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February 2, 1999


E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

The English media's hostility towards Hindus

At long last, thank god, a confession has come from the English media. Reacting to the BJP's grievance that the entire media, particularly the one which communicates in English, has been greatly exaggerating the recent anti-Christian violence, the regular column last week of Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express, displayed a rare ethical standard, combining as it did a fair degree of contrition with a healthy commitment to truthfulness --- qualities which are difficult to find these days in our troubled land.

Let's see the facts as outlined by the gracious Gupta himself. His column stated that---

· "First of all in Jhabua, there has indeed been no evidence yet that anybody from the Sangh Parivar was involved in the rape of the nuns."

· "Then, despite all the commotion and outrage in the media and the world, not a single Christian has been killed in Gujarat yet Also, Gujarat has a history of Hindu resentment against the missionaries dating back to Mahatma Gandhi's times."

· "Similarly, Orissa…a state run by the Congress, has a history of indigenous violence against the missionaries. Six persons were killed only last year and since the state has a large tribal population, conversions have been going on there…There is no evidence yet that Dara Singh" (the main suspect in the Stains incineration) "was actively involved with any Sangh Parivar organisation…"

Based on an examination of the above, Gupta came to the conclusion that "On facts, therefore, it would seem that we in the English-language media have something to answer for." Just a few paragraphs later, Gupta's column recanted even more by stating that "Surely, we in the media have much to answer for."

Now it is precisely such irreverence for the vital difference between "something" and "much" that often exhibits itself in a lot of our newspaper copy and misleads millions of readers.

It is the same old imp that springs to action again towards the end of Gupta's column. After admitting that the media has "something" as well as "much" to answer for, he quickly passes the blame on to the Sangh Parivar spokesmen's utterances for causing "self-inflicted wounds." He finds fault with (i) the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's charge of Christian conspiracy in the matter of the Nobel Prize awards to Amartya Sen and Mother Teresa, and with (ii) L K Advani for quickly giving a clean chit to Bajrang Dal for the Stains carnage. Now can any mature media man accept these two utterances as grave enough to warrant the kind of calumny that was repeatedly heaped on the Sangh Parivar by the media? The first reason cited was over in just a couple of days when the VHP withdrew its statement; and, revealingly, the second reason cited occurred weeks after the calumny had already been stuck by the media on the Parivar.

No, Mr Gupta, it is no use finding pretexts for running away from the truth. Just consider the following:

* The lead paragraph of a front-page report of The Hindu appearing in its edition of January 2 stated that "The two-member central team which visited Gujarat to assess the situation there after attacks on Christian missionaries were reported, has pointed out that the situation took an ugly turn after a meeting of the Hindu Jagran Manch was stoned at Ahwa town on Christmas Day and the HJM retaliated."

Towards the end of his report the newspaper's special correspondent mentioned that "In view of the tense atmosphere prevailing in the regions, the judgement exercised by the District Administration in permitting a protest rally on Christmas Day seemed to have been inappropriate and this led to the occurrence of other incidents." Yet the heading of that report proclaimed "Timing of Hindu rally inappropriate: panel." Was that fair? And despite that categorical report of the Central team, (without any such word as "seemed"), Mr Gupta is not willing to buy the Sangh Parivar argument that Christians started the riots in Dangs on Christmas Day.

* Despite the categorical report of its special correspondent, Yogesh Vajpeyi, did The Indian Express loudly announce to its millions of readers that no Hindutva group was involved in the Jhabua rapes? On the other hand, if Vajpeyi's report had even smelt the Hindutva hand in the affair, one can imagine what the paper's headlines would have been.

* Despite the categorical report of Vajpeyi, a veteran correspondent we are told, did The Indian Express and the rest of the media Parivar dub the Christians' national protest day of December 4 last year as being unwarranted, communally acrimonious and a vicious slur on the BJP-led government?

* Based on the information provided by the Congress government of Madhya Pradesh, Home Minister Advani announced that half of the arrested persons in the Jhabua case were Christians. However, one Church forum had the gall to publicly label Advani as being untruthful. Did the media criticise this defamation of the nation's home minister?

* On January 7, Ghelubhai Nayak, a 75-year-old Gandhian settled In Dangs since 1948, sent a fax communication to the Special Bench of the Minorities Commission setting out some disturbing facts of Christian activity in several villages of that district on December 25 and prior to that day. Did any journalist bother with Nayak and that fax of his?

Perhaps the gracious Mr Gupta and his ilk should seriously introspect over the accusation in a rare article published by The Times of India on January 29, 1999 in what seems another welcome instance of transparency tantamount to a confession. The writer of that article, Sultan Shahin, says, "The products of Christian missionary and other English schools that run our media treat everything Indian, particularly Hindu, with contempt. Our intelligentsia, by and large, treats the Hindu leaders as usurpers of power, even though they have come to power in a democratic manner. This is what is leading more and more Hindus to fundamentalism, militancy and violence… Hypocrisy has perhaps become a part of our intelligentsia's bloodstream during the long Congress rule."

This bellicose stance against Hindus and their BJP-led government is not the only affliction of the English-language media. Be it politics, civic affairs, economic issues or sports, the typical working journalist exhibits a flippant-cum-arrogant attitude in the stuff he churns out, oblivious of the rights of the readers. And the award of the by-line status is considered as licence to play around with myth and reality as per the writer's predilection or mood of the moment. The desire to learn, to study, to research, to dissect objectively is being sacrificed at the altar of sensationalism or animosity. Retired journalists of not so long ago will testify to this.

That state of affairs must be why the country's Vice-President, Krishna Kant, was provoked to say what he did at the function last year to give away the B D Goenka awards for excellence in journalism. As quoted in The Indian Express, Mumbai, of July 1, 1998, our vice president observed that "Loaded phrases, attitudinising adjectives, coloured descriptions, one-sided versions, half-truths, twisted statements, distorted quotations --- all of them diminish the truthfulness of reporting" while stating that if the Indian press wants to ensure its credibility, it needs to report faithfully and without bias. Now Krishna Kant is not a Sangh Parivar man, is he?

But then, even the gracious Shekhar Gupta admitted in his column last week that "It's difficult to defend the English media at the best of times. God knows we do commit crimes each day, on each page, including the rape of Queen's English."

It would therefore be of incalculable help to the vast, ocean-like Indian public if our media bothered less about suggesting solutions for preventing the so-called "self-inflicted" wounds of the BJP; the media's more important task ought to be to improve itself by attending to the malignancy taking root within. Instead of advocating transfer of the district magistrate of Dangs or Dhule as "an elementary administrative measure," it should first examine what degrees of punishment it can mete out to those of its own who are a slur on professionalism. And the first action in this regard is for every editor to suspend for a week all those reporters who write the all-too familiar phrase of "pelting stones" at the Church or the temple or the train; punishment alone will drum into all those errant ones that "pelt" means "attack," not "throw," and that the correct thing to is to say "pelt the train with stones."

Yes, it's high time to remember the old, old advice of not throwing stones at others if…

Arvind Lavakare

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