Media & Terrorism

There is little doubt that media can play a crucial role in influencing opinion of people regarding sensitive issues, including terrorism. At the international conference of jurists on terrorism in Delhi (Nov. 21-22), Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan pointed out that “pervasive media coverage” holding individuals “belonging to a certain ethnic or religious community,” as responsible for certain terrorist strikes, “ may result in unreasonable discrimination and retaliation against ordinary members of that community.” Undeniably, media in today’s world plays a major role not just as a source of letting the people at large know about news and related events, but also in influencing the related developments. The role of media is no longer confined to be a source of news and/or analysis of the same, but extends - as indicated by Balakrishnan’s comments - to the impact it can have.

Not surprisingly, media coverage is being given undue importance by select sections- including politicians and also terrorists- to remain in news. This, however, is one side of the story. The other side, which needs to be given equal importance, who/what should be blamed for spreading “manufactured news,” which may not have even an iota of credibility. One may at this point, refer briefly to fake encounters, including the Batla House incident and arrests of innocent Muslims as “suspect” terrorists. In these cases, who should be blamed: the media and/or the authorities/organizations who have apparently engineered such cases, for the sake of gaining attention?

In this context, one is compelled to deliberate on why isn’t any attention paid to those responsible for spreading “false” reports against individuals belonging to select communities, particularly Muslims? Why have they all not been taken to task? Perhaps, it is time that a clear line is drawn for media people on who should not be viewed as primary source of information particularly where controversial and sensitive issues are concerned. This implies, news coverage – based on what is projected as an “encounter with terrorists” should not be viewed as the truth till it is proved so. A strict guideline needs to be drawn for officials too, who have the tendency to take media as well as others for a ride by targeting select community members as terrorists, by arresting them and/or gunning them down in fake encounters, without giving them even a chance to defend themselves.

Some credit must be given to sections of media, who have not allowed themselves to believe what is said to them and have openly questioned credibility of such encounters and arrests of innocent Muslims as “suspect terrorists.” The revolutionary development in role of media in today’s world has had undeniably a major impact on people’s attitude too. Questions and answers, together with major debates on small screen, have transformed the role of media from being just a source of news to that of being a strong analyst also of topical issues, which includes news related to terrorism. From this angle, with too many sources of news in the race competing for people’s attention, the latter should not be viewed as mute recipients of what is being conveyed to them through the small screen and/or the print media. Rather, thanks to numerous channels, even an illiterate Indian has access to, through the small remote control in his/her hand, it would be erroneous to believe that he/she would silently believe what is being projected on the small screen. It would have been a different case, if all the channels and papers were controlled by one particular body. In that case, the people would learn only what that particular body wants them to know. But that is not the case in today’s India. Undeniably, the revolutionary development in role of media has had an equally revolutionary influence on the mindset of the average Indian, Muslim or non-Muslim. Rather than believe what is conveyed to them through the media, the average Indian has begun questioning the credibility of the same. What carries importance for today’s Indian is whether the so-called “breaking news” of some encounter and/or arrests really has any credibility or not. Is it really “news” or has been deliberately made out to be so, only for the sake of gaining some media coverage and gaining the voters’ attention.

Amid this backdrop, Balakrishnan’s comments are perfectly valid, particularly in view of the new importance gained by media for those eager to grab headlines. It has certainly led to innocent members of certain ethnic or religious community face “unreasonable discrimination.” However, some attention must also be given to those abusing their respective positions by subjecting certain community members, largely Muslims, to “unreasonable discrimination.” Sections of media have played their part in questioning abuse of such powers. The people at large, in today’s age, have not allowed themselves to be misled by “false reports” and indulge in riotous behavior. Unfortunately, however, needed action is not being taken in correcting (punishing) those responsible for needlessly targeting innocent Muslims as “terrorists.”

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2009 on page no. 18

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