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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 13 SEPTEMBER, 2017

Gauri Lankesh Murder: Why Is it So Important For Journalists Not to Legitimise Propaganda as News

SEEMA MUSTAFA


NEW DELHI: The murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh is not simple. It was not a spur of the moment, a sudden kind of killing. It was planned, thought out, and done to send out a clear cut message to all those with the ability to decipher it.

One, that the gun has moved from the rationalists to the journalists.

Two, it has moved from male targets to embrace women as well. In other words no one is out of its sights, and it can be fired at will at man or woman, as dissenting and questioning journalists belong to both genders.

Three, the impunity has extended to open celebration of murder. With tweets by those followed by Prime MInister Narendra Modi setting the tone, with abuse of Lankesh, and a justification for the murder as she was a ‘kutiya’, a Naxal supporter, a BJP baiter. Reason enough by their reckoning to shoot her down.

There is clearly a list of journalists to be taken out. As there was for the rationalists. The message being given through the murder of Gauri Lankesh: Shut up if you value your life. The inability of the compromised Karnataka government and police to track down the killers adds to the environment of threat, and of course impunity that those men who killed her seem to be assured of.

In this environment what can be the response. To shut up or to unite and ensure that the silence is not just broken, but that the noise of protest becomes a cacophony.

And how can this be done? First for journalists and all media houses to recognise the danger and come together to not just protest the murder, but ensure that the killers are caught, that the system is made accountable. It does not help for certain channels---I cannot say whether these are news or not---to question Gauri Lankesh and thereby give her killers a political alibi. Or to use her brother to insist that she did not receive threats, in direct counter to her own statements that she was being threatened and abused.

It is therefore disquieting to find journalists still debating about issues that were actually decided by journalists during the time of Emergency. That had the media not crawled in abject surrender the story of that time would have been very different. And Indira Gandhi would have found it impossible to continue beyond weeks if at all, and probably never been able to return to office again. The dangers of authoritarian rule did not make the media speak out instead, except for valuable exceptions, it legitimised such rule through its servility.

India paid a price, but struggled out of the setback The challenge today is more extreme. And once again, in fact even more so as this is the age of television, the big media is crawling to the point of becoming propagandist in favour of the establishment. More so a couple of channels for whom news is propaganda, to be blasted regardless of facts, and consequences. This plays right into the hands of those looking at assassinations as a tool to move ahead by crippling dissent, and strengthening the atmosphere of impunity.

By giving these channels the halo of news, we as journalists are doing ourselves and India a major disservice. Perhaps that is too mild a term, we are actually opening the doors for sustained violence targeted at individuals and communities of course, but actually at the democracy and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution. There is always a time in history to call a spade a spade, and differentiate between the propagandist and the journalist. It is not a question of opinion and political views, it is the difference heightened by disrespect for facts, by hounding dissenting individuals, by distorting the truth, by using fake videos, by creating divides amongst citizens, by preaching hate and war, by linking nationalism with conformity and trouncing dissent as anti-national etc etc. All of this is visible on several channels every single evening, with some of course crossing all limits as in the Gauri Lankesh case.

Senior journalists---Kuldip Nayar, Nihal Singh, Prem Shankar Jha, Om Thanvi, Mrinal Pande and so many other journalists of integrity and repute---- must sit down to determine what is news and what is not. And to name and shame those who default, or who actually have never even complied with the basic elements to call themselves news channels. And publish the data, the lists, the names so that we can at least get away from the pretence of accepting propagandist channels as news. And not have to waste time on the social media arguing with those who know little about journalism that news is determined by guidelines and we cannot accept channels as news just because they declare themselves such. If I open a vegetable shop and insist I am selling cakes, is anyone going to believe me?

We have been pushed to the edge with Lankesh’s murder. The battlelines seem to have been drawn, not by us but by those who killed her. There is thus, no room for complacency and journalists too have to realise that this profession is not like that of a corporate selling soaps. It is a job that comes with huge responsibility, and accountability and it is not without reason that we are added as the fourth pillar of democracy. So to those who say ‘it is a job’ do realise that it is not, you are responsible as well for the organisation you work for and represent, and will be held accountable by the people, and certainly those who have been at the receiving end of propagandist disinformation.

The gun will fire again unless it is stopped by public protest and public pressure. And as if in realisation of this people from all walks of life have come out on the streets all over the country, the protest is growing as is the anger, and there seems to a decision taken without consultation across India, that silence is not an option. The protests are not going to stop as India is finally shedding her fear.

The last word of course must go to the Opposition parties of India, their silence, their solitude. Instead of being on the streets they have again retreated to their homes after a few tweets and posts. It is a sad day indeed for democratic India when its political leaders mistake the social media as the real world, and instead of hitting the streets against Lankesh’s murder can only be seen at meetings organised by the media, or civil society!

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