Monday, October 08, 2012

Media Misinformation in India: Spreading scare in society on one hand, suppressing or ignoring 'terrorism' on the other hand

First an example about contrast in coverage of the following two incidents:

1. Three persons were killed in Manipur just a few days back. They included two Assam Rifles troopers and a civilian. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were used to trigger the blast. But the news was largely ignored in national media.

There were no 'flashes' on TV channels, no special report or follow-up. In fact, the group Revolutionary People's Frong (RPF) spokesperson said that the organisation would continue attacks on Indian army. Still, you may never hear about this 'outfit'.

In newspaper headlines, the word 'terror' was not used. Even word like 'militants' was not there in the few papers that bothered to carry this news somewhere on inside pages. It was like 'As many killed in blast, This outfit responsible'. Read the news in this English paper here

2. Now recall a similar 'attack' that had occurred in Pune sometime back. FORTUNATELY, no one was killed in it. Just ONE person was injured. Still, the moment, news came, all programmes on national news TV channels stopped. It was constant coverage of 'terror attack' for hours from then on wards.

People rushed to their homes, tried to contact their near and dear ones. Phone lines were jammed. Cell phones were out of coverage due to the massive number of calls. Channels feasted on this frenzy, and continued this 'panic' creating industry through the night.

Immediately, words were put into mouth by asking cops, 'Could X/Y be responsible'. Cops said, 'We don't rule out X/Y'. Soon there were flashes about 'Role of X/Y possible in this attack'. All so-called security experts were ready with their information about 'modules' and 'terror groups'.

No one was killed. No group had claimed anything or given any threat in this case. There were apparently no leads immediately. But the names of Muslim fugitives names were taken repeatedly. The follow up stories continued for days, causing anxiety in not just Pune but other cities also.

Channels were screaming at the top of their pitch. From secretaries to ATS chief, from Chief Ministers to  Home Minister, everybody was being contacted.

There were reports that 14 states in India are now on alert. Height of media madness. In fact, when name of one Dayanand Patil who had carried the bag containing explosive, came up, the reports suddenly begun drying up.

Even, 'clean-chit' statements were quick for him. It seems the tailor had picked up the bag by curiosity. Wonderful!

But for these two days there was panic across India, due to extensive coverage. Muslims again felt besieged.  You can't find a house on rent easily in any city. This has happened innumerable times. The cycle continues. Read the link again in DNA.


After these two examples, I just wish to point out that this has been happening for years now. The PANIC shown by these irresponsible TV channels, is causing the fear of Terrorism in society. In fact, the objective of the terrorists must be to make people feel insecure.

By giving so much coverage, section of media is not only behaving irresponsibility but is also unknowingly playing in the hands of the forces that would like to destabilise the nation. How long would this continue? There are illegal explosives seized across India.

When thousands of kilogrammes of explosives were seized from a person in Rewa, immediately he got a clean-chit. Why? Was it because the suspect or prime accused was not from a particular religion. Cops believed that he would be taking it only for 'illegal blasts for mining'.

Of Crude bombs, HuJI link

What if it fell in hands of Naxals? Crude bombs explode in various cities. There are certain cities in India, where its criminals use crude bombs to hit the enemies or create panic. These reports are never flashed. It's not just because North East is ignored.

Even when top most dignitaries were on North East visit and blasts occurred just around their arrival or departure, it didn't stir the news channels in Hindi heartland. English channels that claim to be 'restrained' are no less different in their attitudes.

Just a few years back, there was a suggestion on HuJI link by someone and a blast story from Assam was played up by terming it as Terrorist attack. Later when ULFA claimed it was responsible for the attack in which dozens had perished, suddenly the news anchors and channels' interest in the story evaporated.

Its not about big stories either. In Pune, fortunately no one was killed. But Kanpur is also a big city, when bombs exploded there, it was not considered a major story. Why? Only when there is no lead or when there is an 'unknown', media can attribute it to groups with Arabic sounding names and Muslim names.

This is not to say that there is no terrorism. It is a big challenge for India, our police, security agencies to fight militancy and terrorism. But such immature behaviour, contrasting responses and biased media reporting can't help the country.

Militant, Insurgent, Secessionist, Outlaw or T...

Till 10-15 years ago, the word 'militant' was used in context of Kashmir. Now, in North East viz. Assam, Manipur, Tripura or Nagaland, the word 'secessionist', 'insurgent' or 'outlaw' is used. But in case of Kashmir,  the dreaded T word is used even when there is no incident, and just a suspect's arrest.
I don't at all want to say that Muslims are not involved or that they are falsely implicated. But by exacerbating the situation, causing panic, immature reporting and generalizing, section of media is doing great disservice to the nation. People with no knowledge about security establishment, make wild guesses and speculations.

These things harm investigation and hamper working of the security agencies. Media has failed to evolve a code for itself. In one incident, where no one is killed, it becomes 'terror attack, while another where many are killed is just a 'blast by outlaw group'.

Isn't it time to write to Press Council of India? Or better approach courts! Whatever. The need is now to once gain define terrorism and militancy, and once defined, the term should apply on all such groups. Every such group must be seen and dealt with in the same manner by media. Is it too much to expect?

[Read 25 old posts on the subject of militancy and terror on this blog HERE]