Sunday, December 20, 2020

How journalism based on 'anonymous sources' leads to violation of rights and destroys lives: Tablighi Jamaat members suffered due to media's misinformation campaign

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

Earlier this year, after a media misinformation campaign, Tablighi Jamaat members were booked across the country and they were sent to prisons. 

Due to the hostile and one-sided reporting, harsh sections of IPC were used in several places and they were denied bail. 

The result was that they spent a long time in jail, for no reason. It took nearly months before many of them could get bail or were acquitted.

Now that courts have discharged most of them, a lot of people talk about justice being done finally. However, the point is that it comes after a long ordeal, punishment for no reason, the suffering and spending time in jail. The issue is this process that punishes.

The Tablighi Jamaat members who were not even tested positive for Coronavirus, were accused of 'spreading the virus'. They were targeted, blamed, booked, sent to jails. Media was willing partner in this vilification that was used to harass Muslims, even poor vendors were targeted.

Such was the climate that there were boycott calls, certain groups were asking vendors to put up Saffron flag on their hand carts while entering neighbourhoods so that their religion was known. Many people were beaten too. 

Anything can be made credible when channels start round the clock, propaganda, false news. This was how innocents were framed, lives destroyed, use it to divide society, brand entire community linking with just anything anything & another year goes, agenda continues. 

Remember, the man who died in jail, wife took her body. This couple had come from Bangladesh and both the husband and wife were booked, arrested and sent to prison. After months, when they were about to get released, the person had a heart attack and died. 

Everyone suffered but not each story was even reported. This immense power to pin blame on someone innocent & then make the person look devil, using it to continue your hate project, is decades old and it continues. Either arrests in UAPA or SIMI link or Corona spread, dozens who are termed suspects by special cell, over the years.

For years, 'according to sources' journalism has destroyed lives. Like a man booked, immediately local papers term him 'terror mastermind arrested'. *No officer quoted, just 'sources say that he might have links'. Court finds him innocent, papers write, 'terrorist acquitted'. Even after acquittal, the 'tag' remains.

This continues because when a person is framed, kin's first priority is the case. Years later when released, he is often so traumatized that he doesn't have the will or resources to fight this or drag to court, the people who played a role in framing him, just for sensationalism.

How false stories are planted just because of bias or just for the sake of sensationalism

Let me give just an example. Once, an editor in an English newspaper in Bhopal, wanted a story about particular fundamentalist group's presence in the region. Reporters kept saying that it was not possible but he wanted a 'big, sensational story'. 

So for this, reporters use, 'source said, 'an officer on conditions of anonymity', to create. That group was not even strong in S Asia, let alone have presence in this region of India, but he wanted story to beat other papers and create a buzz, by claiming that there was a network of people associated with it. 

Imagine what happens when such stories are carried. Stories are planted cleverly like 'worries about this growing here too', cops say 'will look into it'. So you get validation, give a quote in the end, 'cops don't deny, will look'. 

READLessons from Tablighi Jamat case verdict and TV channels' propaganda to demonize group

So basically it is the role of media that is responsible for not just attitude of society but also excesses by officials. Hence, there is need to talk more about the structure of media, the composition of newsrooms, the lack of ethics.

It is an example of how ideology driven people are responsible for this situation where innocents get implicated. But those are involved in misinformation just because of their presence in newsrooms, get away, don't feel ashamed, have no accountability and are never punished. 

Photo is representative. Felipe Vallin, Pexels. LINK