Ranjona Banerji: Don’t be jingoistic; do your job, journos!

03 Jul,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The coverage of the arrest of Abu Jundal or Zahibuddin Ansari has, sadly and as usual, tilted towards being a spokesperson for the investigating agencies. Rather than take a cold and dispassionate look at investigations into terrorist attacks or activities, all too often even very senior journalists become jingoistic, as if criticism of the way a probe is being conducted somehow impacts on their own personal patriotic duties.

 

Yet the fact is that in the Mumbai terror attacks at least, it was the personal bravery of constable Tukaram Ombale that led to the capture of the lone surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab. The shame of the attacks is still enormous and the blame for that rests solely on our police force and state administration. (Is that my own sense of nationalism asserting itself, albeit in a converse manner? Perhaps.) The court which sentenced Kasab to death let off the other two names added to the case by the Mumbai police for lack of evidence. This was the worst, most audacious terrorist attack on India’s premier city and the police could not come up with enough evidence.

 

The media in any other country would have gone to town on this. We instead had some mild criticism and more PR activity. It is only when there is enormous embarrassment like sending a list of wanted criminals to Pakistan for return to India only to find that some are dead and others are in Indian jails that there is obvious criticism.

 

Crime reporting in Indian newspapers veers between police mouthpieces and gangster mouthpieces – a sad outcome of which is the murder of one journalist J Dey and the arrest of another, Jigna Vora, in his death. The onus for this lies with editors who seem unable to analyse the bigger picture in the race for some exciting story. Sensationalism is fine but somewhere there has to be a larger responsibility to present the reader with a more comprehensive story.

 

In the Abu Jundul case, I would like to read more about how the police have been unable to crack these apparent sleeper cells all over the country, how the same names crop up as being responsible for most terrorist attacks in the country and yet we never get closer to catching them, why we still don’t know which dreaded terrorist is in the country and which is not, how the conflicts between various investigating agencies is impacting their efforts, the progress of our diplomatic efforts with Pakistan on the issue of terrorism… the list goes on. Yet what is available in newspapers is scanty and one can only glean all this from throwaway remarks here and there.

 

TV news has to absolved from all this because its levels of maturity are still low. One of the funniest moments for me remains when the verdict on the Mumbai terrorist attacks was pronounced and the judge acquitted ?? and ?? for lack of evidence.

 

Policeman turned activist and lawyer YP Singh was on NDTV. He said the acquittal reflected very badly on the Mumbai police. The NDTV anchor said: “how can you say that sir, they work so hard”. The expression of speechless incredulous horror on Singh’s face was classic!

 

* * *

 

As with terrorists, so also in the killings of “Naxals” in Chattisgarh, we put “patriotism” or adherence to state policies before journalistic rigour. It took the Indian Express to point out that many of these so-called dreaded Naxals were ordinary villagers and school children. If the media does not call out the government on these transgressions, then it is conceding all its “freedom of expression” space to NGOs and activists and thus abdicating one of its biggest responsibilities.

 

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