So called attack by RSS on so called freedom of expression of the so called media

Last week, there was a lot of hue and cry after some RSS supporters allegedly attempted to attack the offices of Headlines Today in Videocon Tower, Delhi. Those who do not watch television might have missed it, because newspapers largely ignored this.

The events, as I see them after reading a few media reports, unfolded something like this

  1. Someone decided that the term ‘Hindu terrorism’ has not hit the media for 10-15 days, and decides to correct the situation.
  2. This someone orders the right people placed at right place in investigating agency about next strategy. The investigating agencies send up balloons promising to leak selected and/ or doctored excerpts of video recording which may or may not have been from the laptop of Dayanand Pande. The target is any ‘me too’ news channel, the lower the TRP the better.
  3. The trial balloons attract the attention of Headlines Today people. In the last board meeting, the Headlines team had been warned to come up with some original stuff or else…. They feel that the coup, with potential of hot and heated panel discussions, might be just right for them. The other channels in the group, however, do not use the ‘original’ material, probably due to its lack of credibility. They decide to cover the news in a perfunctory manner quoting the reports by Headlines Today.
  4. The story runs the whole day on Headlines Today. The competing channels give it a token coverage. The next day’s newspapers almost ignore it. The reaction from Hindu hardliners and secular brigade are not as strong as predicted earlier. The news was about to meet its natural death due to lack of lime light.
  5. The Delhi unit of RSS decides that it cannot let the terrorism charges go uncontested. They plan a peaceful dharana. However, Some hot heads, probably thinking about the lime light they can grab, decide to go by a simple media motto – ‘Publicity at any rate – truth if possible’[1]. There is also a second possibility here – the original someone knew his efforts were not bringing desired results. So, on getting wind of the RSS dharna, that someone saw an opportunity to unveil the facist face of RSS for the whole world to see. Some hotheads, with correct dress, slogans and accessories are planted among the RSS functionaries.
  6. The Dharna starts in a peaceful manner. Then the hot heads confront security for gaining admittance. The security people put off the lifts. RSS people try in vain to bring order. The hotheads do get inside – but do not want to walk 10-15 floors up to headlines today offices. They break some glasses in a bank and a canteen. Media dutifully records all this. Ultimately the police somehow disperse the activists. Delhi police do not consider this to deserve a formal police complaint. The FIR for disorderly behavior notes that no one is hurt. Classified non-cognisible- file closed
  7. Cameramen and correspondents go back to their office. They edit the material, carefully deleting any footage showing RSS people’s attempts to bring order. The ‘Breaking news’ is now ready.
  8. All hell breaks loose. The secular brigade takes up the chant of ‘Ban RSS – hang Modi’. All channels have to give saturation coverage. Anchors shout themselves hoarse. The panelists all sing in unison the virtues of freedom of expression. Their own past remarks about ‘responsible reporting’ and ‘respecting the sensitivities of a section of the people’ are conveniently forgotten. The same freedom of expression is not extended on these live shows to the RSS spokespersons – they are hooted down.
  9. However, totally unexpectedly, the internet community comes out strongly on the news channels sites and post reactions by dozens questioning the intention and credibility of the whole media machine. Outside internet, this phenomenon goes unnoticed.
  10. The term ‘Hindu Terrorism’ has not hit media for 3 days now.

Now that the dust seems to have settled down, I believe we can look back to see what we have achieved – and what we have missed.

The source of the news channel was ‘unnamed persons very highly placed in the investigating agency’. Assuming this to be true, need we not the question the professionalism of investigating agency? They are investigating a series of bomb blasts all over the country. The videos on Dayanand Pande’s laptop are an important piece of evidence. And its leaking like a sieve. The more the ‘tape’ is leaked to the media, the more it will loose its credibility in the court. Do the agencies intend to bring the guilty to justice? Or do they have some other hidden agenda? If they have some concrete proofs, why do they not come out and make an official press statement?

On the other hand, if this ominous sounding unnamed source is just some gen-next kid who can ‘mix and shake’ video files to create the desired result, then the professionalism of the media comes under cloud. Had they verified the dependability of their source before going on the air? They were making a serious statement against some very respectable people. Or do they think any charge against RSS is proven by default?

This brings us to the attack on media people. Is this the first? Is this the worst? What’s so unique about it? Why were the panelists so worked up?

The media has been at the receiving end of soda bottles, sticks and stones for a long time. The Calcutta Statesman was attacked (20 people injured) because they reproduced a London Times Article. The Hindu was attacked (and press burned) because they published translation of some article by Taslima Nasreen. Before that, in 1991, The Hindu was attacked because on children’s page it showed an old man teaching Quran to some kids. (It publicly apologized both times.)  Kumar Ketkar of Loksatta was attacked because he suggested that one more Shivaji memorial was not required. Zee news Mumbai was attacked because they made some accusations to the then Home Minister Chhagan Bhujbal. Nikhil Wagle, chief editor of IBN lokmat, and owner/ editor of erstwhile Mahanagar has been attacked at least a dozen times. (Some people say he loves it).

The only thing different this time was that the people who allegedly made this attack, were supposed to be from RSS. During its long career of being blamed for anything, RSS has never been accused of attacking media people. So what was a peaceful agitation that had gone a little out of hand was made to look like attack on the Parliament.  The Islamic mobs in India make violent attack on newspapers at the slightest pretext. But the other media calls it ‘a passionate expression of anguish by a people whose sentiments have been hurt’. But when the media calls RSS as a terrorist organization it expects its supporters to be boy scouts and accept the charges with a smiling face.

Lastly let us consider the venerable freedom of expression. It is actually funny to see the profile of the people giving sermons about freedom of expression. The most vocal, by any standard, are the leftist of all varieties. But ask them about freedom of expression in any communist countries – and they will tell you that there is no place for gossip mongers and distracters in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Freedom of expression is just a tool to convert dar-ul-capitalism to dar-ul-communism, and it becomes redundant in a communist state.

The other variety is the Congress spokespersons. Most of them started their careers as members of Youth congress under Sanjay Gandhi. In emergency, these people were the most vocal supporters of censorship. And emergency remains as the worst example of trampling the freedom of expression – of media, of common people, of opposite parties – everyone. If the members of that elite group like Ms Ambika Soni have changed their minds, they have not given any indication of the same. So, for congress, freedom of expression is something they will dearly like to suppress, but have burned their fingers trying it.

The most slippery variety is the media people. Actually, they have a direct vested interest in freedom of expression. Their livelihood depends on it. But they also have double standard about any attack on it. They want to extend it to MF Hussain but not to Tasleema Nasreen. When one of their own is attacked by Islamic groups, they conveniently look the other way. And the agency at the receiving end finds itself isolated, and is quick to cut its losses by apologizing. But they take great honour when they are attacked by any outfit claiming to be pro-Hindu. As these groups usually do not go beyond stoning and breaking glasses, the physical risk is minimal. But the potential for winning prizes, awards and better jobs is too good. Anyone receiving hate mails from Hindus considers himself very brave, and starts lobbying for Padmashree.

So what was happening last week? To summarise, the media made irresponsible accusations against RSS, based on flimsy here say evidence. When the accused tried constitutional means of registering protest, they were denied entry. They misread the situation, and became aggressive. Then those who do not believe freedom of expression, declared RSS as guilty of suppressing the voice of media. The accused were not offered any chance to offer defense. The drum head trial was conducted in the name of highest principles of justice. The accused were declared guilty because they were accused. The court based its decision on principles it did not believe. No witnesses were called. No evidence was presented. The guilty was burned at stake. Case closed. Long live justice!

[1] Original quotation is by Abraham Lincoln (I think) just before the civil war – “Truth at any rate – peace if possible”


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