Reporting Gujarat: how objective was media coverage?

IN Opinion | 15/04/2002
Reprinted from The Chandigarh Tribune

Reprinted from The Chandigarh Tribune

Reporting Gujarat: how objective was media coverage?

No balanced approach by vernacular dailies

Gobind Thukral

Coverage on Gujarat carnage in both print and electronic media has attracted immense attention.

The issue had become so important the Editor`s Guild had to rush a team to make an on-the-spot assessment and suggest corrective measures. While the team found the vernacular Press partly responsible for sowing the seeds of discord and helping the communal virus to spread fast, it had good words for the national Press and major TV networks.

Interestingly, the BJP Government and a section of its police and other officers were more critical of the national Press and ignored, despite available powers under the law, rumour mongering by some newspapers in Ahmedabad, Vadodara and other places. Clearly, this suited their interests and showed their indoctrination to a particular ideology of Hindutva.

With television presenting instant powerful images, the role of the media has assumed greater significance. News is shown as it happens. But the media can colour the events by using them or by not using them at all. By being selective, it often misinforms and acts as a propaganda tool. What gives the media a complex dimension is the daily exposure of multiple items in juxtaposition. Nevertheless, the media remains a major source of information, particularly in a violent situation.

How did the local Press presented the riots to the readers? Has the print media in any way aggravated the relentless tensions through inflammatory or communal reportage? These questions bother all right thinking people.

We are all aware what the national Press reported; we have also watched the reports of major national TV networks. But what were the local papers reporting? The role of Gujarati newspapers like Sandesh (Baroda), Gujarat Samachar (Baroda) and Gujarat Today were analysed for the purpose. Concerned citizens, Shanti, painstakingly collected data for the study.

Sandesh crossed all limits of responsible journalism. Its major characteristic was to feed on the prevalent anti-Muslim prejudices of its Hindu readership and provoke it further by sensationalising and distorting news. Sandesh used headlines to provoke, communalise and terrorise people.

Most reports concerning the post-Godhra violence usually begin with a preceding sentence, `In the continuing spiral of communal rioting that broke out as a reaction to the `demonic/barbaric, Godhra incident...`. The denunciatory adjectives used liberally to describe the Godhra incident were strikingly absent while reporting subsequent killings. Introductory statement reinforces an hierarchy in the two sets of crimes. This hierarchy has been established by the VHP and even Chief Minister Narendra Modi when he justified the genocide in Newtonian terms. This brings to the fore the supposed objectivity of Sandesh as a newspaper. Repetitive justification of the post-Godhra violence serves to neutralise the horror and injustice of the subsequent violence.

The most horrific acts of violence were repeatedly sensationalised with the use of a few devices. For example, large bold letters were used as headlines particularly when referring to gruesome acts like the burning alive

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