Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ethics in Journalism? What Is It?

I HAVE often noticed the flippant nature of the political campaigns with an eye to score a point, to garner support or to run down an enemy. That is quite understandable especially in the shifting sands of parliamentary politics. Truth gets discounted and what takes precedence is the effectiveness of a campaign, even if it is based on half truths or plain untruths.

But that can be dangerous from a national point of view. In a multicultural society like India, we need to show respect to others and remember that without this mutual respect and trust, there can’t be any meaningful nation-building. The media has to be careful while reporting sheer propaganda and hate-campaigns.

I am going back to a campaign unleashed against the members of the Muslim community in Kerala in the immediate aftermath of the Babri Masjid destruction over the much talked about Islam Encyclopedia. I reproduce below a report I had written for Indian Express on March 13, 1994 based on my personal interviews with the people concerned.

What is to be remembered is that though this report effectively nailed down the campaign as a false and communal move, a few weeks later those who launched it managed to get a totally one-sided report published in the same newspaper repeating their line of arguments. Interestingly, it was written by a journalist based in Delhi who knew nothing about Kerala and spoke no Malayalam and still he found nothing wrong about writing a report on a book in that language without checking the facts with his colleagues.

Well, that speaks much about our objectivity and professional ethics in Indian journalism.

Here goes the original report garnered from the Express online archives:

Much Ado About Islamic Encyclopedia

N P Chekkutty

It seems to be a storm brewing in a tea cup; the BJP-sponsored campaign for the ban of Islam Vijnanakosam (Islam Encyclopedia), published recently in Malayalam, and prosecution of Education Minister E T Mohammed Basheer, a member of the advisory board of the book, for treason. The BJP leaders have declared that the book, which contains a controversial map and a chapter on Kashmir, is part of an anti-national propaganda.

The Yuva Morcha has declared that its volunteers would march to the residence of the Education Minister on March 19 and would also prevent his movements in the public roads.
But the BJP’s orchestrated campaign against the book and its kangaroo trial for the Education Minister look more like a political gimmick as the book proves itself to be an independent study and not a hot piece of anti-national propaganda as alleged by the BJP.

It was K Raman Pillai, former State president of the party, who first demanded banning of the book alleging that it had a “map which did not show Kashmir as part of India” and that it contained certain “factually incorrect” references about the State.

Later Yuva Morcha took up the campaign. Morcha state unit president P K Krishnadas declared, “The references in the encyclopaedia reflect the interests of Pakistan and give proof of the activities of Pakistani secret agencies even in Kerala.”

Krishnadas and Raman Pillai were critical of the map on the first page of the 1,024 page book, published by Kalima books here, which, according to them “shows Kashmir as part of Pakistan and an Islamic country.”

But it is a demographic map on Muslim population all over the world, based on the world population figures in 1976, pointed out Pocker Puzhithara, publisher of the book. The map shows all the areas with above 50 per cent Muslim population in green and hence Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc are of the same colour.

“I fail to understand how a demographic map on Muslim population could be treated as a political one,” Pocker said. “This, indeed, is a politically motivated campaign,” he added.

But the BJP leaders counter, “The book contains anti-national references on Kashmir and it says that the Pakistan-aided terrorists are freedom fighters". Krishnadas says the Indian Army fighting these terrorists are charged with committing human rights violations. “This is just a one-sided propaganda,” asserts the publisher. “We have said in the book that Pakistan has a direct hand in the troubles in Kashmir Valley, and how could it be a statement against India’s interests and supporting Pakistani position,” he asks.

But Pocker admitted that there were many mistakes in the book, as it was the first attempt in any Indian language to bring out a comprehensive encyclopedia on the community. "We are aware of it, and we would correct them in the next edition,” he said.

However, the BJP seems to be adamant on going ahead with its campaign, with the Education Minister as the main target. Interestingly, there are others in the same advisory board, including 107-year-old freedom fighter E Moidu Maulavi and Central Sahitya Akademi fellow Vaikom Mohammed Basheer. “Luckily, they seem to have been spared from the charge of treason," said one of the editors of the book.

(Indian Express, March 13, 1994.)

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