Guest post by MONOBINA GUPTA
This Friday Dean Baquet, Washington Bureau Chief of the New York Times defended his paper’s publishing of explosive information gathered by WikiLeaks, putting the US intelligence and the military establishment squarely in the dock for the Iraq war. The largest ever classified military leak in history, the WikiLeaks revelations have exposed the complicity of the US military and civil administration in whittling down the number of civilian deaths/casualties as well as ignoring hard information about the torture of US soldiers in the hands of Iraqi forces.
Baquet said that his paper worked on stories culled from nearly 4,00,0000 documents furnished by WikiLeaks as “it would any other journalistic project.” He also pointed out that it is not often that reporters get to scrutinize documents testifying to the largest US intelligence leak ever.
I have not heard voices from any media organization of any repute clamoring and prodding Washington to press charges of sedition against WikiLeaks. The Pentagon might be gunning for the websites which have thought it fit to acquaint the people of America and the world with the truth of the sordidness of the Iraq war and the utterly dubious camouflaging of ground realities by the US army and intelligence. But the mainstream media have picked up this information and put it out in the public domain, dissecting the documents. The lines separating the state/military and the media seem to be etched out in bold. Clearly, it is not the media’s brief to ‘protect’ the ‘honour’ of the establishment; nor is hiding its acts of ‘dishonour’ among the canons of journalism.
I mention this because during recent fulminations vented by our media moguls over a meeting addressed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, activists, intellectuals and authors in the heart of Delhi to discuss Azadi for Kashmir, one Arnab Goswami asked on several occasions whether such subversion would ever be permitted in the United States of America! Not only have prime time news anchors launched a no-holds-barred rant against the speakers, they have patted on the back the disruptors of that meeting; and if that was not enough, they have exhorted the government to charge Geelani and the other speakers with sedition.
It was almost by accident that I walked into the LTG auditorium that afternoon. I met Sujato Bhadra, an old friend from Calcutta at Triveni. He was to address the meeting in LTG. As I was dropping him off at the venue, I decided to go in on the spur of the moment. The first thing that struck us as we entered was the huge presence of policemen, milling around the place, as if in anticipation of an imminent confrontation. Sujato told me it was perhaps the theme of the meeting that had provoked such a large deployment of forces. Inside, the hall was packed with an overwhelmingly young crowd of Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris. Most political parties would barter anything in their possession to inspire thousands of young people like them, some who looked barely out of their teens. They were not ‘mobilised’ by a party machinery; they were there simply because that afternoon the LTG auditorium was the only destination they could be at.
I found a place to sit and could hear people around me discussing that ‘RSSwallahs’ were planning to disrupt the meeting. Nothing very unusual: this is one of the many specializations RSS outfits have acquired over the years. Get a handful of activists inside the hall, so they can keep interrupting and shouting. Two gentlemen came and occupied empty seats next to me. As the meeting began one of them began to talk loudly on his mobile. They appeared to be passing information outside about the meeting. As the discussion began and the first slogans for Azadi went up, the disruptors rose from their seats and rushed forward. In the melee that broke out the two men sitting next to me hurriedly got up and left. Their job, it seemed, was done. That was just the beginning. For the next six hours the meeting was frequently interrupted with protestors sometimes heckling, sometimes rushing towards the podium, shouting ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’. What the media presented later that evening as ‘legitimate’ protests were actually simple hooliganism.
Like many others, I am painfully aware of the media’s distorted representations of the situation in Kashmir, of their near total unanimity in ignoring the continued humiliation of a people encircled by tens of thousands of men in uniform who reduce ‘citizens’ of the valley to ‘Outsiders Within’. But even by the media’s standards of ‘manufacturing consent’, the ongoing demand orchestrated by Times Now, to put Syed Ali Shah Geelani and others – activists, intellectuals, authors – on trial for treason, is stunning.
On Thursday and Friday this past week during his prime-time show, Arnab Goswami was more toxic than his usual self (who thought such a thing was even possible?). Alongside BJP leaders and hawks – former/present generals, foreign affairs officials – the anchor tirelessly demanded the government charge Geelani and others with sedition. Goswami sternly admonished one of the panelists, declaring that Times Now will never allow ‘anti-Indian’ comments to go unpunished, will never allow them to be made without him and his panelists rebutting them.
Rebuttal here is mere euphemism for Goswami’s brand of senseless jingoistic statements, pitched high and shrill, conveying the impression that before the fateful meeting in Delhi, the Indian union was reveling in heartwarming conviviality, free of dissension and conflict! Goswami thus railed: Can the Indian state allow the “splittists” overseeing an “industry of sedition”, conducting a “hate-India campaign,” masquerading as human rights activists, to go scot-free? “There is little surprise that there was anger and outrage,” he fumed, as though disrupting meetings, heckling, and violent rowdism are all perfectly legitimate means of conveying difference of opinion. There was no mention that majority of the disruptors were undoubtedly from various Hindutva outfits which don’t represent any sort of ‘public opinion’ at large.
Arnab Goswami is of course, the most well known household face of the same media house that is engaged in a peace mission – Aman ki Aasha – meant ostensibly to bring together the people of India and Pakistan. On the Aman ki Aasha website, the editors of Times of India and Jang Group write, “The media in India and Pakistan speaks directly to the hearts and minds and stomachs of the people.” The suggestion of inculcating peace by ‘speaking’ not just to the hearts and minds of the people of India and Pakistan, but also to their ‘stomachs’ is truly awesome!
The joint statement further states: “It [Aman ki Aasha] can help in writing a final chapter, adding a happy twist to a story that seemed headed for tragedy. It can do so by shaping the discourse and steering it away from rancour and divisiveness. It has the maturity to recognize the irritants and obstacles to peace and will not take a timid stance towards the more intractable and contentious issues — whether relating to Kashmir, water disputes or the issue of cross-border terrorism. It can offer solutions and nudge the leadership towards a sustained peace process. It can create an enabling environment where new ideas can germinate and bold initiatives can sprout. The media can begin the conversation where a plurality of views and opinions are not drowned out by shrill voices. It can cleanse polluted mindsets and revive the generosity of spirits which is a distinctive trait of the subcontinent. It can help cool the temperature and wean away the guardians from fortified frontiers. It can argue the case for allocating scarce resources where they are needed the most. It can begin the process of converting swords into plough shares.”
Still, in spite of these lofty dreams, it seems the plough-shares have been put away in favour of the swords. The task of guarding the frontiers of this fragile nation-state now seems to rest more firmly than ever before on the media’s puffed-up shoulders. Be it Maoists, Kashmiris, Manipuris, or Nagas, as far as the media are concerned the security forces are sacred, their lives more precious than those of common people who live their lives in the presence of war machinery and constantly brave insults and fear. Those at the receiving end of the state’s brutality are most of the time, if not always, represented by the media as deserving what they get. Little wonder then that the image of Kashmiri youths throwing stones is played over and over again accompanied by texts and voiceovers which erase contexts; whereas the video of Kashmiri youths stripped and herded by security forces, barely finds mention in the media.
In a Times of India report, two days after Geelani’s meeting, the reporter sees a grand plot of sedition, hatched by Kashmiri insurgents and Maoists: “The presence of Maoist sympathizers at what was a show to fete Kashmiri secessionist Ali Shah Geelani could not have been just a mere coincidence,” writes the reporter. “Those tracking the Naxalite movement from the inception feel that it could be part of the Maoist gameplan to forge a strategic alliance with militant outfits pitted against the Indian State,” she adds.
Our media is increasingly on twenty-four hour alert: as paranoid, suspicious of rebels, contrarians and dissidents as they are trusting of the military, intelligence establishment and the state. I wonder if this what they mean by shaping “the discourse and steering it away from rancour and divisiveness.”
Aman ki Aasha (http://www.amankiasha.com/)
Times of India, October 24 2010, ‘With spotlight on Geelani ultra-Left goes unnoticed’