Freaking News: How the media covered 10 years of Gujarat riots

28 Feb,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


Interesting to see that Hindustan Times has gone for all out coverage of 10 years of the devastating riots in Gujarat, while The Times of India has played it down. This is particularly intriguing because at the time, TOI quite beat all other papers when it came to covering the Godhra train attack and the subsequent riots. Disclosure: I was deputy resident editor of the Ahmedabad edition of The Times of India at the time.


Of course, it must also be pointed out that Hindustan Times does not have an edition in Gujarat, only a bureau and as Sujata Anandan, political editor for HT, then Mumbai bureau chief, pointed out in a related piece, she had to send people from Mumbai to cover the terrible events. It is possible however that the Delhi edition of TOI has not picked up the relevant stories, which is even odder because 10 years ago it was TOI Mumbai which shied away from riot-related stories and opinions. Apparently the resident editor at the time did not think it was relevant.


On Tuesday, in the Hindustan Times, Harsh Mander, former IAS officer now social worker who works with Gujarat riot victims, hopes that there will be, well, hope soon. The day before Ashok Malik had asked whether it is time to forgive and forget. I wonder about that and our ability in India to behave as justice is an on and off system which we press when it suits us.


Television, in particular CNN-IBN and NDTV, did focus on the riots and their aftermath: after all both their main faces Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt did cover the riots extensively, perhaps for the same channel at the time, my memory fails me here. As a print journalist however, the strident hysteria of TV reporters and anchors, especially at such critical times, can often be more of a hindrance than help and so it was 10 years ago in Gujarat. Provocative people may make for good television but sometimes it can lead to irresponsible journalism.


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Having spent a few days in Delhi, or more correctly Gurgaon, it is fascinating to see how crime dominates the papers. Is this because crime dominates events here or because local journalists look out for it?


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On TV land on Monday night, Arvind Kejriwal’s remarks about Parliament being full of robbers, rapists and murderers got some play (see what I mean about TV promoting people just to create good television?). Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN wanted to know whether everyone agreed with Kejriwal and the Election Commission’s intent to tweak existing laws to bar people accused of severe crimes for contesting elections, within a certain time limit.


The normally rambunctious Chandam Mitra of the BJP, normally quick to have hysterics was abnormally quiet as he hummed and hawed and said a debate was necessary and suppose the accused was later proven to be innocent? (Incidentally, this problem of later being proved innocent never bothers the BJP where Muslims accused of terrorism as concerned!).  An activist pointed out that the proposal was seven years old and surely that was enough time to debate the matter.


Prashant Bhushan, who defended Kejriwal, said a few innocent people suffering was a small price to pay to keep criminals out.


The Times of India, in its second editorial, slammed Kejriwal and Team Anna for swinging their “bludgeon in all directions while assuming partisan and authoritarian overtones”, which can only lead to the movement floundering.


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On NDTV, Congress leader Renuka Chowdhury got into a made-for-TV fight with an anti-nuclear activist. This was more interesting than the issue itself – foreign-funded NGOs – which got nowhere.

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