Monday, April 19, 2010

Looming Violence, Political Threats and a Dispirited Media: On the Media Scene in Kerala

THERE ARE strident calls upon the media to make amends for its omissions and commissions, its pervasive intrusions into the privacy of individuals and the havoc it has wrought in the lives of many unfortunate victims. As a media person, I have always been extremely worried about these tendencies on the part of the media and have expressed my views that the media should introspect, and try be a responsible player in our democratic polity.

But the media, at the same time, cannot remain a toothless entity. It has necessarily to be aggressive, it has to gate-crash into domains that are closed to public review, and bring an objective view of things and developments to the public.

This is a tricky situation. How to strike a fine balance between the concerns of the public's right to information and the individual's right to privacy? Who is a private individual and who is a public person? How to define them and how to strike this nuanced position while reporting on them and their activities? And what constitutes private activity and public activity and where does the line of private activity of a public person and public activity of a private person merges or demarcates?

For almost a quarter century I have agonized over these questions and recently when I saw these clamours for public apology from our media to an American academic for some reports against him, I was thinking about these things again.

Here let me say that I am taking up the case of Dr Richard Franke only as a case study and I do not in anyway wish to express an opinion on his personal or academic activity. I presume that he is a well-meaning academic genuinely interested in Kerala and its people and all the past calumny against him, enumerated in the recent book by Dr Thomas Isaac and Mr N P Chandrasekharan and known to us Malayalis through various news media in the past few years, are simply baseless and the figment of the imagination of a politically motivated media.

Now a few questions arise. I will take up only two right now. First, how far the demands for an apology are legitimate; and two, whether there is any substance to the charge that the reports in media against Dr Franke proved to be an infringement on academic freedom?

This plethora of media campaign against Dr Franke was launched by Patom magazine of Mr Sudheesh, which was later taken up by many other Malayalam newspapers and other publications. The motivated nature of these campaigns was self evident, and most readers remained un-persuaded by most of these charges levelled against Dr Franke, Dr Isaac and a few others. It was a political shadow-boxing within the CPM, to which most of those involved in this battle actually belonged.

That means, the entire episode was part of our contemporary political life in the past few years. All the players were public persons and most of them were in the game for gains of a political nature and are endowed with political power in various ways.

Still, they make a camouflage attack on the media as if there was an infringement on media ethics. Indeed there was twisting of media ethics because the media often failed to check the authority of news items fed to them, but that in no way could be a case for seeking an apology from the media or the launch of an Inquisition from politicians. If anyone had been injured in such a scenario, it was the media itself because they suffered in their credibility, but here again there is no way a media organization can cross check such items fed to them because the Communist parties work behind iron curtains. They will not respond to media inquiries, but they still expect the media to play by rules. That is a very funny idea about democratic ways of functioning, indeed. A similar example could be when someone say, "head I win, tail you lose...!"

The second aspect that needs probing is whether there is any infringement on academic freedom. Dr Franke appears to be a US academic with some long- term connections with Kerala and has done some serious works here. He has been generally enthusiastic about Kerala and its development models though many may have differences with his points of view.

The charge is that his explanations were not given its due and that the campaign had been continued without any hitch even after such an explanation was offered. But why did Dr Franke become an object of attack? Was it because he was from US or was it because he was inadvertently (or perhaps even deliberately) involved in the CPM inner struggles?

The fact of the matter is that Dr Fanke became a target not because he was an academic or he was from US, but because he was seen to be taking a big role behind the curtains; being close to leaders in one faction in CPM and was also seen to be working with them on certain areas of serious concern to Kerala society and politics. When you are in politics, you are bound to receive attacks. Here, you see nothing academic, but everything is political. And in a political society, if anyone wants to exempt themselves from public criticism, why not take a leave and go back to your ivory towers, gentlemen? Why blame media in an injured tone when you confront your own battered pubic image?

When I launched this series of thoughts on the need for critical engagement on the part of media, I was aware of the severe accusations launched by this book.

But now that even a normally sober Sajan joins the brigade of critics, I must respond. I know Sajan himself had some part to play in it because he was among those experts who had read the text before it was published. Hence when I go ahead with my comments I hope Sajan would not get hurt, like the good comrade Ramakumar who finds me weak and unconvincing

I must say I do share a large part of the criticisms raised against the media in the book by Dr Isaac and Chandrasekharan, though I am not convinced about the premises on which they do so.

First, what kind of a book is this? Is it simply a partisan propaganda work by a group of individuals who belong to a political party, or is it a sincere attempt to study the inner workings of the media and its limitations in our society?

It started out as a serious critique and then sadly ends up as a partisan propaganda work which falls flat in convincing the reader of the objectivity of the arguments and the sincerity of their purpose. They highlight issues that are convenient to them and ignore issues which are not suitable to their purpose.

I will take up just one or two examples from the book to argue my points. First, it says that after the days of 'liberation struggle' when media played a critical part in attacking the Communists, it was in 2000s that the media took up such a concerted role. The People's Plan and Lavalin reporting are two major points they use to drive home this argument.

What they conveniently refuse to discuss is the political origins of this media strategy. They are quick to deride the media while they are unwilling to discuss what were the reasons which prompted the CPM to set up a number of investigation commissions in the State and local level in these days? What were the findings of these commissions and what did it tell the party about its inner workings ?

Now the defence will come that these are internal matters of the party. But here they are attacking the media for reporting things based on internal information, and even in the cases where such official commissions were set up why can't the party reveal all that they came by?

That would put a question mark on the sincerity of purpose and the manufactured consent that the media is the villain of the piece. But the media has been mainly a tool in the hands of the two powerful groups in the CPM and both groups had made much use of it. But unfortunately such a complex scenario of cynical use and misuse of media in the internal power struggles and the naked fights for control of the party never gets any mention here.

In the study on People's Plan, they say it was the media which had destroyed such a major effort at decentralization of power. Then they go ahead with the Sudheesh-Patom sob story and says the media parroted all that ultimately killing the programme.

This is less than a half truth. They do not even look at the various steps in the evolution of the People's Plan and where it actually went awry. If they had, they would have seen that it was the inherent weaknesses in the plan implementation and its meagre results compared to the Himalayan hopes it had generated, that was the real problems for its failure.

This dichotomy of what is actually achievable and the insurmountable hopes it could generate, leading to inevitable disillusionment which the writers do accept as a fact, had been pointed out right from the beginning by experienced and sober critics as you can see from the critical articles in the anthology, People's Plan: An Experiment in Decentralised Planning, edited by me and published by Calicut Press Club in 2000 based on a workshop organized by none other than the media people who are now facing the music for its failure! One hoped at least almost one decade on, Dr Isaac and others would show a little more willingness for soul-searching on why it failed instead of the easy of option of media-bashing.

But the gem comes in a comment where they assert, it was a sense of guilty consciousness on the part of media people, most of whom were former SFI cadres, that led the media to this pseudo-left critique of the programme! What a cheek to rubbish people who had been in SFI, who had suffered much and at least some of whom had faced lathis, knives and even bullets, who had taken up work in the media instead of the much coveted full-time political work and tried to do their job of reportong of the goings on in the corridors of power!

I do not know whether this wonderful insight comes from Chomsky original or is a contribution from our neo-Chomskys to the critique of media in 21st century. I must admit, as a former SFI cadre, it left me gasping for breath as I too happen to be a critic of left politics now...!

I was struck by a phrase from Damodar on the contemporary media practice of media criticism familiar to us. He described it as third degree methods of criticism.

Most people would laugh it off as an exaggeration but those who are familiar with the way media-persons are forced to work these days in Kerala would know this aptly describes the reality that confronts us today. There is an atmosphere of latent violence in the every day life of a media-person and he/she has to face crude violence or abuses and threats almost on a day to day basis. Often they erupt into an act of physical violence on the person who represents the media in the field and in most cases he/she works fully aware of the threats to his/her safety. This is no exaggeration: ask any media person- whether male or female- and they would tell you how unsafe the profession has become in the most literate Kerala society. Very few of these incidents, which take the form of direct physical attacks, are reported in the media and most others like threats and abuses are hushed up or silently borne for fear of provoking further attacks or threats. This is a contemporary reality.

Some of these are so ugly and some really comic: When I watched the video of the threat to Vidhu Vincent, a female reporter, from a group of Church believers, I was horrified because the ugliness of mob violence on a feeble female was so evident in all its details. She later left the profession.

When I heard about a friend in Indian Express who was bashed up at a bus stop in Thalassery, I asked him what happened. It was a rally of a big political party there and the buses were all stranded in the roads and he said something to the person next to him about the way they were persecuting the public. Men from the jatha overheard and he was pulled out of the bus and bashed up. He refused to complain because he was afraid next day he would face a fresh bout of violence.

My worst days as a journalist were when I worked with a television channel and I remember with horror the continuous harassment, abuses and threats I faced. They were friendly fire, as they say coming from guys who had an ownership role in it! Some of the people who were abusive were men of some senior positions and one of them today happens to be a member of Parliament.

But the saddest part is not physical violence or continuous threats. It is the loss of means of livelihood which could completely paralyze a person. Most camera-persons are forced to buy their own equipment in small organizations and when they are attacked, the loss is huge. Once when I worked as president of the Kozhikode unit of KUWJ, there was an attack and around a dozen people were injured but when I went to the hospital to see them, the major complaint was not about the injuries or pain, but about the loss of equipment like cameras and lenses and there was no way they could get that back in shape.

Now what I suggest is that an atmosphere of fascist tendencies is fast growing in Kerala and politicians and local mafias are the main culprits. It is a fearsome thing that such attacks are now getting an official stamp as even senior politicians do not care when media people are attacked.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Media, Religious Minorities and Terrorism: A Case Study of Kerala

This the text of a paper I presented at the two-day national seminar on Globalization, Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism: A South Indian Perspective, organized by the Political science department of Kerala University at Thiruvananthapuram on April 8, 2010:

I PROPOSE to examine the role of media in generating stereotypes in the same ideological mould of global campaign against terrorism, launched along with the new policies of globalization and liberalization in Indian society starting from the 1990s, in the regional media as well as in every other sector of society, which has become a matter of serious concern even in comparatively progressive regions like Kerala.1

Kerala has been, for long, known as a place of communal amity and religious tolerance, with its social fabric consisting of a seamless mingling of various communities, the tradition dating back to pre-colonial times. In fact this region has been a model for social and communal coexistence with almost all religions finding a place in its shores without causing much friction, and finding ways and means to contribute to the social and communal well-being.

But this has not been a natural state of affairs, a social atmosphere that came on its own; but actually it was the result of conscious and deliberate policies pursued by various communities, and ruling classes down the years. In a sense, Kerala’s history of coexistence and cooperation between various communal groups can be described as a result of conscious efforts, a negotiated social space2 for each community which had the numbers and resources to demand a say in the system. There are several historical reasons for the emergence of such a negotiated space, which had often been disturbed owing to a number of external factors, like the sudden influx of colonial powers. The response to colonial challenge from the time of Portuguese to the English is a very interesting study in itself, as it was mainly a few communities which actually engaged themselves in resistance at various times, for reasons of their own. At the outset, we must also recognize that this negotiated space was not a free for all, not all sections of the society had a place in it. First and foremost, it was an elite social club with the upper caste Hindu rulers being the central and unifying force, with elite segments in other communities like Muslims and Christians accepting their legitimate social and economic role in it. The first and primary condition for such a social contract was that none questioned the prevailing social system, based on caste discrimination.

Then came the colonial experience, which, to a certain extent, emerged as a challenge to this existing, ossified and rigid social hierarchy, which Marx described as the Asiatic mode in his writings on India.3 Look at the earlier instances of resistance to the colonial aggression and a pattern emerges: Protection of ancient faith and protection of trade and economic interests were two primary reasons for the resistance offered to colonial aggressors. I will take up here, only two cases in our history: The first is the resistance offered to the Portuguese by the ancient churches in Kerala, who opposed the efforts by the Portuguese Roman Catholic arch-bishop in Goa to bring the ancient churches in Malabar Serra under the Roman Catholic Church. The Koonan Kurisu pledge in the 16th century by the members of local churches was an example of the expression of independence against foreign aggression. But it failed as at the Synod of Diamper (1599), the Roman Catholics declared their dominance over the local churches.4

The second example is the revolt of the Kunhalis of Malabar against the Portuguese. Here again, we see the operation of both trade interests and religious sentiments getting mixed up in resistance to foreign aggression.5 The Kunhalis and their supporters did evoke religious sentiments in their fight against Portuguese as we can see from contemporary texts like Tuhfathul Mujahedeen by Sheikh Zainudheen Maqdum of Ponnani, which calls for a war against infidels.6

The resistance of the local Syrian churches to the Portuguese domination in ecclesiastical matters and the resistance of the Malabar Mappilas under the Kunhalis to the Portuguese trade domination were taking place at almost the same time in the north and central parts of Kerala coastline. What is interesting is the strategy effectively adopted by Portuguese to win both the battles: They took religion into the political realm and effectively waged a war against their opponents driving alliances with local rulers. Once the local rulers got alienated from their own people, their slow disintegration and demise was only a matter of time. Hence my point is that this mutual alliance of various social segments was inter-dependent and once this mutuality got disrupted, it resulted in serious social tensions and disturbances.

In Kozhikode the Portuguese had succeeded in forging an alliance with the Zamorin, against the interests of a powerful segment in his own court, which soon led to the downfall of the Kunhalis against the combined forces of Portuguese and the Zamorin, and the eventual loss of power and influence of Zamorins themselves. In Cochin, they had forced the hands of the Cochin rajah to order the local churches to accept the dominance of Roman Catholic arch-bishop of Goa, who took the initiative of calling the Synod of Diamper in 1599 which effectively sealed this dominance, but we also see that once this local trust was broken the local rajah also faced severe isolation and loss of power and prestige.

Looking back at the subsequent history of these regions, we see the decline of the prominence of the royal families who were reduced to the level of mere vassals of foreign powers who rose to become the principal powers in this region. In Kozhikode, ever since the sea power held by the Kunhalis was cut down by the Zamorin and Portuguese, the local ruler lost his power progressively and finally he had to commit suicide in mid-18th century, unable to withstand external threats.

The point I am trying to drive home is that the ruling establishments in this coastal region, which had the first contacts with global forces and influences at every turn in history, derived their legitimacy, sustenance and strength from the internal cohesion of various social and economic interests that subsisted in this region. It was a complex system, with various groups holding special interests and privileges and in this scheme of things various communities like Christians, Muslims and Hindu upper castes had their own positions, privileges as well as responsibilities. The Hindu upper castes were the rulers and their legitimacy was ensured and sustained by the others who controlled various powerful interests such as trade and commerce, developing a web of mutual connections, responsibilities and liabilities. Once this intricate social web was disturbed as in the wake of Portuguese invasion, what we see is a natural disintegration of this social contract.

It was a social contract based on mutual interests and it was arrived at after mutual negotiations over centuries. It helped reinforce the conservative social system and guarded against any revolutionary change in its conservative social set up.

Take for example the caste system: The ruling establishment and the elite society gained its vast powers on the basis of caste oppression of a massive section of people, the lower castes. Kerala, with its long association with Christian and Islamic ideas--who had never accepted caste as legitimate--should have been exposed to a great social movement against caste, but instead it remained the most ardent bulwark of caste oppression till the mid 20th century while most other parts of India had seen much stronger anti-caste reform movements taking shape much earlier. We see that this negotiated social space and the inclusion of various community interests in this scheme of things helped this region remain itself as a exclusive conservative base, immune to change.

This has been the major and dominant pattern for at least five centuries, as we can see from the days of colonial invasion from late 15th century. This pattern has been in operation in the long period of English rule in Malabar with their power and influence extending to the southern princely states of Travancore and Cochin, through their resident agents and standing armies. Those who were left out, were forced to rebel as we see in the case of the chieftains of Wynad in Pazahassi revolts of late 18th and early 19th century7 or the Mappila revolts in South Malabar in 20th century,8 who faced severe discrimination and oppression. The land owing and revenue gathering system devised by the British give a clear picture of how it helped develop a network of dependents effectively co-opted into the colonial system.

After Independence, this has remained the cornerstone of the political system that developed here. Cronyism and formation of cartels has been at the heart of it, and in spite of the Constitutional safeguards for the protection of weaker sections, a substantial chunk of public expenditure has been cornered by the same forces who had control over society even in colonial times. A quick look at Kerala’s public employment pattern9 and the fact that almost 60 per cent of the total state revenues are expended for the salary and pensions of this segment10 speak of the horrible story of a society that consistently denied the rightful due to those massive sections without any regard for a redistribution of public resources in a more equitable manner.

Kerala's opposing political fronts which alternated in power almost continuously ever since the seventies, did actually exacerbate this situation as, for all practical purposes, these political fronts served as refuges for these interest groups. Veteran communist leader E M S Nambodiripad used to castigate the United Democratic Front (UDF) as a conglomeration of caste and community interests, which indeed it has been, but the reality is that even the Left Democratic Front also served a similar social role going by the experiences of those sections who were kept out of the power structure. From an analysis of the representation in power structures, political establishments and leadership positions in ruling parties we may conclude that those who still largely remain outside are Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims who are now facing the shrillest criticism of being harbourers of terror networks and anti-national activities from a media controlled by the same social groups and interests who are dominant in all power structures in our society.11

It is in this context we need to understand the recent media campaign against terrorism, which largely painted Muslims and Dalits as villains in its dramatics personae. The media reports linking these communities with incidents of terrorism were often without any substance, mostly planted by interested parties and such stories were published without any verification for authentic y or veracity and mostly without any direct quotes or evidence. Even when proved baseless later on, there were not many efforts to make amends for such violations of ethical media practices.

One of the serious criticisms that emerge from an analysis of the recent media trends in Kerala, is that the mainstream media is willfully manipulating news and developments with a view to malign these communities and there appears to be consensus among them that normal and universally accepted ethical media practices like cross-checking of facts, attributing claims, assertions and allegations to clearly identified and verifiable sources, enabling a a platform for the victims to make their own claims and defenses, follow-up coverage with clear and specific norms for authenticity, etc,12 are not at all followed by any of these newspapers in matters vis a vis these marginalized and vulnerable communities. There are innumerable case studies on such lopsided and unethical media practices in recent days which included the frenzy over Love Jihad (a long time Sangh Parivar bogey against Muslim youths), the completely one-sided coverage in the Beemappalli firing incident, and the reports about rise of Dalit terror networks following the murder of a person in Varkala under mysterious circumstances and the censoring of the news of mass arrest and persecution of Dalit youngsters who were organized under a new Dalit youth movement called Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM). The pattern of reporting that emerged was so evidently unprofessional and unethical and the continuation of such practices without any hitch or introspection only strengthens the view that this has been part of a conscious and deliberate policy decision, arrived at the highest levels of newspaper industry.

Now the question is, why such a media fixation about the Dalit and Muslim terror bogey and a complete reversal of its own sacred norms and professional checks and balances?

The answer lies in the assertive new political movements and ideas for social justice and equitable representation that is coming up from the lower segments of our society. There are clearly new movements and a wider alliance among the subaltern classes for a better chunk of the cake and that explains much of the ongoing frenzied responses from the society and its own mirror image and conscience-keepers, the mainstream media. What goes on is a process of delegitimization, a willful misrepresentation of social reality to preserve the social, economic and political privileges these segments have so far enjoyed. But right now, it appears they have overplayed their hands and are facing a serous credibility-deficit crisis, which might prove to undermine the very legitimacy of these mainstream institutions which have remained the unchallenged opinion-makers for a long time in our contemporary history.

When we consider why the media has abandoned its traditional watchdog role and 'impartial' umpire image, we also need to inquire into the changes in media ownership, financing and control patterns. Though the news media's editorial control is still theoretically, and in a legal sense, remain with Indian nationals, in reality it is an integral part of a global business network and its main concerns are no longer national interests or national consensus; it answers to the global forces of finance and capital who have come to dominate the Indian media and other business activities. A very interesting indication is the astronomical figures some of the chief executives and media celebrities in India are drawing these days, though as businesses they are often in the red, still their pay and perks are ensued and underwritten by an intricate web of media networks and corporate arrangements that go much beyond our national boundaries. this dichotomy appears to be the root cause of the alienation of Indian mainstream media from the common people, and its declaration of war on a substantial sections of our people, dubbed conveniently as anti-national.


1 I would try to examine this issue mainly from my own experiences working in various Malayalam and English media organizations in and outside Kerala from 1983.

2 I am thankful to my friend Bobby Kunhu for suggesting this terminology to explain the present communal relationships in Kerala society.

3 See articles like Future Results of British Rule in India, in Karl Marx, The First War of Indian Independence, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1974.

4 For an interesting early description of the Portuguese, Syrian Church tussles in Malabar, see Michael Geddes, The History of Malabar Church, London, 1694, now available in Google Books.

5 For details, see Krishna Iyer KV, The Zamorins of Calicut, Calicut University, 1999.

6 An English translation of the text has been recently published by Other Books, Calicut.

7 See Pazhassi Samarangal, Dr K K N Kurup, State Institute of Languages, Thiruvananthapuram.

8 There are various studies on the Mappila revolts; see for an authentic version, Dr K N Panikkar, Against Lord and State, (Mal.) DC Books, Kottayam.

9 There are no official figures available for the community wise break-up of government jobs, but a broad picture may be available in the studies conducted by Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP) in its Kerala studies. The break-up is as follows in the order of community, percentage of population and percentage of government jobs approximately (in brackets): Nair: 12.5 (21); other forward Hindu 1.3 (3.1); other backward Hindu: 8.2 (5.8); Christian: 18.3 (20.6); Ezhavas:22.6 (22.7); Muslim:24.7 (11.4); SC: 9 (7.6); ST: 1.2 (0.8). It reveals that the Muslims, SCs, STs and other backward Hindus are represented below their population figures in government service, the biggest losers being the Muslims. The biggest gainers are Nairs followed by Christians.

10 According to final figures for 2007-08, salaries and pension accounts for 59.78% of total revenue receipts of Kerala. It will be interesting to examine people from which communities and regions are pocketing a larger share of the public cake.

11 For a serious criticism and analysis of the media practices in Kerala in recent days with regard to these social segments, see the press release issued by a group of concerned citizens including poet K Satchidanandan, human rights activist John Dayal and others in Delhi, 29 December 2009:

Some of us concerned citizens had issued a statement on 18th December, 2009, appalled by the mainstream media reportage of the anticipatory bail hearing of Soofiya Madani in the Kerala High Court in connection with her alleged involvement in a conspiracy that led to the burning of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus at Kalamassery, Kochi in September 2005. Many of these reports bordered on pronouncing her guilt with complete disregard for Judicial processes and the Rule of the Law. This kind of reportage can be understood only in the backdrop of a disturbing new trend in the Kerala media and civil society vis-a-vis representation of issues and concerns affecting religious and caste minorities. This press conference has been convened to present some of our concerns regarding this and to appeal to the media and civil society actors to be more sensitive and balanced in their coverage of various events.
Apart from vitiating the communal harmony of the state, this trend also encroaches upon the fundamental rights of people to fair trial, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of association, freedom to practice and preach a religion and right to equality regardless of caste and religion; along with other fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution of India. In this context, we would like to enumerate a few of these media campaigns and the obvious religious and caste bias present in them.

Love jihad: It was 2 cases of inter-religious love affairs that the media took up and blew out of proportion to create the bogey of “Love Jihad.” In both these cases, what was involved was love and attraction between Hindu women and Muslim men, which led to marriage and the conversion of the Hindu women into Islam. Following this the mainstream media in Kerala went on a rampage, claiming that thousands of women were being lured into converting to Islam by Muslim boys who were doing this as part of “Love Jihad.” This led to Justice K T Sankaran's remarks on "Love Jihad" and directions to the police to conduct investigations on it.
This campaign not only vilifies women as being incapable of decision-making, but also portrays young men of the Muslim community as members of “Love Jihad,” without any proper investigation or proof for doing the same. This regressive campaign was not stopped even after the Kerala Police clarified that such a phenomenon does not exist. It has come to a temporary end only after another judge of the Kerala High Court put a stop to all investigations on the issue, saying that saying that one could not target any particular community and that "inter-religious marriages are common in our society and cannot be seen as a crime." .

Dalit Terrorism: Following the murder of a middle-aged man in Varkala, the media in Kerala came out with a new term called “Dalit Terrorism.” Regardless of the identities of the Victim and the offender, media reportage on this case very often appeared to have been written in the police station. The press bought into the police story that it was activists of one dalit organization who had committed the murder. They joined hands with the police in reproducing unsubstantiated reports of the existence of a "Dalit terror network". This legitimized the large scale persecution of the organization's activists by the police and also led to violent attacks on them by members of the local Shiv Sena. The media in Kerala is party to these atrocities as it had stood with the police in accusing the organization and its activists, failing to control the excesses of the police and reinforcing the existing prejudices against a historically marginalised community.

Beemapally: On May 17, 2009 6 Muslim men from a fishing community were killed and 47 others injured (27 of them had bullet injuries) in a police firing in Beemapally. Later studies by Human Rights organizations brought out “the extremely unjust and criminalized violence" committed by the police in Beemapally (NCHRO, Kerala Chapter). The government also suspended some police officers as a token measure. However, when the incident happened, most of the Malayalam media observed silence on this issue. A few others reported the police version of the firing, branding it as "communal tension". They promoted the assumption that it was the provocation by a communally charged mob that had made the police resort to firing, and it was wise to keep silence. There was no analysis or even proper investigation of the whole incident. In this way, one of the worst incidents of state violence in Kerala against Muslim fish workers virtually went unnoticed in the mainstream media.

All this shows the impunity with which the Malayalam media is treating issues related to caste and religious minorities. It easily communalizes every issue related to the Muslim community and works to spread hate and suspicion about them. Similarly, it also misrepresents caste issues and works to reiterate existing prejudices. Here, we would like to reiterate that we do not hold a brief for any individual or organization and would like to see the Law take its own course and we would urge proper investigation, trial and conviction of any person mentioned above, provided that the procedure established by law and Constitutional guarantees are upheld and they are not singled out by virtue of their religious or caste identities. We call upon the media to fulfil its role and check excesses committed by the State, its agencies or other formations that is likely to infringe upon the quality of our democratic polity and uphold values of plurality enshrined in the Constitution of India.

12 For a sample of how serious newspapers deal with such issues, see the New York Times guidebook for their staff, Ethical Journalism: A Handbook of Values and Practices for the News and Editorial operations, updated September 2004, available at