Do we have a right to know?

IN Media Practice | 07/07/2005
True, the media has to behave with a sense of social responsibility in covering the Ayodhya temple attack. But it should not mislead viewers.



S R Ramanujan



No doubt in a situation like what we witnessed in Ayodhya on July 5, the media has to behave with a great sense of social responsibility. Any slip or unwitting expression might lead to unforeseen developments.  But that should not mean that the media can mislead viewers.  That is what the 24-hour news channel NDTV was doing throughout the day by showing a pucca structure of a temple, Ayodhya has thousands of temples, to convince the people that there was no damage to the make-shift temple.  Though the anchors did not say that what they were showing was the temple housing Ram Lalla, it was a suggestive visual.  Millions of Hindu devotees may not know, especially from the South where NDTV has its major share of eyeballs, that a worn-out tent erected in 1992 is the temporary abode of Ram.


When the authorities have been claiming that there was no damage to the make shift temple which was just 100 yards away from the scene of action, what viewers expect is a  visual of the make-shift temple. In fact, it is in the interest of the government and Mulayam Singh Yadav to show to the people of this country that they were able to protect the "disputed site", if I have to use a secular language, against grave threat from the terrorists who unsuccessfully used sophisticated gadgets like rocket launcher, AK-47s and grenades.   It is possible that the authorities did not permit the camera crew to shoot those visuals for pragmatic reasons. Such information should have been shared with the viewers.


If you remember, during the Mumbai riots the then chief minister Sharad Pawar had to appear on the screen to allay the fears of the people about the safety of Balasaheb Thackeray.  Political leaders were prevented from visiting Ayodhya by the UP government and this might create suspicion in the minds of the people as if the government has something to hide. Precisely for this reason, the visual of the make shift temple which is supposed to have been saved should be shown. Everyone, from the Prime Minister downwards, has been praising, deservedly so, the valour of the C RPF. The achievement for which they were being admired was protecting the make-shift temple from any damage against heavy odds. Should it not be shown?


The second lapse was there was no mention of the priests who must have been present at the temple at the time of encounter. What happened to them? Did they flee from the temple? What was their eye-witness account. Not only the politicians, but the media also have been treating Ayodhya as a political battleground rather than as a religious place revered by crores of Hindus.  There was an armed battle in the "disputed" holy place (an oxymoron?) and pieces of  six bodies were lying in the premises for hours together. Any devout Hindu would like to know whether any purification ritual was conducted by the priests and the pujas have been resumed. There was no information from any of these 24-hour news channels though they have been talking about who grows flowers, who prepares dholaks, etc.


Another insignificant piece of information that was given undue prominence both by print and television was that the "terrorists prayed at a nearby temple", as though they wanted God’s blessings to accomplish their mission. It is all a ploy by terrorists to mislead intelligence or security agencies like the Khalistanis used to cut their hair and remove their beards or jehadis not wearing skull caps or sporting beard. Well, it can be an incidental point in the story and not an independent story.


For the print media, "Ayodhya" has become a synonym for Ram Lalla’s make-shift premises. True, when you think of Ayodhdya you think of Ram. But the media need not be so touchy and so discreet. The Hindu’s banner headline was "TERRORISTS STORM AYODHYA COMPLEX", and the strap line : "Explosives-laden jeep blown up to breach fence; all the six killed; BJP calls for nation-wide protest"(July 6) What is this "Ayodhya complex?" Is it a commercial complex, residential complex or sports complex? The Mount Road Mahavishnu (is it still Mahavishnu or Marx?) did not want to make a mention of the expressions like "make-shift temple" or "Ram Janmabhoomi complex" or even "disputed site" since it would mean legitimization of the site as the birth place of Ram. Everyone knows the target of the terrorists and what does the media gain by such verbal camouflage? The World’s largest daily was perhaps catering to international audience when it said in its headline "AKSHARDAM AVERTED AT AYODHDYA". Does this not have more political overtones than a mere news headline?
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