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July 29, 2007
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July 29, 2007

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Home > 2007 Issues > July 29, 2007

Media Watch

It?s all about ethics in public life

The general belief in Indian so far has been that our own Muslims are not engaged in terrorism and that whatever their unexpressed feelings they have never indulged in anti-national activities and those who have, have mainly been outsiders financed by Pakistan?s ISI. People tend to forget that many of those involved in the Mumbai train bombings were our own folk who have recently been given their just deserts. But Indian Muslims living abroad were supposed to have invariably distanced themselves from terrorism.

As The Times of India (July 5) noted, ?Indian democracy was supposed to be proof against the seduction of extremist ideologies and doctors are supposed to save, not take, lives?, but that dream has now been shattered. Insufficient evidence against them, in the end, may save them from prosecution, but the fact that two ex-students of the Bangalore-based Dr Ambedkar Medical College working in England for the National Health Service have become suspect in a car bomb case in Glasgow, makes shocking reading. And to think of the two suspects as doctors, trained professionals.

If The Times of India is to be taken at its word, ?highly educated professionals working for Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups should cease to surprise? and that ?the appeal of the extreme form of a pan-Islamist ideology can cut across classics, regions and educational degrees?.

It sounds cynical, but the point is well made. These two Muslim doctors hail not from the poorer sections of Muslim society but come from very well-to-do families as pictures of their homes in Bangalore testify. It is, to say the least, sickening.

Reference was made in an earlier column that few newspapers have dared to criticise Pratibha Patil, as if some unspoken form of Emergency exists. The ghost of Sanjay Gandhi must be around. Fear is inborn and what happened during the Emergency is still fresh in the minds of many editors who dare not take on the Congress Party and its leadership on the Pratibha issue.

But thank God, there are still a few editors willing to stand up for ethics and morality. The Tribune (June 30) carried a two-column front page editorial?a rare instance of daring?under the by-line of its editor H.K. Dua himself, which said ?Ethics must count?. Truth to say, the editorial did not condemn Pratibha Patil, claiming that ?at this stage we can?t say whether the charges are right or wrong?. If the charges turn out to be false, said the edit, ?the BJP will have done a great disservice to the country and might have to apologise to her?. But the edit raised two points: One, that it was the duty of the Congress Party and its allies to choose a candidate whose past does not attract any unsavoury comments? and that, two ?in case even a bit of the mud sticks on Smt Pratibha Patil, it will be a sad commentary on those who put her up for Rashtrapati Bhavan?.

What ultimately matters, wrote Shri Dua ?is not arithmetic but the importance of ethics and moral values in public life? that really nurture the idea of democracy. Not a string fighting editorial, but nevertheless it has made a point. However, it is necessary to inform Shri Dua that the most revelatory material on Pratibha Patil was exposed not by the BJP spokesperson but by one of our tribe, Arun Shourie who once edited The Indian Express and made his mark as an investigative journalist.

Shourie wrote a three-part serial on Pratibha Patil?s shenanigans, if so they may be called, and they have not been challenged. He did not fling mud at Pratibha Patil?s face but produced facts and figures. Anyone is welcome to ignore them, as many do and nobody will blame them. The Emergency imposed on the media as also on the entire country three decades ago remains a painful memory and again it is the Gandhi family that reigns in India. Such facts and figures as have been published can be challenged in a court of law. Why isn?t Shourie challenged?

Incidentally, a new magazine has landed on this commentator?s desk entitled The Practical Lawyer ( June 2007) edited by Surendra Malik with Vijay Malik as its Managing Editor. It is a mine of legal information which should attract the attention of journalists and media persons at every level. What is notable is a list of statutes concerning Media, Press and Telecommunication Laws. Several legal briefs are referred to and in all the journal is highly informative. It came as a surprise to know that the Supreme Court has upheld a ban on the novel Dharmakaarana on the 12th century saint Basaveshwara also known as Basavanna. It merely shows how poor is media coverage of courts.

This column began with a reference to two NRIs working in Britain. There is so little known about such British NRIs whereas a magazine like News Indian Times, or, for that matter a similar journal like India Abroad provides abundant information on Indians living in the United States. Reading them makes one feel how poorly informed we are of the achievements of our fellow men and women in the United States. Just devoting one page in our regular dailies to copy borrowed from News India Times would make us feel proud.

But it raises some important questions. Why are our newspapers negligent about Indians living in foreign countries? Shouldn?t we know about them?even if some of them turnout to be terrorists? Their successes are our successes and their failures are our failures. Indians are to be found in practically every country in the world, but we know nothing about them because, it would seem, we do not want to know anything about them. The Indian media needs to change and think anew as to what makes news. We seem to become aware of what our people have achieved only if someone like Sunita Williams demands notice?but not otherwise. And to think of Sunita Williams being picked up from among several million White women in the United States?isn?t that the greatest tribute one can pay to Indian womanhood? One only hopes that our secularists will not call her a Hindu fundamentalist just because among the personal possessions which she took with her when she embarked on her six-month long mission was a copy of the Gita? One wonders how often she read it?and why. No media has questioned her on that.

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