Editor's note: This is the final of a four-part series on the changes in Mangaluru and coastal Karnataka's socio-political mileu over the years. The series traces the region's transformation from a tranquil coastal town to a hotbed of communal tension.
Mangaluru: Media houses in Karnataka's picturesque coastal belt of Dakshina Kannada have a dark underbelly, driven not by profit but by religious and political agenda. With 'news' websites cropping up by the dozen, senior journalists and analysts contend there is a clear line separating these portals, especially in areas like Mangalore and Bhatkal.
On one side of the line are those portraying Muslims in a bad light by upholding the Hindutva flag and on the other are those who claim that they (Muslims) are misunderstood, misrepresented and that the root cause of all the problems is the saffron brigade.
"It is a vicious circle. One media house will give a communal angle to some simple incident like a boy and girl from two different communities sitting together in the bus. This is followed by the other side continuing the communal angle but this time laying blame on the other party. In all of this, those reading the news are influenced," explains BV Seetaram of Chitra Publications, which runs Karavali Ale, a Kannada daily. Over the years, the paper has been threatened and sued for defamation for its articles on various right-wing groups' alleged role in inciting communal violence.
Seetaram says the media being divided is a consequence of the seeds of the communal polarisation that right-wing political parties sowed. "This whole process started 15 years ago ever since the right-wing parties started thinking that communal polarisation helps and relishing the results. With elections nearing, the right-wing groups would start to divide along communal lines and create tensions," he says. "They are a poisonous and cancerous growth."
In 2006, newspaper managements were strictly advised by the district administration not to name the parties involved in clashes, especially those of a communal nature, to diminish the chances of rumours. While most media houses follow the diktat, the situation is fast changing.
Seetaram explains that most political parties have sympathisers in media houses. "If parties like Shri Ram Sene, Bajrang Dal and VHP have their set of news portals with them, the other side, which includes political parties like Popular Front of India and Social Democratic Party of India, have their own supporters. These portals are hellbent on projecting problems of just one community," he says.
He goes on to add that many times, the fringe groups use the common man for their political agenda. "They rake up communal sentiments and these are reported by the media houses that support them. Those who incited violence are projected as victims or the 'good people' and the others as the 'perpetrators'," he says.
Our sources added that the constant threat by the right-wing groups had led to minorities, mainly Muslims, starting their own web-based news publications. Some of these, the source revealed were Bhatkallys, Siasat.com, and Islamicvoice.com. While Bhatkallys has its head office in Bhatkal district, the other two are published from Hyderabad and Bangalore respectively. All three have considerable circulation in Dakshina Kannada, including in Mangaluru region.
When Firstpost reached out to Mohammed Mohsin Shabandri, founder and chairman of Bhatkallys, he says the main aim of starting the portal was to connect the community spread worldwide and to improve the image of Bhatkal (infamous as a terror hub in Karnataka).
While he operates from the Middle East, he explains that in Bhatkal the local media is not biased. He adds that the national media is to blame for creating a rift. "The local media does not indulge in biased reporting but big media houses, for their gain, portray that their exists communal tension in the area," he says. In the next sentence, he says "there is a need to develop news reporting in Bhatkal. It is difficult to find unbiased reporters. But it is the need of the hour."
The division in the media houses and reportage in Mangalore was thrown into a harsh light with three incidents – the attack on youngsters in Amnesia Pub in 2008, the attack on churches in South Karnataka in 2008 and the attack on young boys and girls in a homestay in 2012. All three were allegedly perpetrated by right-wing group SRS, which claimed responsibility for the attack on Amnesia Pub. The then Bajrang Dal chief Mahendra Kumar was arrested for perpetrating and supporting the attack on the churches, and another fringe Hindu rights group, Hindu Jagaran Vedike, was suspected to have masterminded the attack youngsters partying at the homestay.
The common link? Reporters from certain local news channels were present with the perpetrators, filming the incident. This even prompted the Karnataka High Court to issue a notice to channels, alleging that they did not inform the police despite having prior knowledge about an incident that was about to happen.
While activists blame the extremist groups from both sides for orchestrating such attacks, they also lay part of the blame on the media. They allege that the media constantly analyses the attacks, invites politicians over for panel discussions wherein the communal angle is fanned. The activists say that all of this adds undesirable colours to the incidents.
The fear of being attacked for not supporting a certain side is so strong that most reporters Firstpost reached out to refused to comment. Many say the situation is fragile and volatile. When asked which publications indulge in one-sided or unbalanced reporting, sources took names but only in whispers. "There is the Kannada daily Hosa Diganta, which is funded by the RSS," says a source.
This allegation has also been made by investigative magazine Tehelka, wherein it said that Hosa Diganta's then editor Chudamani Aiyyar is an RSS activist and it was awarded the tag of 'State paper' under the tenure of BS Yeddyurappa as Karnataka's chief minister.
Media analyst professor Bidanda Chengappa, Christ University, Bangalore, says, "It is difficult for journalists to be apolitical human beings. They also, like other citizens, have minds of their own that makes them ideologically inclined. However, the challenge for those in the media is to remain as objective as possible and avoid ideologically 'slanted' reportage."
Seetaram states the same but adds that when the higher-ups in a publication have a clear-cut policy about who they support or what the article will reflect, it becomes difficult for a reporter to stick to unbiased reporting. "It is a tough path for reporters. News publication should reflect the needs of the whole society but if the editor insists that a story should be done only from a certain angle, what can the reporter do?" he asks.
M Raghuram is a Mangaluru based freelance writer and Nivedita Niranjankumar is a Bengaluru based writer. Both are members of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: Oct 06, 2017 11:33 AM