Ranjona Banerji: Teesta Setalvad & Yakub Memon cases expose lack of institutional memory in newsrooms & laziness of today’s journos

24 Jul,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


Two recent stories in the news, connected as it happens, demonstrate not just the impossible divides between Indian media persons but more importantly and dangerously, the lack of institutional memory in most newsrooms today.


The first story is the slew of cases for financial impropriety and fraud, not to mention promoting social disharmony, against activist Teesta Setalvad. The second is the decision to hang Yakub Memon, one of the accused in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts.


Let’s take Teesta Setalvad first. Soon after the 1992-93 post-Babri Masjid demolition riots in Bombay (as it was then), Setalvad and her husband Javed Anand (both journalists), started the Sabrang Trust and a magazine called Communalism Combat. Helping riot victims and taking the conversation about communalism and secularism forward was their main agenda.


Being journalists both helped and hindered Setalvad and Anand. They got support from some friends, colleagues, well-wishers and like-minded journalists. But equally, there were mumblings about them rising above their so-called given status and rumblings about money coming from Dubai. The links to the mumblings were easy to find. In those days, it seemed that Dawood Ibrahim, Bombay gangster and mastermind of the bomb blasts lived in the Gulf. He was often seen at cricket matches. And who else would fund an NGO that fought for Muslim riot victims?


I am not discussing the general public here. But the attitude of journalists, all of whom at the time had access to information about the riots and later to the Justice BN Srikrishna Report, which named the Shiv Sena and its members as directly to blame. Some of these journalists even knew how the then NDA government at the Centre and the Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra squashed and then ignored the report. As did the subsequent Congress-NCP government.


The current government harassment of Setalvad however only began after she took on the case of the riot victims of Gujarat 2002. Setalvad has been far more successful here than she ever was in Bombay and Mumbai. So the anger directed against here is even stronger. It says a lot for our society than when you speak out against communalism by state actions or fight for justice, you are seen as “spreading social disharmony”. Once again, it is the attitude of journalists that is being discussed here.


That journalists can be so wilfully ignorant is one matter. The other is the lack of professionalism in the community. Of course media gossip is a thriving institution and it is a feeding trough that we all contribute to and eat from. But sharing media gossip is not the same as exercising professional judgment. And in Setalvad’s case there are too many unprofessional people running wild with their allegations.


Some of it has to do with institutional memory. Today’s journalists are too young to remember either the Bombay riots or bomb blasts. And apparently too lazy to do any research. They are also easily swayed by popular opinion and culture. I have met several who did not know that the riots preceded the bomb blasts.


Which brings us to the case of Yakub Memon, an accused in the 1993 bomb blasts and subsequently sentenced to death for his role. All reports at the time made it clear that Memon, brother of Tiger, one of the chief accused in blasts, came back to India of his own accord and it was based on his testimony that the case was cracked.


All kudos to rediff.com for running an unpublished piece by the late B Raman of the R&AW, with an explaining intro by Sheela Bhatt. He had written it after Memon was sentenced to death:

“The cooperation of Yakub with the investigating agencies after he was picked up informally in Kathmandu and his role in persuading some other members of the family to come out of Pakistan and surrender constitute, in my view, a strong mitigating circumstance to be taken into consideration while considering whether the death penalty should be implemented.”


Details of the Memon case were known at the time. However I see that journalists today are unable to distinguish between “mitigating” circumstances and innocence. The arguments being made by those who know about the case are about whether Memon deserves the death penalty, not about his innocence.


Yet I see journalists frothing at the mouth and screaming for blood. Again lack of institutional memory and laziness are at work.


I am, to be honest, appalled.


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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Teesta Setalvad & Yakub Memon cases expose lack of institutional memory in newsrooms & laziness of today’s journos”

  1. ashok759 says:

    One would have to be exceptionally lazy – or callous – not to use Google search. When a journalist was conceived is no longer of much import. All the world’s information at the click of a mouse.

  2. Ravi Ranjan Sinha says:

    Media has been very kind to Teesta. but in many other cases not concerning so called “secular” activists the media brutally condemns those which certainty raise questions.As for Raman’s article if all that was bunkum why put so much faith in a former RAW functionary?

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