Ranjona Banerji: Did the North Indian media underplay a Hindutva activist’s death in Karnataka? (+ Winds of change @ CNN-IBN)

23 Oct,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

There is some anguish going around in rightwing circles and among members of the media who see themselves as “true” liberals, that the murder of Bajrang Dal activist Prashant Poojary is being ignored in the mainstream media. Poojary was a flower-seller in Karnataka and an active anti-cow slaughter campaigner and activist. He was attacked, allegedly by six (or four?) men on motorcycles, as he and his uncle were setting up their flower shop on the morning of October 9. Some men have been arrested in connection with Poojary’s murder, all Muslims and action has been demanded by Hindutva rightwing organisations against an outfit called the PFI or Popular Front of India.

 

I write all this but with almost no conviction of whether my facts are correct because the rightwing is, well, right: news on this murder has been thin on the ground in newspapers and television, especially papers which come out of North India. I have scraped through the internet and till last week, most references to the Poojary murder came from The Hindu and from assorted non-media websites.

 

The “facts” are therefore all over the place. Was it four men or six? Have the police claimed the death was a suicide? Was the victim shot or beaten up? I was even more confused by one website which datelined the accident to one year ago: October 2014.

 

Karnataka has clearly become a breeding ground for incidents of religion-based hatred of all kinds. Perhaps that in itself requires extra media scrutiny. But, apart from the media’s late arrival to this gruesome crime there is one more intriguing factor: The number of journalists who work in large mainstream organisations who took to social media to complain that the media was not covering this death and concentrating only on Mohammed Ikhlaq. The accusation, by these journalists, was that other journalists were not true liberals like them and only covered the death of Muslims but not Hindus. I repeat: these accusations were made not by members of Hindutva organisations who are legion on social media but by journalists, mainly from the print media, who hold important and responsible positions.

 

There is a terrible irony at work here: most of the stories on Poojary’s death did not appear in the newspapers these journalists work for. If they felt so strongly about this murder, as they should have, what stopped them from carrying them in their own newspapers and journals? It is impossible for commentators like me, for instance, who do not work in newsrooms any more, to outrage about matters that are not given press coverage.

 

Any Google search done up to a week ago showed the most consistent coverage in The Hindu. Yesterday’s print edition had a follow-up as well, even in the early edition which comes to Dehradun. But I spent some time in Gurgaon last week and saw nothing in the North Indian print editions of some major Indian newspapers.

 

I would request these true liberal journalists to please provide their readers with a wider coverage of India before making accusations which only expose their own incompetence as media people.

 

**

 

Former chief of army staff and current Union minister of state for external affairs VK Singh once more demonstrated his remarkable knack for insensitive and insulting statements by comparing the burning of a Dalit family in his Lok Sabha constituency to persons throwing stones at dogs.

 

His remark was rightly the subject of much discussion on television on Thursday night. However on many panels, several non-BJP invitees felt that the BJP spokesperson was being given more time than them. At first glance, this accusation appeared to be true. However, on closer analysis it just appeared as if the anchors were unable to control their guests.

 

Of course, this is not new on Indian TV but surely even a public weaned on sensationalism is tired of trying to decipher what various screaming people are saying? I am now genuinely surprised that people with something to say actually agree to appear on these channels.

 

**

 

I end again with CNN-IBN where Zakka Jacob was an exception to the rule: he was tougher than most and did not allow the BJP spokesperson to run his show. There is a slight perceptible change in the way CNN-IBN presents news. Is it the elevation of Bhupendra Chaubey to executive editor or some other winds of change flowing from the new inductees to top editorial and management positions at Network 18.

 

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