Workshop on covering communal conflict

IN Media Practice | 09/09/2002
Workshop on covering communal conflict

Workshop on covering communal conflict

Bangalore, June 2002---A Report

Jyoti Punwani

In what seems to be growing into a trademark of workshops organized by the Network of Women in Media, the Bangalore workshop on `Covering Communal Conflict: Lessons from Gujarat 2002¿ left one with no time to breathe. At the end of two days of talks and discussion, there wasn¿t enough time left for one of the goals of the workshop, which also turned out to be its most exciting session: setting up a state-wide network of journalists to facilitate coverage of communal conflict in Karnataka.

It was with a sense of desperate urgency that some of the district-level participants continued the meeting left incomplete at the official venue because it was time for many of their colleagues to catch their return buses out of Bangalore. As the evening drew to a close, the nucleus of a state-wide network was formed under the trees outside the ISI, where the state delegates were staying. The newly-formed `committee¿ resolved to hold its first workshop in August, at a district headquarters.

That one decision signaled the success of the workshop held by NWM Bangalore. The three months of violence in Gujarat had alerted senior members of the NWM to the potential of Karnataka becoming another Gujarat. Already, the RSS had held three major meetings in the state.

What had appeared to outsiders as an unnecessarily alarmist viewpoint turned into an uncomfortably grim spectre as correspondent after correspondent reported on the provocations created by the Bajrang Dal in small towns of the state. Gauri Lankesh, editor of Lankesh Patrika, completed the dismal picture with her detailed report of how flashpoints in the state had been covered by the Kannada press. It was the same old story: reports filed without bothering to visit the scene, photographs showing only one side of the story, all together conveying the same message to the reader: that the minority was to blame everytime.

G N Mohan, News Correspondent, ETV Mangalore, who finally became the convenor of the new network, pointed out the lack of seriousness with which news about communal conflict is treated: such situations were regarded as mere law and order problems and assigned to crime reporters, whereas stories on communal harmony were never given Page 1 status.

Obviously, the correspondents gathered at the workshop took a more serious view of such stories. Their reports displayed an understanding of the complexity of majority-minority relations as well as the increasing danger of communalisation of the press. They were alarmed by the hiring of RSS members as stringers by the BJP owned Vijay Karnataka, but were also quick to add that activities of all kinds of religious extremists, not only the Bajrang Dal, should be monitored by the press

The correspondents¿ reports were an eye-opener for the English journalists there, since most of the incidents they described had never made it to the English press, and Kannada papers were obviously not read by English journalists.

Fortunately, both the media monitoring reports on Gujarat compiled by NWM Mumbai and NWM Bangalore and presented at the workshop, covered the Indian language press extensively.Both reports proved that the BJP¿s complaint against the English press, that it didn¿t condemn Godhra

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