Re-learn journalism

Re-learn journalism

All their tall sermons and lectures over freedom of speech and tolerance took a nosedive.

The news channels all over the world were relentlessly covering the event of attack on Charlie Hebdo. Debates, arguments, counter-arguments and opinions related to the attack gott aired from almost all the news channels. Some vouched for freedom of speech and others pitched for certain limitations in such freedom. Many of the panelists were boasting of tolerance and open-mindedness. Talking heads were making rounds from one channel to another.

In India, most of the news channels framed their news reports and discussion around absolute freedom of speech, and religious tolerance. Interestingly, one of the Hindi news channels ‘Zee News’ not just self-opinionated and abused Islam and Muslims but relentlessly displayed on their screen the profane cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo. The channel throughout the telecast was impudently declaring, “we are the first one to show these cartoons to viewers”. There seemed to be a rabidly unknown zeal in Zee to do so.

Amid all this brouhaha and hardly three weeks after the Charlie Hebdo event, some of the leading Indian news channels carried out a volte-face. All their tall sermons and lectures over freedom of speech and tolerance took a nosedive. The hypocrisy and contradiction in their words and so-called moral positions was brazenly evident. The tolerance was thrown to winds and speech was silenced.

In television journalism lessons, we learn that the moderator/presenter should always remember- “This is not about me. I am not the star.” Moderator of any discussion program ought to be neutral, and without being judgmental, should provide an equal opportunity to all the panelists to put across their viewpoint. Moderator is supposed to anchor the show rather than trying to become “a rock-star presenter”—fretting, fuming and shouting at panelists. Recently, a debate on encounter in South Kashmir’s Tral area, which claimed four lives including two local armed insurgents and two armymen, was being aired on English news channel Times Now. The moderator vehemently made a case for severe punishment to those who named two local boys, who lost their lives in an encounter, as their heroes. Hearing counterpoint from some panelists, the moderator directed studio staff to put off one of the Kashmiri panelists from the show just because he compared one of the Indian freedom fighters with the youth who was killed in Tral encounter. The irate moderator did not stop here but threatened another Kashmiri panelist of dire consequences for drawing a comparison between martyrs of Indian freedom struggle and two militants killed in Tral encounter. The fuming moderator of the show also ordered to decrease the mike volume of other Kashmiri panelist who was trying to put across some uneasy questions about the unabated violence in Kashmir since last two decades.

Time and again, most of the Indian news channels have silenced the Kashmiri panelists and even ridiculed them whenever there was a debate on AFSPA, article 370 or any other issue related to Kashmir. 

Going by the logic of freedom of speech, everyone has a right to have an opinion, and that’s why they say ‘one man’s martyrdom is another man’s terrorism’. Calling one a martyr and other a terrorist, especially in a long-standing dispute that claimed more than one lakh innocent lives in Kashmir, is a debate that cannot be standardized out of personal political ideologies or biases. The issue carries different perspectives and is not a homogenous idea for battling out in discussions.

The Times Now moderator and other panelists from India have usually disrespected the freedom of speech of people of Kashmir and never tolerated the mere comparison of a combatant of Kashmir with the freedom fighter of Indian independence struggle. In this backdrop, they need to appreciate and acknowledge the tolerance of majority of Muslims who are putting up with the continual blasphemous cartoons of their beloved Prophet (PBUH) in which impious comparisons are drawn. Irrespective of the sectarian divide among Muslims, Prophet (PBUH) is the dearest to every Muslim and this unwavering love for Him (PBUH) forms the base of their faith. This love and faith of Prophet (PBUH) binds every Muslim together to act patiently and tolerate the disrespect of their honor and pride.

In Charlie Hebdo case, freedom of speech and tolerance was central to all Indian News channels. Here yardsticks were different as it was against a particular faith that has been stereotyped without reason. Here every blasphemer had a right to speak or draw any nonsense comparison while people on the other side of the fence had to listen to it just mutely. However, in cases like Tral encounter, yardsticks for Indian news channels change abruptly, within a span of three weeks!

One wonders how much of doublespeak and hypocrisy dominates the glittering media that has outrightly become the mouthpiece of vested powers. There is a need to get debriefed and re-learn the journalism lessons.