The media was viewing an assault on itself in the light of political allegiance rather than protection of its rights. And that is the real tragedy. AJITHA MENON reports on a Trinamul assault on a 24 Ghanta reporter and cameraman, and rues the partisan media responses it evoked.
Posted Friday, Oct 16 14:58:36, 2009 on www.thehoot.org
Posted Friday, Oct 16 14:58:36, 2009 on www.thehoot.org
Cutting across party lines, politicians humiliate, insult and even assault journalists with aplomb in West Bengal. The latest has been the assault and threat on a women journalist and her cameraman by a central minister and Trinamul Congress workers on October 13th, outside the house of painter Shuvaprasanna, where Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee was holding a meeting. Shoma Das of 24 Ghanta news channel, had her bag and phone snatched, and her mouth gagged by party workers.
Central minister Mukul Roy was caught on record saying “I will not allow a CPI(M) channel to work here. Is it Buddhadeb Bhattacharya's father's channel?”. Aside from the indecent language, the statement made it clear that journalists would be allowed to work only if they worked for media organizations with political leanings that the Trinamul approves of !
However, even more shocking was the role played by intellectuals and other journalists present. Shuvaprasanna, an internationally known artist, made obscene comments about the woman journalist's parentage for allowing her to “roam free at night”, once again exposing how hollow all the talk about respecting women and women's rights in Bengal truly is. Trinamul workers also assaulted the cameraman accompanying the woman journalist, and smashed his camera. One of the women workers of the party also threatened the journalist saying “I will have you raped by our party boys if you don't behave”.
But the worst was yet to come. Trinamul Congress leader and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee called the police and filed a General Diary against the journalist, alleging attempt to murder. The journalist and her cameraman were taken to the police station and kept there for five hours “for questioning”, without even being allowed to visit the washroom. The journalist did file a counter General Diary alleging assault by Trinamul workers. The next day her home was raided by the police.
However, the really horrifying revelation was in the behaviour of the other journalists present on the spot. Most of them knew the woman journalist and her cameraman in question and both of them were carrying valid House Cards. However, in a stunning display of how the media is polarized on organizational as well as personal levels today, some reporters put out news stories on the alleged murder attempt on Mamata Banerjee without making any mention of the targeted assault on the journalist and her team. None of them bothered to adhere to media ethics where investigation and verification are considered cornerstones of credible reporting.
Be it Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee twisting the ear of a photo-journalist or Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya insulting a senior journalist by calling him a rat or even the most recent and demeaning action by Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, what is emerging clearly is that a polarized media is conducive to the political agenda of different political parties, when it suits them, to deny the journalists the Right to Information and Freedom of Expression - in effect gag the free press. The simple fact is that when one media house or journalist is targeted, others either enjoy the show, or remain silent and even gleefully report the incident in a manner that carries no credibility.
The office-bearers of the Press Club, Kolkata and several senior editors were seen giving phone-ins and TV interviews condemning the action by the Trinamul Congress, however, all the ire was directed against the politicians without any sign of introspection. Wouldn't it have been more effective to send a clear message to journalist employees not to tolerate or support the violation of their and other journalists' rights to work, information and expression?
Furthermore, only those media organizations which opposed the Trinamul Congress's policies were seen carrying the condemnations. Others, who support the party were of course sticking to the murder attempt story! The media was viewing an assault on itself in the light of political allegiance rather than protection of its rights. And that is the real tragedy.
Ironically, after all the condemnation that took place through the day on Oct 14th, following the incident, in the evening two more women journalists were thrown out of the Trinamul Congress Bhavan where a party meeting was being held. Pragya Saha and Komolika Sengupta of Akash Channel, belonging to the same media group as 24 Ghanta, were humiliated for belonging to a particular channel, while about 50-odd reporters and photo- journalists looked on mutely. The matter even didn't get coverage in the so-called free press!
Don't stage a boycott or even a rally or a procession - it will only bring forth political allegiances of media organizations to the forefront and in the end media is all about covering news, not boycotting it. But the organizations can at least empower the journalists with the right to support colleagues on ground zero, even if it is through verbally asserting the person's right to work, right to information and freedom of speech and expression. Reporters, cutting across media organizations and their political affiliations, admit to wanting to support colleagues in such situations but say they refrain for fear of losing their jobs!
Most of the field reporters say they expect to be assaulted, insulted or humiliated by parties fearing exposure or from those with vested interests. However, as the three women journalists recently insulted by the Trinamul Congress said, it's the betrayal by one's own fraternity which is truly unacceptable and heart-rendering.
Its amazing that when such incidents occur, we, the media, look to politicians to protect our rights - making it a no-show from the very beginning considering the fact that politicians survive on the divide and rule policy.
Can we not at least unite on this one ground of right to work with freedom of expression, cutting across our organizations' political policy, and implement it ourselves by offering a media support network for this?