For a change conflict-heroes like Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai weren’t reporting from the ground on the Assam situation. Hardly any great incentive there for anyone, not even one of bringing down a govt or tarring a Chief Minister. As the violence in Assam flared, even on July 25, all our channels were running programmes on Pranab Mukherjee as president right through the day. Sure, they had to repeatedly show Pranab taking the oath, given it’s the first time ever an oath was administered to a president-elect. When they managed to remember Assam they had to hunt for titles for the violence. Communal violence, ethnic violence, Bodo-Bengal Muslim clashes and so on! They didn’t seem to be sure what to call it but soon every one settled for “Ethnic violence”. Ethnic sounds a lot more moderate and fashionable than ‘communal’. Doesn’t it? Much has since been written and aired about Assam but very few seemed to deal with proper facts and sequence of events. It’s also not what they didn’t or couldn’t report but the reasons or excuses they brought up that should make interesting reading.
And what could be a better reflection of journalistic ethics than that practiced by Rajdeep as his tweet shows. More died in Gujarat than Assam he says as reason for media coverage. Well, you can’t fault RS for vision and foresight. When he landed in Ahmedabad to report the 2002 riots he was pretty sure the toll would cross 1000. Just a minute! When did he come to this lousy figure of 1000 though? For years NDTV and CNN-IBN, both homes for Rajdeep, had thrown up any number for Gujarat; from over 2000 killed to over 3000 killed. They also made you believe it was ‘genocide’ or it was a ‘pogrom’ in which Muslims alone were butchered. At the time here’s a bit of what Rajdeep wrote on Gujarat:
“…And now in Gujarat, the accusation is of (media) ‘inflaming communal passions’ when the fact is that the flames of communal hatred have been stoked by a mob, a section of which at least has been patronised by the ruling establishment in Gandhinagar”. The numbers Rajdeep reported and even concocting without any solid evidence that the mob was patronised by the govt could have very well come from Digvijay Singh or any Congress member. Umm.. it must be hard to find such intelligence on clashes in Assam. Later, on the same day of July 24 Rajdeep tweeted an apology for his insensitive tweet. (He says tweet of previous night although it was on the same morning of July 24.) Typically, after his apology RS asked if other tweeters would apologise for questioning his integrity. Integrity? That’s laughable. The lies through Rajdeep’s tweets and reports and of his channel are all too many to qualify him a liar, integrity is too far a bridge.
If Rajdeep’s apology was a lightning bolt of conscience the deputy editor of CNN-IBN couldn’t be left behind. In her true bumbling style Sagarika Ghose tweeted about the violence and a majority of those in relief camps being Muslims. Here we go! So I read both the pieces by Samudra Gupta from the relevant dates, here and here. Nowhere do his articles corroborate her statement.
The first article of his (July 25) even contradicts her statement as does The Hindu, a clip of which someone has pasted with her tweet. That Sagarika feels motivated enough to take on Internet Hindus is one thing but the content of her tweet, like many before, is the kind of integrity that viewers are questioning. Rajdeep doesn’t seem to get it. Does she or Rajdeep ever wonder if they only report to Internet Hindus or to a larger audience who deserve the facts? After all that and after tagging Assam incidents as “Ethnic violence”, accusing IHs as wanting a religions narrative and describing the state as a complex cauldron what does SG’s channel run as headline? “Clashes between Bodos & Muslims have killed 44 people dead so far”. That is since 8am on July 27. Religious narrative? That’s integrity of these characters who parade as journalists.
It is one thing for the Indian TV channels not to have been quick enough to be on the scene to report but to make excuses, compare degree or deaths in riots all indicate the degradation of journalistic thought and ethics. Capturing images of violence or damage is not merely for airing those for vicarious pleasure of anyone. Videos and images have also often helped in rendering justice to the victims and during times of trouble get help faster. Most channels do not even have regular reporters in the NE states. Not even in the state capitals. Each time there is an incident someone rushes from Kolkatta or from Delhi, after much heartburn I suppose. Instead of admitting that the NE is off their radar, not politically or financially very attractive some media celebs indulge in a slanging match on twitter.
Ironically, the best report I have read so far in MSM on the Assam situation, clearly sequencing the various incidents that led to the larger flame, is on a foreign journal. Samrat, the Asian Age editor and from NE himself, wrote the report on NewYork Times’ India Ink page. (Violence in Assam has deep roots). His report, sans drama or literary flair, narrates the story of events since May 29 which is hard to find in an Indian news report.
Oh well! If you wanted drama and thrills in a report about Assam, the best place has to be NDTV. As the Congress organised a 10-member panel for Assam NDTV came up with their usual “TOP10” on Assam. The hits just keep on coming. I am surprised they don’t do a countdown of the top 10. The only recent occasion NDTV itself found a good deal of time for Assam and sent some reporter to the state was for their entertainment programme “Will Travel for Food”. As for Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, what can one say anymore? They couldn’t even find their usual best reporters in Assam – the Citizen journalists. Whether for riots or for other issues will the TV channels at least now alter their approach to NE states and care? One has to remain sceptical or wait for more creative excuses next time instead of scale and degree of riots and deaths.