In the wake of the communal violence in Delhi, media coverage, even by the perceived ‘good media’, has been found wanting in many aspects.
Phrases such as ‘Two sides of the story’, ‘It’s a riot’, ‘Violence is from both sides’, ‘Even the protestors were hurling stones’, are being used not just ‘Godi Media’ (pliant media) but also by some media outfits considered independent and objective.
The mob violence in Northeast Delhi, which began on February 23, was clearly triggered after Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Kapil Mishra gave an ultimatum to the Delhi Police in public, flanked by a senior police official, that if the roads blocked by anti-CAA protesters were not cleared in three days, he would get it done himself. The police stood mum. Incidentally, the Delhi Police is under the Home Ministry under Amit Shah.
After Mishra’s ultimatum, the mayhem began, and in three days the streets of Northeast Delhi turned into a war zone, claiming 42 lives so far. If you look at the names of people who have died, the areas where violence took place, flashpoints of the violence, property destruction, the houses burned, it is clear who the targets of this violence were.
At least four mosques have been vandalized or burnt. In contrast, all temples in these areas stand intact. And temples in India are like wild mushrooms, they have sprouted in every corner, even in the Muslim-majority areas that were attacked. This fact is the real story of the Delhi violence.
However, in the endeavour to show two sides of the story of this violence, the media, especially the ‘good media’, is trying to build a false narrative of equivalence, thereby doing injustice to not just the people affected, but also to their own profession, which is based on telling the truth.
There are heartwarming stories of Muslims protecting temples, Hindus providing safe haven to Muslims, protecting them from getting beaten up, people coming together, gathering relief material and distributing it. The Sikh community stepping in and opening gurudwaras for people affected by violence, doing a large-scale relief and outreach. But, amid all this, let’s not lose sight of the media narrative that’s being established.
Of course, specific media channels and newspapers aka ‘godi media’ is following its well-known agenda of projecting the violence as led by Muslims, but what is distressing is that even several ‘good media’ are trying harping on ‘violence from both sides’, while forgetting the basic right to self-defence leading to ‘Right to Life’ enshrined in the Constitution.
In times of race, religion or caste-based violence, there is a basic difference between a mob being perpetrators and another set of people defending themselves. Both situations cannot be equated. Medis reports of residents where violence broke out using stones, glass bottles, lathis to defend themselves is not the same as people from outside coming in huge numbers with large quantities of stones, petrol bombs, acid, chemicals, lathis and beating up people. In some areas, videos also purportedly show the police standing by or even aiding them, or at least not making any attempt to stop them.
Clearly, one group has been at the receiving end and is counting the maximum number of dead and injured persons.
As senior journalist and author Omair Ahmed said in a tweet, “Some people are upset that some Muslims aren't "peacefully" allowing themselves to be killed, their homes torched, their lives looted.”
The ‘godi media’ has an agenda to run and shift the narrative from the violence inflicted on Muslims with statements decrying action, even inaction of the ruling dispensation in Delhi and its leaders, and on the Muslims, thereby trying to discredit the entire community.
The purpose is clearly to discredit the peaceful anti-CAA-NRC-NPR resistance movement, with Muslim women taking the lead, which have erupted across the country. In Delhi, since the past over two months, all such protests and sit-ins have been peaceful, organised, pledging to uphold the Constitution.
However, of late, the ‘good media’, too, has been pushing the narrative of ‘whether the protests should continue’, thus taking the right to peaceful protest away.
The Delhi violence also threw up another disturbing trend, raising concern over the ‘good’ media’s sense of larger sensitivity to personal human tragedy.
Take the case of Faizan, the 23-24 boy who died on Wednesday night. In the race for ‘Breaking News’, the media should not lose sight of sensitivity to the grieving family as well as the possible implications on them in this communally charged atmosphere.
Faizan is one of the boys in a video where some policemen can be seem thrashing them and forcing them to sing the National Anthem. Along with a few friends, I met Faizan and his family in Delhi’s LNJP Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. His family was terrified to talk to anyone about what had happened. After spending a couple of hours with them, I gave them my number and asked them to call if they needed anything. His brother called around 9 p.m the same night and said they were being made to run up and down for tests. He said the hospital was not cooperative, and that Faizan was in a lot of pain and was even unable to stand up.
After realising that Faizan was one among the persons in the video, and that an FIR hadn’t yet been filed in the case, and also given that the family was terrified as all they wanted was to get their son’s body and bury him, we realised that the story needs to be held back till the family gets the body.
The implications on the already terrified family were too high. Faizan was reportedly picked up on Monday evening by the police, beaten up, then taken to GTB, stitched up, then taken to the police station, kept there for over 22 hours, and then handed over to the family. The family took him to the hospital the next morning, on Wednesday, where he died late at night.
After knowing the family’s ordeal and the fact that they were terrified, at least the ‘good media’ should have kept a lid on the ‘breaking news’ till the family got the body, an in-camera post-mortem was done and an FIR filed. However, that was not to be, and many ‘good’ channels too ran this ‘breaking story’ on Friday evening.
Since then, Faizan’s family has been hounded by media houses, even before they could give him a decent burial. They are feeling threatened by the police and fear that dead Faizan may be termed a rioter or ‘mastermind’ of the violence.
These are real threats being faced by families which are yet to come to terms with their loss.
At a time when our society is getting communally polarised, thanks to ‘godi media’ pushing a divisive and hate narrative that favours the ruling BJP, the responsibility of the ‘good, independent, objective’ media becomes larger – of telling the truth, being more sensitive, and not falling into the trap of ‘breaking news’ when a human tragedy is unfolding and violence-affected families are in deep distress.
The writer works with different social movements. The views are personal. The writer can be contacted on twitter at @fightanand