carried by and quoted by web sites including