Monday, February 18, 2013

Role of media in Afzal Guru's case: Creating hysteria, refusal to air views of those who opposed his hanging & reporting biases

On the left is the photograph of Afzal Guru, the man convicted of Parliament attack. You may not have seen this photo at all.

If you search internet, it's tough to find this photo. Rather, the picture with the bearded man, wearing topi and Arabic kerchief (that stereotypes a fundamentalist) would be visible everywhere.

That 'single' picture which creates a demon out of a normal looking man with an MBBS degree, is used on all forums. No attempt was every made to show a second photograph. 

Now it is immaterial to discuss how much he was involved in the attack. After the death penalty was ratified by Supreme Court, it is clear that he had to go to the gallows.

 While convicts who got death penalty long before him are yet to be executed, Afzal was hanged promptly. The reason are well-known. But the role of Indian media, mostly TV channels, and affecting public opinion, must be discussed.

Afzal Guru's trial in court took place long after his media trial, which had already given its judgment.  It became a Congress-BJP fight to score brownie points over who is more nationalistic in the run-up to the next general elections.

After the highest court's go-ahead and the rejection of mercy petition, there was no question of stopping his hanging. But the TV channels made a grave mistake, and in process harmed the basics of journalism as well as national integrity.

What were the grounds, people were opposing death penalty to him? This was never properly shown on TV channels who had taken the BJP's line 'Hang Afzal' as the mantra to prove patriotism. In competitive nationalistic fervour, they bayed for his blood.

Worst, even when he was executed, the protests  were not reported honestly. People who opposed the execution were not given opportunity by English-Hindi channels to speak and let the ordinary people know that why people were asking for clemency.

Just one side of the picture was presented. The job of media is objective reporting and presenting facts. But here it failed miserably. In fact, it worked with a clear agenda. The versions of police and prosecution were aired. How the man was tortured, made to 'confess' and then the recorded video was used to prove his complicity, was ignored.

This is a sad chapter in Indian democracy. The fourth pillar--Press--has succumbed to jingoism. It buys hardline versions, listens to those who shout, who are bloodthirsty. It has no time for sane voices. It listens to those who turn it into Us Vs Them.

It doesn't allow anyone to speak against it or even question it. Afzal is gone. Perhaps to satisfy  our 'collective conscience' (ours?) but it's a moment of collective shame for Indian media, because right-wing journalists have hijacked journalism.

Read these links:

1. Nandita Haksar on why people think he didn't get a fair trial. Article in English

2. Apoorvanand on 'Was justice done with Afzal Guru?': Article in Hindi.

3.  Kamini Jaiswal, the lawyer of Afzal Guru on the execution. See the video

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