Journalism in India today is a great challenge because the socio-religious and political ambience in the country is worse than ever. Mob lynching has been wide spread in India since 2014. Organized mob target someone mostly Muslims and kill him in public view spreading terror among the minorities and Dalit people who are outside the caste category. For instance, 24 year old Tabrez Ansari was mob lynched in June 2019 just a day after his marriage. The police took the much wounded Tabrez to the police station as a rober refusing his young wife and his uncle permission to take him to a hospital. He was tied to pole and the attackers mercilessly beat him with sticks and rods for a long time forcing him to say, “Jai Shree Ram”. He died in police custody on the 4th day without getting any medical treatment!
A website news says that “According to a Reuters report, a total of 63 cow vigilante attacks had occurred in India between 2010 and mid 2017, mostly since the Modi government came to power in 2014”. Quint web site news says that from 2015 to the end of 2019 a total of 113 persons were killed in mob lynching in different parts of (North) India.
Social and human right activists and anyone else standing for human rights like advocates, writers, professors and students are labeled as Maoists and terrorists and are put into jail on false charges or cooked up cases against them. Those IAS and IPS officers like Kannan Gopinathan, Sanjiv Bhatt and R B Sreekumar who protested or refused to carry out illegal orders by government Ministers and other senior officers are harassed to the maximum with false cases and imprisonment.
In spite of these frightening situations some of those who dare to express themselves in public are murdered. Rationalist Narendra Dabolkar, Educationist Prof. M M Kulburgi, activist Comrade Govint Pansare and journalist-editor Gauri Lankesh are few who were killed for their public stand. These examples show that the murderers are trying to put fear into journalists, writers and intellectuals. What makes the situation worse is that the murderers are hardly caught and punished! There has been news that some of the persons involved in mob lynching have been publically honoured!
The new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has resulted in country-wide protests mostly led by university students and ordinary people. Some politicians have also criticized the Act as well as the earlier National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). The front page report in The Indian Express (Ahmedabad edition) dated January 13, 2020 says: “Stating that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC) cannot be ‘segregated’ from one another or viewed in ‘isolation’, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath said on Sunday that his government would not ‘execute’ anything which ‘divides society or has the potential to divide’.”
The same news report further says, “The Left Government in Kerala and the Trinamool Congress Government in West Bengal have already decided not to carry out the NPR exercise in their states.” In this kind of conflicting situations, for instances, between the Centre and State Governments journalists have to do a tight-robe walking as s/he need to research the background of the available information and facts and be well informed.
In this socio-political and communal situation in India today what are the challenges facing journalists and writers? Here I would like to list four outstanding challenges. First, ability to recognize and stand by truth; second, fearlessness and courage to work with professional competence, third, discernment to distinguish good from evil and the moral fortitude to stand by the truth and fourth, constant watchfulness against fake news.
First, ability to recognize and stand by the truth. There are self-seeking and interested people manipulating the truth and misleading journalists. Such situation calls for thorough professionalism in reporting and writing. Here I am reminded of a case which I studied. There was front-page news in The Indian Express (Ahmedabad Edition) dated October 18 and 19, 2017. According to the reports an 11 year old girl Santoshi by name died due to hunger.
The report said that the girl died in the previous month as there was nothing in her house to eat or drink. Her mother Koyali Devi and her elder sister used to go to the forest and collect firewood and sell it for Rs.40/= or Rs.50/= a bundle or they worked as daily wage labourers whenever there were work for them. But for more than a week no one in her house got enough to eat. As Koyali Devi said, before Santoshi died she was crying for rice-water but there was nothing in the house to quench her thirst and hunger. This news was brought out by an activist news reporter of The Indian Express, Prasant Pande.
When Prasant Pande got the news published, the government authorities and medical personnel were saying that Santoshi died of Maleria and not of hanger! But her mother Koyali Devi told Prasant Pande that no government officials or medical persons visited her hut or even the village. After Prasant Pande’s report the Chief Minister of Jharkhand Mr Ragubar Das ordered to give Santoshi’s family Rs.50,000/= as an immediate relief and also ordered an enquiry. Through Prasant Pande the words of Jesus proved true: “Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be uncovered” (Mk 4: 22).
When politicians and government officials fail in their duties they look for excuses and even outright lies. A journalist has to be alert to know the truth and report the truth, even unpleasant truth fearlessly. As happens often, when poor people die in India due to hunger or exposed to severe winter cold or unbearable summer heat, it is mostly due to the negligence of concerned government authorities and officials.
Second, fearlessness and fortitude to work as professional journalists and writers. It is important that a journalist should be thoroughly professional in his/her chosen field of journalism. When a journalist is expert in his/her field then s/he is not easily manipulated. S/he can do a professional work without succumbing to outside pressures like bribe and other allurement and even threat to life.
The Managing Editor of NDTV (Hindi) Ravis Kumar is an outstanding example of fearless journalism. He has proved that he can withstand any and every type of allurements and threats. He has received many threats to his life from extremists belonging to certain political party. Ravis Kumar has won many national and international awards including Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2019 for his fearless and professional works in journalism. There are also journalists who paid with their life for their courageous reporting. For instance, the journalist, who exposed Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was murdered in Sirsa in Haryana after he published a story about the alleged sexual exploitation of women by the chief.
Third, the power of discernment to distinguish the good from evil, the truth from untruth. In reporting and writing a journalist is called to discern constantly. S/he has to decide what to write, how to write and what not to write. Even in writing a report s/he has to discern and chose facts and information for taking in and leaving out. This is very important when a journalist is writing on communal issues.
In the beginning of anti-Muslim communal clashes in Gujarat in 2002 I wrote in my column in daily “Samabhav” that there was an attempted pogrom against the Muslims. The editor cancelled the paragraph referring to pogrom from my article. But I repeated the same thing in a seminar talk in a youth camp and I was challenged by some of the youth. I told them that in my article I had mentioned “an attempted pogrom against the Muslims in Gujarat. But subsequent developments go to prove that there was real pogrom against the Muslims. For, pogrom is organized violence and massacre against a group of people, Religion or race.”
Once a woman reader of my weekly newspaper column asked me, “Father Varghese, are you not afraid of writing such and such things? Don’t you read about the murder of RTI activists and police encounter killing?” I told her that I am not afraid of death; I am prepared to embrace death when it comes. I am not afraid of anyone except offending God. “But Father, please take care”, was her response.
In all writings, discernment is called for. In the beginning of my writing profession I have decided that I will write about persons only if I have love and concern for the concerned persons. I do not allow hatred and vengeance in my writings. I believe what St Augustine of Hippo said: “Love, and do what you will.” When there is love in the heart that person will not write anything harmful and hateful for others.
Fourth, constant watchfulness against fake news. Fake news is not genuine news but cooked up stories like a mixture truth and untruth or even outright lies. Pope Francis has given the example of Satan deceiving the woman in Eden Garden. Eve was tempted by the devil to eat the prohibited fruit as something very desirable.
Today fake news are wide spread in all media like print, broadcast and social communication calling journalists to be constant vigilance against them. In fake news self-seeking persons or interested parties want to influence people to their side mixing facts with falsehood or even outright lies. Fake news is like ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing. We know that fake news is never genuine news. Our efforts should be to distinguish between genuine news from fake news and alert media users and others against fake news.
A telling example of fake news is two books: (1) Harvest of Hate by Michael Parker and (2) A Fact File Report by Fact Finding Teams by Branon Parker. As journalist-author Anto Akkara has written about them that both the books are by ghost writers and both have almost the same content. He proves conclusively that like the two ghost authors and their two books are fake. In a way, the two books are imitation of an earlier book Harvest of Hate by two well known personalities Swami Agnivesh and Valson Thambu. It is well studied book about the 2002 Gujarat pogrom against the Muslims.
Finally, let me say that journalism today in India and in the world has become a very dangerous profession. “Journalism – one of the world’s most dangerous professions” was the headline of a report by UNO in 2012. According to a list published in Wikipedia 20 journalists have been murdered from 2014 to 2018 in India. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_journalists_killed_in_India). An international news agency NBC News writes that around the world at least 63 journalists were murdered in 2018; and India is included among the five deadliest countries in the world for journalists!
These facts and figures should not frighten us as we have Jesus Christ as our model, who never deviated from the mission which his Father has entrusted to him. So let us face our challenges in the field of journalism in India today with prudence and courage as Jesus did in his mission to the end.
Changed on: 16-02-2020
Next Change: 01-03-2020
© Fr Varghese Paul, SJ – 2020