Hindu Mahasabha recreates Mahatma Gandhi's assassination: Is media coverage of such events doing more harm than good?
The media might not have spread the clip on social media, but it was definitely responsible for bringing the mock assassination of Gandhi into millions of homes all through the day.
By covering such events, is the media doing a public service by exposing the nature of the persons involved
Or is it helping the latter by spreading their message to those beyond their reach?
There is the pressure on authorities to act against perpetrators, but does the problems of granting hate mongers an audience outweighs the benefits
The Aligarh unit of Hindu Mahasabha had informed the local and national media that they were going to re-enact the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January at 12 am. It was the media that made the video that went viral, they allege, betraying a tinge of embarrassment over what they've done.
The media might not have spread the clip on social media, but it was definitely responsible for bringing the mock assassination into millions of homes all through the day.
What if the media had ignored the event? Or, having covered it, decided not to telecast it? But which editor would have refuse cover such a sensational event? And even if a few news organisations decided that the event was too offensive to be publicised, wouldn’t the thought that others would be anyway doing so, have put paid to that option?
By some miracle however, had it been possible for all media outlets to have collectively decided not to give the oxygen of publicity to an event so shameful, imagine the result. No one outside the walls of one office in Aligarh would have known about the gleeful and vulgar re-enactment of an event that had plunged India into grief, and which is commemorated to this day. Shooting mock bullets into the effigy of the Father of the Nation when the camera angle was just right, and at the exact spot where balloons would squirt out red liquid, would not then have seemed so grand to the handful of young Hindus who participated in this horrid event.
But past experience shows that the only time the media decides to boycott an event is when their tribe is hurt: either physically or by an insult, or when there’s an attempt to muzzle them. The latest such boycott was by the Kashmiri media of the official Republic Day event in Srinagar, after some of them were barred from entering the venue by security men who cited "adverse reports" about them.
Early this year, the Kerala media boycotted BJP press conferences on 3 January, the day the party had called a hartal on the Sabarimala issue, because journalists covering the hartal were attacked by BJP supporters.
Both these boycotts were legitimate. But are there other events that the media should consider boycotting? Should the media adopt a neutral attitude to all incidents that constitute news? If they do, should there be a code on how incidents aimed at spreading hatred and violence should be covered? By covering such events, is the media doing a public service by exposing the nature of the persons involved, or is it helping the latter by spreading their message to those beyond their reach?
There are no clear answers. Sometimes though, the answers come from the personalities covered.
After the October 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray thanked the media for his unexpected victory in 13 seats. This was a year after his first political act: assaults on unarmed North Indians by his "boys" in Mumbai and Maharashtra, which left two dead. Immediately after those attacks, he had been given more than half a page in a leading Marathi daily to justify the violence.
So the thanks were well-deserved. Indeed, it can be said about this politician whose only ideology is anti-"outsider"’, that though his own MLAs and municipal corporators left him after the electorate rejected him, the one section that continues to stand by Raj Thackeray is the media – both English and Marathi.
A similar fascination was shown by the media towards his uncle, whose ideology was even more divisive. Every utterance of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray got front page coverage in the national press, thereby bringing his thoughts to sections of people who otherwise would not have heard or read them. Perhaps the media’s most debatable coverage of Thackeray was when he called a few Sikh businessmen to a press conference in April 1988, and threatened them with an economic boycott if they didn't try to stop Khalistani violence in Punjab.
What if the media had walked out of that press conference? It would not only have disgraced Mumbai's biggest demagogue, it would have sent a message of solidarity towards a community that was being unfairly humiliated.
Purists may say it is not the media's job to send such messages. But it sends messages all the time in the way it covers news. Even the use of the word "fringe group" for the Hindu Mahasabha by news channels, sent a definite message. As it turned out, Puja Shakun Pandey was not that much on the fringes of the ruling party.
Was it necessary to telecast her re-enactment of Gandhi's assassination all through the day? And, if this news was going to remain in the spotlight all day, why were reactions of ordinary Aligarh residents not sought? Surely that would have shown how isolated these few people were. In fact, one of the members of the group that organised the event admitted to a newspaper the next day that they didn’t have "much public base."
Here it must be pointed out that both anchors and reporters of news channels did express their outrage at what was done, and demand the immediate arrest of those involved. But words are rarely as effective as images. Over the last four years, Nathuram Godse is being celebrated as a hero by more people and far more openly than earlier. The visual of the re-enactment of his deed could only have served as a vindication for these people.
On the other hand, it can also be said that the coarseness of the production, and the raw glorification of the political assassination of an unarmed old man, did succeed in exposing the mentality of the Mahasabha members, as well as of all admirers of Godse.
One thing is sure: the media attention did ensure that the police made some token efforts to arrest five of the 13 people booked for the crime. Having telecast this deed across the country, it’s now up to the media to ensure the perpetrators face justice by staying with the story.
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