Truth buried under inspired reporting

BY Sankar Ray| IN Media Practice | 28/08/2010
A report that has no quotes on behalf of the accused and names, although as an alias, a rape victim, violates basic journalistic ethic.
SANKAR RAY comments on the police-ed reporting that some sections of the media indulge in.


The Times of India lead story captioned `Raped repeatedly, Naxal leader quits Red ranks’ (24 August, 2010) is disturbing. It also appears in Ananda Bazar Patrika on the front page on the same day. The story which states that Maoist leaders raped helpless women to satisfy their sexual desires appears without any quotes from or on behalf of the accused. Had the culprit been a corporate big shot or a minister the news would not even have been carried without their reaction.


The confounding question is how come two newspaper groups got the same exclusive story on the same day? While the logical conclusion would be that both were fed the information by the police or the joint forces involved in operations against the Maoists, we should not jump to conclusions about the stories since we are yet to hear from the CPI(Maoist) polit bureau member P Koteswara Rao (aka Kishanji) or any other Maoist spokesperson. Generally the Maoists issue a rebuttal themselves but have not yet done so and while till the killing of of 75 CRPF personnel many reporters had Kishanji’s cell number, that is no longer the case.  


Commenting on the reports, Ranjib Kumar, a netizen belonging to the National Forum of India, a forum for news dissemination and debate, said that in publishing the name of the victim (which ToI did), the newspaper had violated journalistic ethics. ``Actually it hardly matters for the urban centric media to be careful in reporting when it comes to covering tribal India. Its only when someone in a metro is involved that the media takes care not to mention the real name," he says.  The Times not only had the picture but also gave the name of the victim, although in the form of aliases.



What is suspicious about the Times story, is that it is not clear who she is with right now in the jungle, where the reporters claim to meet her.  She is squealing on the Naxals, but is also "on the police's most wanted list," the story claims. Why would she take on her former comrades in the country’s biggest newspaper while being on her own in the jungle?


Yet another instance where the media came a cropper was revealed by the exclusive report in Tehelka on Manoj Mahato aka Bapi, in the Jnaneswari Express carnage incident. (Issue date August 21, 2010.)  It said Bapi and another inmate at Midnapur Jail passed on a written statement saying that the Jnaneswari tragedy was planned and executed by the CPI(M) and the ‘harmads’(armed CPIM cadres) plus some Maoists and PCPA followers under threat. The statement was passed on through a rebel writer who was also lodged in the same jail after being arrested on 14 June. The writer had gone to Lalgarh along with two academics to investigate the rampant human rights violations by the police and paramilitary forces in those areas.


Bapi not only denied the CBI charges but exposed the media. He said, in a boxed statement carried by Tehelka,


"I am an active member of the PCAPA. I have not given any testimony to the CBI. And neither have I given any interview to the media. Whatever is coming out in the media in my name is untrue. The report that came out in Ekdin [a Bengali daily] on 25 July [a Maoist internal investigation report with the heading ‘We want Bapi’s punishment’] is utter nonsense, as it has hinted at my meeting with Dahar Sen [a senior CPM leader and husband of ex-minister Nandarani Dal, three-time MLA from the infamous Keshpur]. I left for Tatanagar by the Gidhni Local on 8 June. So, where did I meet Dahar Sen? Besides, even today, I do not know what he looks like, let alone have a discussion with him. The decision to shift us from Midnapore to Kolkata is just another ploy of the administration.


I request comrades of my locality not to issue any statement to the media without thoroughly checking the facts from the locality. They should also protest against false news published in the media. For example, the fact that Bartaman [another Bengali daily] carried a news article on 25 July, hinting at the banning of PCAPA for its alleged involvement in the Jnaneshwari tragedy amply proves it is a conspiracy hatched by the CPM, as it could then use this tragedy to see that the PCAPA is banned.


The reality is that I did conduct a meeting at Murabani, where it was decided to obstruct the rail tracks with logs. Never was any train sabotage planned. And I had no links with the Maoists. I do not know any Maoist. Samir [Samir Mahato of Forward Block, who is also in the same jail arrested under a relatively weak section of the IPC], told me while in jail that Hiralal Mahato and Arjun Mahato (senior CPM leaders) came to him to get posters written [PCAPA posters that would claim responsibility for the tragedy], but he refused. In my testimony to the court I have not mentioned any Maoist."


Dainik Statesman and Sangbad Pratidin carried the Tehelka story giving the latter the credit for breaking the news but expunged the portion that indicted the media for carrying fabricated and slanderous information about Mahato and others. 


Take the CNN-IBN story, "Naxal-backed PCPA behind train attack: Cops" dated 29 May 2010. Based on police sources it stated PCPA leaders Umakanto Mahato (killed yesterday) and Bapi Mahato planned and executed the derailment. It said the two abducted a railway lineman, Dayaram Mahato, posted at Sardiha station from his house at about 9:30 PM and after threatening that they would harm his family if he did not do their bidding they forced him to open pandrol clips, which fix the track to the sleepers, at around 1 AM minutes before the train arrived there. It said Mahato was chosen as an experienced person can remove the pandrol clips in a few minutes whereas it would have taken almost an hour for an inexperienced person.


Bapi says, in his statement published by Tehelka, "Around 12.30 in the night, I got a call on my phone saying the mission has been accomplished." Tehelka adds, "Strangely, the police and the CBI are silent about the number from which the call was made and about who made the call."


The ToI news ‘Bapi agrees to record confession’ (29 June, 2010) also sounds   inspired if one gives credence to Bapi’s letter in Tehelka. The same day Ekdin front-paged a story with graphics suggesting that the incident happened in Manikpara which was totally dominated by the CPI(M). It also wrote about a secret meeting at Indraboni, adjacent to Manikpara, at which Dahareswar Sen, a district secretariat member of CPI(M) Hiralal Mahato ( Manikpara), Dhruba Sannigrahi, Arjun Mahato (Lalitashol) etc - all CPI(M) functionaries- were present. Bapi’s letter confirms the story and adds other names such as Karuna Mahato (Jaljali), Tarun Dey, Hari (who runs a radio repairing shop in the station) and Rocky (who runs a tailoring shop in School Bazar). "I have learnt that a few leaders of PCAPA were also present there. The [panchayat] pradhan of CPM Palit babu and Bimal Das, the moneylender from Lalitashol promised to finance the sabotage. (If Bimal’s house is raided, one would find at least 500 passbooks, 500 ‘fund-books’ and plenty of valuables including gold chains)," Bapi wrote. 


If his letter is to be believed, the CNN IBN story cannot be given credence.


One doesn’t know when the truth about Jnaneswari carnage will be unveiled. If it is proved that the Maoists were not involved the logic behind keeping joint forces in the area along with the imposition of  Section 144 of CrPc will collapse. In the meanwhile, why should the free press dance to the police tune?

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