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CJI against 'pervasive' media coverage of terror attacks

November 21, 2009 17:40 IST

"Pervasive" media coverage of terror attacks came in for sharp criticism by Chief Justice of India Justice K G Balakrishnan, who said it could provoke a disproportionate level of anger and irrational desire for retribution.

A two-day International Conference of Jurists on Terrorism, which began in New Delhi on Saturday, also witnessed some drama when the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to India staged a walk out when former Union Minister Ram Jethmalani accused the Wahabi sect of being responsible for terrorism.

"While it is fair for the media to criticise the inadequacies in the security and law enforcement apparatus, there is also a possibility that the resentment fuelled by media coverage can turn into an irrational desire for retribution," Justice Balakrishnan said.

He said one must take note of the fact that the symbolic impact of terrorist attacks on the minds of ordinary citizens has also been considerably amplified by pervasive media coverage.

"The proliferation of 24-hour news channels and the digital medium has ensured that quite often some disturbing images and statements reach a wide audience within a short span of time," the CJI said.

For instance, the CJI said that if terrorist strikes were attributed to individuals belonging to a certain ethnic or religious community, it might result in unreasonable discrimination and retaliation against ordinary members of that community.

He said such a trend was clearly visible in the US in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has been the cause of communal violence in many instances in India. Justice Balakrishnan said legal response to terrorism must be founded on a rational understanding of the underlying causes for such extremist behaviour.

Knee-jerk responses such as clamping down on civil liberties or a spate of arbitrary arrests and increased surveillance over citizens can prove to be counter-productive, he added.

In such an atmosphere, the CJI said it is only through calm deliberation and mutual tolerance that the legal systems of different nations can work together to tackle this problem.

President Pratibha Patil, Law Minister Veerappa Moily and eminent jurists from various countries, including Justice Awn S Al-Khasawneh of the International Court of Justice and Justice Chan Sek Keong, Chief Justice of Singapore were present at the conference.

During the inaugural function, eminent jurist Jethmalani provoked the walk out by Ambassador Faisal-al-Trad, who took offence at his remarks that "...Unfortunately in the

17th century, they produced an evil man in Saudi Arabia by the name of Wahab, who was concerned about the decline of Muslim world but he hit upon a wrong remedy."

Jethmalani also alleged that "Wahabi terrorism" indoctrinated "rubbish" in the minds of young people to carry out terrorist attacks. He lamented that India had friendly relations with a country that supported Wahabi terrorism.

The organiser of the conference Adesh Aggarwala said the ambassador walked out but returned after Law Minister M Veerappa Moily's statement that the views expressed by

Jethmalani were not that of the government.

Moily, in his address, said terrorism could be attributed to any particular religion.

Jethmalani said there were Hindu terrorists and Buddhist terrorists, but it was unfortunate that the terrorists that the world was talking about were were mainly Muslim.

He said he was a student of all religions including Islam and had the highest respect for the Prophet, a man of peace.
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