Media doublespeak

BY Jyoti Punwani| IN Opinion | 18/09/2014
The use of the term "love jihad" by the media needs questioning, alongside other issues of why inflammatory remarks by politicians are reported and the treatment they are given.
JYOTI PUNWANI dissects the nuances. PIX: An article in ~The Indian Express~

Jyoti Punwani

Should the print media use the term "love jihad" without quotes, ie, as a regular part of their vocabulary? While The Indian Express, The Hindu and The Hindustan Times use quotation marks for it, The Times of India, the "leader", doesn't.

What should the media's attitude be towards "love jihad"? Can we at all take it at face value? The implications of "love jihad" are that Hindu girls are a bunch of fools. The English media (including this writer) have interviewed enough Hindu girls who have married Muslims, and highlighted the voluntary nature of such marriages, as also the fact that they were entered into after weighing all factors, including conversion. 
Isn't it obvious to any rational human being that this is a propaganda tool being used by the RSS to control young Hindu women, and simultaneously build up hatred towards Muslims for both short-term electoral gains as well as its long-term anti-Muslim agenda?

You don't have to be a 'sickularist' to take an unambiguous position on this campaign. You need to be unambiguously communal to support it.

The media may recognize it as divisive, but the "love jihad" campaign is being used on a large scale, so you have to report it. But how?

The TOI on September 12 had on its Page One left-hand side briefs, a heading saying: Love jihad? Pregnant teen cries rape. But the story inside on page 3, made no mention of this term at all. It was a report about a 15-year-old Hindu involved with a Muslim, who demanded marriage after she got pregnant. But the boy insisted that she convert to Islam to marry him. The girl filed a complaint with the police and the man was arrested for rape of a minor, kidnapping and inducing to marriage.

By describing this case as one of "love jihad", wasn't the TOI accepting that this term has a concrete basis? The question mark in the heading only indicated some doubt about whether this case could fall under the category of "love jihad", but it didn't question the existence of that category.
This reminds one of the subtle manner in which the Babri Masjid controversy in the '80s got transformed into the "Babri Masjid-Ram janmabhoomi controversy" in the English press, and the Babri Masjid began being called the "disputed structure". 
But that change was gradual. "Love jihad" has taken hardly any time to become part of the standard vocabulary for the country's leading English newspaper, and for the Hindi press. That's a reminder of how today's communal climate resembles that of the disturbingly charged '80s. Also a reminder of how 20 years later, the RSS continues to influence the media. 
"I am thankful to the media for making 'love jihad' a major issue," Ajit Tyagi, the convenor of the Western UP unit of the RSS' Hindu Behen Beti Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, told Amit Sharma of the Express (IE, September 14). He was probably referring to the Hindi press, which has gone overboard with gory visuals of girls in burqas behind iron bars, blood flowing from their foreheads (image in the Dainik Jagran).
These days, there isn't a week when a hate speech isn't made by an RSS-BJP leader. How much attention should these speeches be given? Maneka Gandhi's speech about beef export earnings being used to fund terrorism - "to make bombs that kill us" – deserved Page One coverage because she is a minister, and also because of the sheer audacity of the statement. 
Here's a central minister making a totally unsubstantiated statement intended to provoke hatred towards an entire community, whom she is supposed to represent. But should it have been top of Page One as it was in The Indian Express

On the same day, Sakshi Maharaj's allegation that madrasas teach terrorism was another example of hate speech. But who is he? How can the slanderous utterances of this forgotten rabble rouser who left the BJP in 1999 to join its enemy Mulayam Singh and then re-joined the BJP, be made the main lead, the way the Express did? 
It juxtaposed his speech with Maneka Gandhi's, and thereby devoted almost the entire top-of-page-one to inflammatory remarks (IE Sept 15). The common headline was: Latest BJP insight on terror: 'taught in a madrasa...funded by animal slaughter'. What impact could this have had on Muslims, the community identified with both madrasas and beef (even though Christians, Dalits and the entire North-East consume beef)? The TOI put his speech in the inside pages.

The English media was in the forefront of condemning the "polarisation" (a favorite word these days) that was being created in the run up to the UP by-polls. Why then did it contribute to such polarization by its choice of headlines and placement of reports?  
On September 14, the Express chose to put on Page One the picture of the funeral of Mahant Avaidyanath, former BJP MP, rabble rouser, and Yogi Adityanath's guru, which was attended by forgotten party stalwart L K Advani. Was that the only newsworthy picture they could find on a Sunday?

There's a contradiction in the manner in which the English press writes about these provocative utterances. This is the same media which has spread the myth of "Modi the moderate" whose only goal is vikas, right from the days the PM began his election campaign. They reported his inflammatory speeches, but concluded nevertheless, that he was a moderate with no communal agenda. 

They have stuck to this characterization despite all the utterances of his party members and the decisions of his party after he came to power. For the English media, on top is 'Modi the moderate', and down below is the "lunatic fringe" of the Sangh Parivar. 

But this isn't logical. If Yogi Adityanath, one of the original hate-mongers of the BJP, is the "lunatic fringe", then why was he chosen to open the debate on communal violence in Parliament? Why was he chosen to head the UP election campaign? Is Union Minister Maneka Gandhi too part of the "lunatic fringe"? And the Madhya Pradesh BJP vice-president and Indore MLA, who wants to ban Muslims from the garba in Indore?  

Quite a wide "lunatic fringe" here, all freely spreading hatred.

Now, the same media that describes Modi as a moderate, also describes him as a party supremo who keeps a watch on everything 24/7. That can only imply that all this poison is being spewed with the supremo's blessings. Those spewing it then, can hardly be described as acting on their own as a "lunatic fringe".

But if the supremo approves of this poison, how can he remain "Modi the Moderate"?

The English media should either give up describing the hate mongers as the "lunatic fringe" and recognize them as expressing the party's views, or stop calling their leader a moderate.

If the English press has done its bit to bolster the BJP's rabble rousers, has it committed another blunder by highlighting the case of the four Muslims from Kalyan, near Mumbai, who left home to join the ISIS?

Many Muslims feel that too much publicity was given to this incident, with mala fide intent. If four out of a community of 13 crore go to Iraq probably to join the ISIS, should the news be on Page One? Doesn't that malign the entire community, I was asked by a Leftist Muslim, who was angry that the intelligence agencies had again fed stories to a pliant media.

There's no doubt that in Mumbai, where the story was first flashed, the police fed it to the media, but that was only after the parents of the missing youth approached them. Anyway, there's truth in the allegation that when it comes to terrorist acts allegedly committed by Muslims, the English press become police stenographers.

This incident wasn't a terrorist act, nor was it confirmed that the four had joined ISIS. However, they took a taxi to Mosul and never came back to the group with whom they had gone on a pilgrimage to Iraq. Mosul was  one of the first cities captured by the ISIS. Who would choose to stay back in that extremely violent city unless it was to support the people who ruled it?  
These were Indians who had chosen to live in a city captured by a group openly committed to establishing a theocratic kingdom at the point of the sword. And it wasn't poverty that had forced this choice on them. Wasn't that sensational news? Did it matter if they were just four?

These four took their leanings to the logical extreme. The 20-odd Tamil youths whose photograph sporting ISIS T-shirts was flashed across newspapers, may not have had the guts to go to Mosul, but those T-shirts were an open statement of support to ISIS. One Muslim explained their action as being a result of having no Muslim role models in India. 
First of all, why should there be separate community role models? Even conceding that community role models are necessary for a minority, if the role model chosen is a foreign armed organization that commits brutality in the name of your religion against those who don't follow their version of it, it's news.

During the Lok Sabha elections, the TOI ran a front page story about a phenomenal rise in youngsters joining the RSS. That deserved page one coverage – here were young Hindus gravitating towards an extremist communal organization comprising mostly old people. Of course they were joining in the thousands. But again, it needs to be repeated that the ISIS is a foreign, not an Indian organization, all the time in the news for killing and terrorizing people on the basis of religion. So joining it is a sensational story.

But when RSS members engage in terrorism, that rarely gets Page One coverage, pointed out the angry Leftist Muslim.

That's not true. Col Shrikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya  made Page One headlines for a long time. But how many years did it take to arrest them, asked the Muslim. The police arrested Muslims for the terrorist acts (allegedly) committed by these Hindus, and the media lapped it up.

This can't be denied. However, once they were arrested, they weren't given any special treatment by the English media.

But what cannot be denied is how terrorist acts by ordinary members of the RSS do not get Page One coverage. In Nanded, Tenkasi and Kanpur, RSS members were arrested for making bombs in 2006 and 2008; the news was buried in the inside pages.

Then, should the argument be that they should have got Page One coverage like the four Kalyan youth did? Or should it be that the Kalyan youth should have been covered in the inside pages instead of on Page one?

That's a question for the English media to think about.
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