Last evening proved media cares more about IPL than people dying

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Geographical reach of news channels has to be expanded so that tragedies like the Andhra Pradesh stampede don’t go under-reported. (Image: The New Indian Express)

It’s nine PM! Just a few hours ago 27 people including four children and eleven women died following a stampede on the banks of the river Godavari during the first day of a religious festival in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. News reports also suggested that more than 60 sustained serious injuries.

Significantly the same day saw the three-member Supreme Court appointed committee deliver the much awaited IPL verdict. The committee headed by former Chief Justice of India RM Lodha not only banned Chennai Super King’s Gurunath Meiyappan and Rajasthan Royal’s Raj Kundra for life because of their involvement in betting but it also banned their respective franchises Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals for two years from participating in the cash rich Indian Premier League.

The five English language news channels are gearing up for the all important nine O’clock show. Arnab Goswami’s The Newshour is slated to hold two debates. The first one is centred around the #IPLCleanUp whereas the second debate is on the struggle ensuing between Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and IPS Amitabh Thakur. The relatively quieter Barkha Dutt is holding debates on the same two subjects on NDTV 24*7‘s The Buck Stops Here.

Nation At 9 on News X anchored by Athar Khan is also debating IPL with the hashtag #SaveOurCricket. Returning from a break after 45 minutes into the programme News Today At 9 which obviously debated the #IPLVerdict earlier, India Today‘s Consulting Editor Rajdeep Sardesai proclaims that “there is another big story” referring to the Andhra Pradesh stampede and terms it a “tragedy”. This is followed by a short news package on the same which eventually makes way for speed news.

CNN IBN‘s India At 9 presented by Palki Upadhyay followed the herd by debating IPL and devoting a short news package towards the end to the Andhra Pradesh stampede in which they ran bytes of Andhra Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Congress leader Chiranjeevi.

This was the news agenda of the five English language news channels. They were unanimous in their assessment of the #IPLVerdict as the biggest news story of the day. Channel after channel debated IPL during prime time and the stampede in Rajahmundry sadly became just “another big story”.

As media students we are often told how to determine the news worthiness of a particular news item. One of the determinants could be the number of people that the story affects. Hence, it was important for news channels to hold discussions in order to dissect the stampede in Andhra Pradesh. What caused the stampede? What precautions were in place? What do the victims have to say? How did the government respond? But these questions were surely left unanswered as the story was relegated to headlines and passing news packages.

Why did a tragedy of such a large scale lose out to the #IPLVerdict in terms of news value? The answer lies in the 3Cs ie Cricket, Cinema and Crime. IPL is an amalgamation of the 3Cs as also the “P” of politics. Together they trumped the other “C” which is the common man. Such lopsided news coverage seems to corroborate the words of former Press Council of India Chairman Justice Markandey Katju who argued that the Indian media was predominantly occupied with superficialities like Bollywood and Cricket.

Another important constituent of news worthiness is proximity. That’s where Andhra Pradesh clearly lost out. A stampede which occurs far away from Delhi or rather Sector 16 in Noida Film City where a large chunk of the domestic media stands is likely to be given a miss. The easiest way of running a news channel is to make it discussion-centric instead of revolving around reportage. Ground reports require extensive budgeting and hiring of media professionals to collate news from around the country and the globe. Indian channels clearly lack in terms of reportage coming in from the north eastern states or even a non-Hindi speaking state like Andhra Pradesh as they don’t have reporters at such places.

The reception to the Andhra Pradesh stampede would have been different had it happened in and around Delhi or if the loss of lives was a result of an act of terror. The chest thumping, ultra-nationalist elements within the media would have taken up the issue in a big way debating cross border terrorism on prime time. But it wasn’t a terror attack and thus, not much coverage.

Those who feel that the rot is limited to the electronic media need to think again. The front page of Hindustan Times (Lucknow edition) doesn’t even make a mention of the Andhra Pradesh stampede. They have rather decided to go with the #IPLVerdict, Prime minister Modi’s Ufa diplomacy and US-Iran nuclear deal. The front page of Times of India (Lucknow edition) has devoted a three-column news report to the stampede near the bottom of the page beneath IPL, nuclear deal, AAP’s plea for funds and Indo-Pak ties.

It’s high time for the domestic media to overcome hysteria. Stories revolving around the rich and the powerful are important. Court judgements and pronouncements ought to be covered. Foreign policy is news worthy and so is terrorism. But the people are most important. News has to be representative and not merely Delhi-centric. News channels and newspapers should invest more in reporting and increasing the headcount of reporting in areas like Rajahmundry where television cameras don’t reach that often. Geographical reach of news channels has to be expanded so that tragedies like the one in Rajahmundry don’t go under-reported.

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/rajahmundry-andhra-pradesh-stampede-chandrababu-naidu-media-news-human-tragedy/story/1/5003.html

(This article was originally published in DailyO.)

A separate state for Kashmiri Pandits is not the way forward

25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Kashmiri Pandits. (Image: Reuters)

25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Kashmiri Pandits. (Image: Reuters)

On January 19, 2015, the Hindu community of the Kashmiri Pandits completed 25 years of exile. Following the outbreak of Islamist insurgency in Kashmir during the late 1980s, Kashmiri Pandits started finding themselves at the receiving end of a mindless wave of violence unleashed by terrorist groups. The mass exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits from the valley began on the night of January 19, 1990, as the valley reverberated with slogans of “azaadi”, “nizam-e-mustafa” and “la ilaha illallah”.

Militant outfits like the Hizbul Mujahideen had issued open threats to the Kashmiri Pandits to leave Kashmir. Those who managed to escape the violence and migrate to the Jammu region have lived to tell tales of how the mosques’ loudspeakers were used to intimidate the Pandits. Various derogatory slogans were chanted, urging the Kashmiri Pandit men to leave.

The ethnic cleansing of the Pandits clearly indicated the failure of the Indian state to provide adequate security to the community. Thousands migrated via the use of private transport in order to escape the wrath of the militants, whilst others, instead of being protected and guarded, were pushed to move out of the Kashmir valley by Governor Jagmohan. The government failed to prevent the persecution of a people who held allegiance to India close to their hearts.

In his book, ‘Our Moon has Blood Clots’, renowned Kashmiri Pandit author, Rahul Pandita, spoke about the gross injustice meted out to the Pandits. Whilst writing for Open Magazine, Pandita mentioned that nearly 32,000 houses belonging to the Kashmiri Pandits have been burnt down since 1991.

While it is difficult to state statistically the scale of the tragedy, as per Amnesty International an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits left the valley after repeated threats from terrorist groups. In 2010, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir said that 219 Kashmiri Pandits have been killed by militants since 1989 but the figure was disputed by an organisation named the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti whose survey claimed that the death toll stood at 399. Some organisations have gone to the extent of claiming that thousands were butchered and mutilated. Hence, the real scale of the tragedy is unclear.

Now, 25 years have passed since the exodus began but no one has really stood up for the Pandits. The Indian National Congress (INC), which positions itself as the epitome of secularism in Indian politics, has never taken up their cause as vigorously as it should have. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has talked about Pandits quite often but has failed to move beyond rhetoric. It appears that the Hindu nationalist BJP views them merely as a vote bank because BJP’s track record in this matter is something not to be proud of.

Both the parties have headed coalitions at the centre and led national governments since the exodus happened but none could reverse the ground situation or ensure the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley. The regional parties in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, namely the NC and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have exchanged power in the state several times but have never gone beyond making ceremonial gestures towards the Pandits.

The so-called mass leaders of Kashmir, who hold protests and rallies regularly when human rights abuses are carried out by the Indian army, have never really dissented with the same zeal for the human rights of the Kashmiri Pandits.

In the last few years, how many angry protests have we seen in Kashmir demanding the resettlement of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley?

The answer is obviously disappointing. Why is it that the state of Pakistan, which has repeatedly raised the issue of Kashmir at the United Nations, never spoken in favour of the Kashmiri Pandits? Are they not Kashmiris? Why this selective discrimination?

President Musharraf could see the carnage against Muslims in Gujarat but not the communal violence of which the Pandits became victims. Let us stop this hypocrisy.

It is high time that the Indian state woke up from its slumber and gave justice to the Kashmiri Pandits. They have been wronged for too long. Though the community has rebuilt itself through tireless hard work, it requires the active support of Indians from all classes, communities and regions.

On the 25th anniversary of the exodus, Arnab Goswami’s hyper nationalist programme, The Newshour aired on Times Now, abruptly ended a debate on Kashmiri Pandits to relay BJP President Amit Shah’s press conference live in which he would go on to name Kiran Bedi as his party’s chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi elections.

The channel’s news selection reflected the lack of importance attributed to the cause of the Kashmiri Pandits. Though social media has enabled their cause to be taken up in a big way, this issue needs to make it to the front page of newspapers and generate nationwide empathy and support for the Pandits. We cannot afford to let it slip away.

There is a need for the government to initiate confidence building measures between the community of the Kashmiri Pandits and the Kashmiri Muslims. The spirit of Kashmiriyat or the composite culture of the place cannot be restored unless the Pandits are resettled in the valley.

But the real question is whether the two communities trust each other.

Will the Kashmiri Pandits be willing to go back to the same neighbourhood, and will the Kashmiri Muslims welcome them with open arms?

We need to realise that the road to reconciliation lies in integration and not segregation. This is the reason it would be unwise to support those who ask for a separate homeland for Kashmiri Pandits in the name of Panun Kashmir. The partition of India failed to resolve communal problems. From time to time, different religious communities have been persecuted on both the sides of the border. Hence, there is a dire need to stop resorting to segregation and aspire for integration.

As Kashmiri Pandits await justice, we must rise up to the occasion and put a stop to this indifference.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/25862/a-separate-state-for-kashmiri-pandits-is-not-the-way-forward/

(This article was originally published in The Express Tribune.)

Hindu Right’s Hand in Glove with the English Electronic Media

A lot of people might be surprised to know that the principal sponsor of the two topmost prime-time shows on English television ie The Newshour hosted by Arnab Goswami on Times Now and India @ 9 hosted by Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN is one single entity ie Amity University. The interesting thing over here is that this is the same university which was founded by Mr Ashok Chauhan and he continues till date as the President of Amity Group of Institutions. Besides being a successful educationist, Mr Chauhan is also involved in Indian politics as he is the chairperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s European Central Committee. VHP is an orthodox religio-political organization which is a part of the Sangh Parivar and an ally of the BJP.  In the past, it led the highly divisive Ram Janmabhoomi Movement which brought about a significant change in the direction of Indian politics.

The fact that two leading shows capable of opinion-building are being sponsored by a university being controlled by a VHP man, speaks volumes of the nexus between the Hindu Right of India and the electronic English media industry. But still the Hindutva brigade would overlook this tie-up and accuse the English electronic media of being a stooge of the ‘Khan-gress’ ie Congress, the former title being a mockery of Congress’s supposed Muslim appeasement policies which keep angering the Sangh Parivar and which has forced them to take up the job of saving ‘Bharat’.

We are all aware of how monumental an influence sponsors have on editorial policy and content. Very often they call the shots and gag or censor what ought to be gagged or censored because of the kind of inconvenience associated with it. However, the Hindutva brigade would conveniently overlook all these inconvenient truths and paint all channels, specifically English channels, with the same brush of being either ‘pseudo-secular’ or ‘sickular’.

The internet and the social media is flooded with volatile, abusive and hateful comments of the Internet Hindus, for those who consider this statement to be blasphemous, please realize that an internet Hindu is quite different from a Hindu or a pious Hindu in the classical sense of the term. The pervert brazenness of the internet Hindu is something which I’ve not only been personally subjected to on various blogs and comments of mine on the internet but have also witnessed it professionally during my month-long internship with the online division of the Indian Express. During this month-long affair, I worked upon several stories (running into hundreds) but the most successful story which I worked upon was the one relating to the introduction of two child policy for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/myanmar-introduces-child-limit-for-rohingya-muslims/1120532/)

The kind of ecstasy which these internet Hindus showed towards this highly racist story (evident from 1.5k likes which it garnered, which by the way no story of mine ever came close to) just shows how deeply these people hate Muslims and approve of the idea of their state-sponsored subjugation. In one of his articles titled ‘Who’s the real Hindu?’ (http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/ColumnsKaranThapar/Who-s-the-real-Hindu/Article1-334832.aspx) published as a part of his widely read column, ‘The Sunday Sentiments’, Karan Thapar wrote about the need for Hindus to challenge the kind of fanaticism which was being propagated by organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Just like the Muslim community world over is under pressure to condemn each and every act of shameless Islamist terror, the most recent being the gruesome murder of a British soldier on the streets of London, it is high time that liberal Hindus on the social media reject the kind of mad frenzy which is being pushed forth by Internet Hindus through their ideology of Hindutva extremism.

In my personal opinion, the Hindu intellectuals have been far more vocal of their condemnation of Hindutva extremism than Muslim intellectuals are of Islamist extremism but I am waiting to see the same kind of wisdom dawn upon the laymen of these religious communities who as of now are being supportive of vicious political campaigns and puritanical forms of faith, the latter employing more specifically to young Muslims.