New Delhi, Oct 19: National Commission for Minorities today said there is lack of sustained efforts by the media to keep alive ‘forgotten conflicts' in the country but advocated a more responsible approach on their part while reporting in the aftermath of armed violence.
Speaking on a discussion on ‘media reporting on the fate of victims of armed violence', NCM Chairperson Wajahat Habibullah said while there have been both positives and negatives in the role played by the media, the fourth estate should be more responsible while writing about the accused so as not to indirectly lead to their victimisation.
Talking about the fate of victims of what he called forgotten conflicts, Habibullah cited the 1987 Hashimpura massacre as a case in point where the media had failed to make sure that demand for justice for the horrific episode was raised continuously.
“What was most horrific was that 40 youths were rounded up on suspicion (of involvement in communal violence) and later murdered with their bodies dumped in a canal,” he recalled.
“The trial is still on, the charged officers have still not been convicted and have gone on to pursue their careers, and got their promotions and postings, that too sometimes in communally sensitive areas,” he said.
“In such circumstances, it is often said that the government is not doing its job, but was the media doing its job?,” he asked, lamenting the lack of follow ups and reminders about the fate of victims even as the case dragged on in the courts.
However, he also commended the role of the media in balancing the accounts of victims in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.
“... the media took great efforts during and after the Mumbai attacks to interview victims of all communities in an episode, that could have easily turned into a communal incident, which it did not,” he pointed out.
Habibullah and other experts spoke of keeping the forgotten conflicts alive as insightful articles on violence against tribals in the Naxal-hotbed of Chattisgarh and against civilians in the conflict-ridden Kashmir valley were among four pieces of journalistic works honoured for humanitarian reporting by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Habibullah also advocated greater responsibility on part of the media while reporting on investigations of violence and attacks.
“I have been able to take up with the media as well as with the Home Ministry the fact that the media goes on naming organisations and brains, many of whom later get acquitted in courts, but the effect is victimisation of youth of an entire community,” he said.
He also pointed out that debates and criticisms around the Communal Violence Bill also need to take into account its sections on hate propaganda that clearly bring under its ambit hateful comments made through any medium including mass media. Other panelists speaking on the occasion also rued the fact that “jingoism” often shadows the reporting by media when they cover incidences in places like Kashmir.
“A large part of media unfortunately also leads on jingoism, especially on Kashmir... Imagine a case of unmarked graves being discovered in South Delhi, it could have led to the government falling in two days but there was no national outcry on Kashmir,” said Professor Anuradha Chenoy of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Activist lawyer Vrinda Grover, on the other hand questioned the tendency by some reporters of generously taking from the police handouts and failing to write about what actually happens in court in a case.
Aman Sethi's report in the Hindu newspaper on the violence perpetrated by security forces against Adivasis in Chhattisgarh was awarded as the best piece of reporting on humanitarian affairs while Umar Baba's reports on the effect of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir in Tehelka was adjudged as the second best work.
Also honoured were Reji Joseph's Malayalam article on the condition of Tamil war refugees in Sri Lanka and Guwahati based Time of India journalist Anup Sharma's work on the ethnic conflict in Assam in the fourth edition of the awards given by the ICRC and the Press Institute of India.
“In the last 10 years we have seen the authorities in India become more open and relaxed (to the issue on conflict) and I am optimistic of a more open approach in the near future,” said Francois Stamm, the regional head of ICRC delegation.