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Monday, January 16, 2017

Facebook blocking users for social, political posts in India: Is it right-wing groups' mass reporting or FB India's bias?

Facebook is blocking users for posts that neither incite hatred, nor put up any objectionable content.

Users are blocked for days, at times even for a month.

Mostly, users who are popular and have huge following are being warned or blocked.

Those who are facing it on a regular basis, write in Hindi, and mostly comment on social-political issues.

Surprisingly, most of these users don't seem to violate any guidelines. There are only two explanations for this:

Firstly, most of them are critical of political parties and write against Fascism and right-wing extremism. Some of them are critical of BJP and its policies.

Secondly, those who have huge following on Facebook and are in a position to spread the message far and wide, are being targeted. This is being done by 'reporting'.

Apparently, you 'mass report' an account. When many people report, the Facebook India officials perhaps close their eyes and simply act, without checking whether the user has violated any guidelines or not.

Senior journalist Dilip Mandal has written that it seems Bahujan and Muslim writers are being targeted. "Mostly Muslims, writers who are anti-caste are targeted....posts critical of government are also removed", he writes.

"Facebook India is a corporate body and it is understandable those who have more influence in Indian society, would also be among the decision makers in FB. It is a test of Facebook's credibility. Let's see if it passes it. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Lohri Festival: Remembering the Robinhood of Punjab, Dulla Bhatti alias Abdullah Khan Bhatti

Everyone knows that Lohri is celebrated in winter. The festival is associated with Dulla Bhatti. There songs praising the 'son of Punjab', which are sung on the occasion.

But who was Dulla Bhatti? How many remember him? Abdullah Khan Bhatti, a Muslim Rajput, had become a hero in Punjab during the reign of Akbar.

A historical and real life character, Bhatti's name is part of Punjabi folklore. Bhatti grew up along with Prince Salim. Bhatti had later revolted against the Emperor.

He was known for saving young girls and protecting their honour apart from his generosity. Though he also belonged to feudal class, he rebelled and fought against the powerful and sided with the poor.

Bhatti arranged girls' weddings and also gave dowry to them. The famous song 'Sunder mundriye ho!' [See song and its translation: LINK] recalls his heroic acts, especially, the story of how he saved a girl and got her married to a Hindu boy.

Though there was no priest around and he didn't know the Hindu rituals, he lit the sacred fire. As he took on the might of the Empire and helped the poor, his acts of valour and his vow to save the 'Punjabi honour' made him a legendary character.

Hence, modern writers often equate him with Robinhood. Punjabis say that terming him Robinhood is belittling him, as he rebelled on one of the biggest and most powerful empires, stood for women's honour and fought for a long period.

Bhatti was finally arrested and executed. Sufi Shah Husain's famous words about Bhatti are part of folklore. The Sufi saint said, "No son of Punjab would ever sell the honour of the land". Dulla Bhatti's grave is located in Lahore, Pakistan.

In 1956, a Punjabi movie based on Dullah Bhati was made in Punjabi. Recently, another movie was made in Punjab, India though there were certain objections to the changes made to the character and distortion of history. [Mazar photo courtesy: Wikipedia]

[Also read, an article in Scroll on Abdullah Khan Bhatti. LINK]

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Independent Media in India: Role of Twocircles.net as voice of marginalized sections



Free media is important, everyone acknowledges. But it's difficult to be 'free' as setting up and running a media house requires moolah.

And, there is no surety of returns. In India, there is constant debate over fairness of media, lately.

Questions are raised on credibility of TV channels [and newspapers] who now a days take sides openly--either due to the ideological slant of the owners, their interests or because of funding source.

The voice of the poor and marginalised sections is heard less as 'big media' mostly focuses on issues that bring 'eyeballs', not 'serious or depressing' stories. Rural India, backward groups, minorities and many other sections of the society are not adequately reflected in reporting.

If in the year 2017, we are still talking about media not focusing on entire sections of the society, it can be imagined what was the situation a decade ago. Just think about it, when there were no 'Catch' or 'Scroll', no 'FirstPost' or Quint.

Besides, there was no social media proliferation, then. Today, anyone can write a Facebook post that goes viral or puts his own video on YouTube or use WhatsApp to broadcast certain content and make it go viral.

Today, portals give space to news and also to views. But there was a period when newspapers even ignored letters to editors. There was no way to put your voice across, if papers or channels were not willing to air it.

Does everyone remember the times though it is no too long ago. For Muslim issues, there were just Urdu papers or few blogs. Sometime even politicians were wary of taking up cause of the victims--such was the situation.

REMARKABLE ROLE: TCN'S CONTRIBUTION NEEDS TO BE ACKNOWLEDGED

TwoCircles.net's role has been significant and needs to be recognised. I remember very well, how, issues concerning highhandedness of police or atrocities on weaker sections that were not carried by mainstream papers, came to public domain due to the portal.

That it appointed reporters in different cities and made them chase stories, focus on stories neglected by mainstream media and did series of special stories on important issues, is something that is really significant.

Over the years, I remember the news website doing excellent journalism. In the later part of the first decade [2006-2010], there were innumerable cases of Muslims arrested on false charges and their lives were ruined. The police version was believed immediately after arrests and no questions were asked.

Once in a while, an Indian Express would do a story, abut for most of the time, there was silence. No effort was made or interest shown to bring to us the voice of the other side. Many stories were suppressed as no one was willing to do them.

TCN's biggest achievement is that it broke this unwritten media code. Its series on torture of youths implicated in UAPA in Madhya Pradesh or indiscriminate arrests of Muslim youths in Uttar Pradesh, brought the plight of victims and police excesses to national media.

Also, it was not in complaining mode all the time, as it happens when media that focuses on minorities. Positive stories and success stories were carried on the website. It exposed politicians and mainstream media was forced to take notice.

BREAKING STORIES, REPORTS THAT CREATED STIR

I have never met any of the team members behind Twocircles.net, except, two reporters who worked for it. But I have been following it since its beginning.

Personally, as a journalist and as a reader, I feel that the website has made an outstanding contribution. It was after TCN, that many other 'Muslim-centric' sites came up. Meanwhile, TCN has grown too. Now it is bilingual and more diverse.

It covers social issues apart from focusing on tribals, dalits, other weaker sections. Of course, it covers politics and comes up with analyses too. Some of the reporters who worked for TCN in the past, are now well-known journalists and writers.

And yes, another point. Urdu newspapers [or even some English periodicals-weeklies] run by Muslims were excessively Muslim-centric and their reporting was reduced to covering Waqf Board or Urdu Academy, Muslim politics and issues concerning just Muslims.

This hurt the journalists working in these groups, as they couldn't expand their horizons. Over the years, many of these reporters thought journalism was just about the particular beat or interacting with politicians.

TCN went much beyond that and its reporters broke stories, which is essential for any journalist. Further, the stories had impact. One has to work hard on the ground, get information, dig through reports, cultivate sources in order to get exclusives.

Many TCN reports came up with interesting and insightful stories. Generally, we recall work of people in the distant past and ignore the hard work that is going on around us. I wanted to write this post for a long time. TCN team's efforts must be recognised and appreciated.

I feel credit is due to Twocircles.net for its role as an independent media organisation. It has played a major role as an institution of non-profit journalism. Thank you Kashif sahab. The team that runs it and those who support it, deserve a salute.

Link: www.twocircles.net

Monday, January 09, 2017

Meryl Streep's speech shocks India: Bollywood stars don't take stand, indulge in sycophancy, crawl

Meryl Streep's strong speech* at the Golden Globe awards has come as a shocker in India, where Bollywood celebrities refuse to take stand.

The stars avoid speaking up and it is almost impossible to imagine a Bollywood star daring to speak critically about any powerful politician.

Over the years, Bollywood stars have shed the 'secular' pretence.

Many of them generally support the ruling party, even going to the extent of being labelled as sycophants and bhakts.

Taking stand is something that is unheard in Indian film industry. A few dared to speak up but were bullied into silence or their movies targeted through different ways--threat of violence, boycott call or intimidatory tactics.

No wonder, Bollywood celebs are seen as spineless. The great 'Big B' or Amitabh Bachchan is known for not taking stand. He even capitulated before MNS' Raj Thackeray.

Clearly, Meryl Streep's speech has come as a wake-up call.

Twitterati asked when Indian movie stars would dare to speak up or take bold stand.

Streep had criticized President-elect Donald Trump.

On the other hand, in India, many film stars sense opportunity to cosy up with the politicians, irrespective, just to gain 'power'. Right now the race is on to become 'bhakt'. At the Golden Globe Awards, 2017, she criticised Trump and urged other artists to take stand on issues.

LINK TO MERYL STEEP'S SPEECH

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Florida firing: Once name was known, 'terrorist' became 'gunman', headlines got diluted

What's in a name? Everything is the name now.

A man began shooting indiscriminately at an airport in Florida in United States of America.

The wire reports, tweets suddenly started appearing on smartphones.

Soon it became clear that five persons had been killed and many more wounded.

Till now, there was panic and everyone was worried what it might turn out to be. Mercifully, the killer was arrested soon. He was taken into custody. 

The person's identity was also known. The name was Esteban Santiago.

The person is an Army veteran. Immediately, it was known [that it was understood know] that this was not a 'terror attack'! Strange, isn't it. Yes, that's how the world, the international media functions in this era.

Santiago was described as 'gunman', 'shooter' or just 'suspect'. The reports were set to be diluted and headlines no longer sensational. It was termed 'the incident at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida'.

One headline said, '5 dead, 8 wounded in Florida airport shooting; U.S. vet arrested'. The other read, 'Fort Lauderdale shooting: five dead as suspect identified as Iraq veteran'. Clearly, no alarm was needed, anymore.

READ: Lone wolf, shooter or madman but never terrorist

It is always like that, isn't it? The man is called 'Lone wolf' or 'shooter' or 'gunman' because the person is not Muslim. There is an 'understanding', a code which is unwritten but observed all over the media world--everyone knows what words to be used to describe after religious identity is known.

The follow-up reports started coming fast. NYT got this report, within hours, 'Florida Airport Assailant May Have Heard Voices Urging Violence, Officials Say'.  Of course, he must be 'insane'. No talk about his links or modules or connections or motive.

How can he do it? Other reports like in Al-Jazeera [Gunman kills five at Florida's Ft Lauderdale airport] and Guardian [Fort Lauderdale shooting: five dead as suspect identified as Iraq veteran] can also be checked.

READ: Media must de-link terror from religion, consider all criminals alike

Isn't time that media organisations take a serious note of these double standards, introspect and go by the book--ethics, rules and norms of journalism! Irresponsible and biased journalism affects opinion of millions, turns people against entire race and religion, spreads poison in society.

Intention or association with any group could be known only after probe but what happens is that NAME is enough to decide what words would be used to describe him and how much sensationalism, coverage would be given to the event.

Hence, it is dire need of the hour that same vocabulary should be used for the same crime or extremist act. If a person is Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Jew, his religion must not be criterion for his criminal nomenclature.

All the posts on the media's 'LONE WOLF' syndrome can be read on this blog HERE