It was a few days after Godhra that an unprecedented conclave?unprecedented for its composition and intent?was held for three days in the seclusion of a luxurious tourist resort some fifty kilometres away from New Delhi. The gathering was a select lot of ?deeply concerned? mediapersons dying to protect the secular values in the country'smedia, particularly, as it ultimately turned out, the language press.
The congregation comprised some past and present editors, writers, senior executives and political correspondents of several newspapers, news magazines and electronic media?including those who had committed the worst violations of the universally accepted principles of journalistic ethics and infraction of the rules of professional conduct in covering the Godhra and post-Godhra situation. The violators and their backers went to the extent of saying that these principles?which include the practice of avoiding naming of communities involved in communal riots ? should be given a go-by and rewritten in the wake of Gujarat riots.
Though the professed purpose of the conclave was to introspect on the role of the press during the Gujarat incidents, they spoke more on the performance of Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his government than on the press, returning an implied verdict of guilty of complicity in the ?pogrom? of the Muslim community by ?frenzied and fanatic? Hindus. The whole programme was so structured as to lead only to this inescapable ?verdict?.
It began with showing footages of the ?pogrom? by one of the English news channels focusing on one-sided and brutal attacks by uncontrolled mobs of Hindus. Nowhere was it shown, as state government has said, that the police had swung into action in such a manner that some two hundred Hindus had been killed in firing by it at various places. The video was followed by an ?inquiry committee? report in which the whole blame was squarely put on the leading Gujarati newspapers for inciting and justifying violence against the minority community. The Chief Minister was quoted as saying something which he has ever since vehemently and repeatedly denied but despite his denial it is to this day being persistently reproduced in news, comments and articles.
Then the so-called fact -finding reports by well-known leftist professors of Jawaharlal Nehru University were circulated among the literature on the Gujarat incidents. A ?study? of the news and other writings in the Gujarati press was also produced, which blamed major Gujarati language newspapers for aggravating the situation by their ?provocative and communal tone?. Though a tirade was launched against these papers in the speeches and remarks offered by several participants, no representative from them was called to the meeting or otherwise asked to give their side of the story. Not that these papers could not at all be faulted, but it was a trial in absentia and a verdict of hanging till death against them, ignoring the fundamental principles of natural justice.
Worse still, it was presumed that the language press was intrinsically communal and it needed to be given special training. And it was actually and seriously suggested that a mechanism should be set up to impart such training to language journalists and journals, and in justification of it the four Hindi papers were repeatedly alluded to, which had been censured by the Press Council in 1991 in regard to the coverage of the Ayodhya incidents, forgetting the fact that there are more than 25,000 registered Hindi papers in the country and only four out of them were found ignoring the norms. But for the strong opposition by a couple of participants?one of them pointing out from the accounts of the riots and the manner of their display published in some leading English language newspapers that they were the worst offenders in reporting Godhra and its aftermath?this would have been carried as one of the conclusions of the conclave.
There was also a serious attempt to institute a special fund for the victims of post-Godhra incidents, which, if accepted, would have been, perhaps, the first ever relief fund for a particular community being presented in the mainline English press as the ?main target of Hindu brutalities.? But many participants, who personally supported the move, said they lacked proprietorial mandate to make any commitment on behalf of their media. Some others favoured an appeal being made to the owners to set up their own relief funds, as in the events of natural calamities or war.
But one of the worthies went to the extent of saying that all media owners were in their hearts fanatical communal Hindus. He knew this personally for a fact. It was, therefore, futile to appeal to them, he said.
There was much more that happened at the conclave showing a deep prejudice against the majority community among the ?leading lights? of the country'smedia. And this was no ordinary conclave. It had a galaxy of those who the country has known outwardly as the liberal face of India. They had carefully built in their long careers the image of true secularists and made the best of it while successfully hiding the real face of Hindu-baiters.
There are numerous examples of how sections of the self-professed secular and liberal mediapersons have been carrying on anti-Hindu campaign on every conceivable occasion. There are many others who have been willingly facilitating their designs or allowing themselves to be preyed upon by them. Still worst, there is a flourishing business of mutual promotion among the members of the clan. There is a perfect networking for the purpose. Though informally, the plans of action are carefully strategized, not only at the local and national levels but at the international level too. For constraints of space, we will refer to only two cases here.
In the course of an inquiry into the truth of the happenings in the Dangs district of Gujarat, where it was alleged that ?Hindu fundamentalists? had desecrated and burnt a large number of churches in the rural areas, we traced the source of a well-orchestrated, highly exaggerated and false propaganda to a cathedral in Ahmedabad whose highly articulate priest and his group of collaborators had been sending volleys of faxes and e-mails containing the sensitive ?news? and statements of ?widespread condemnation? of the Hindu communal forces out to destroy harmony and committing atrocities on the Christian community under the protective arms of Keshubhai Patel government.
It was also found that a lady ?secular? activist, who became prominent in the Ayesha Begum case, was part of this group. Another ?progressive? journalist-turned-padre played so prominent a role in it, as also in many other cases of conversion and re-conversion, that he is said to have got sponsored for being invited to the White House for breakfast with the then US President Bill Clinton. The Ahmedabad clergy was himself honoured recently with an award by the French President for his crusade for protecting ?human rights?, actually meaning his anti-Hindu and pro-conversion drives.
The modus operandi of the propaganda unleashed by the group was so effective and subtle that the news sent by it to the newspapers and news agencies would have to be carried out by them due to its perfect timing before any reaction or contradiction could be given by the Hindu organisations or the state authorities. This went on for days to the advantage of these false propagandists.
The heart of a journalist bled so much when the court fixed the date of execution of Afzal, the master conspirator of December 13, 2001 attack on Indian Parliament, that he instantly wrote highly feelingly and sympathetically a piece on his good schoolmate in the mainline English language daily he works for in which he said that if hanged Afzal would be the second ?Kashmiri? to meet that fate after Maqbool Bhat. This blowing-up of the sentiments of ?Kashmiri? affinity of the perpetrator of the most heinous crime against the Indian State, democracy and sovereignty of the nation immediately led to widespread violence and demand by separatists in the Kashmir valley to grant clemency to Afzal.
This is the same ?secular? journalist who had in the midst of the most heart-rending tragedy of earthquake in Kutch reported that the state government was discriminating against the Muslims in the work of rescue and relief of the victims. And he is the one who had been awarded prizes for excellent reporting! His name was recently found also among the prominent journalists invited to attend an abortive India-Pak Media Summit scheduled for being held in New Delhi.
Is not all this the work of a perfectly networked and well-orchestrated Hindu-baiting in the media?
(The writer is a former editor of Nav Bharat Times.)