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Indian Media: Irresponsible or Ignorant?

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Can we call the media irresponsible? Well, sometimes. When the media deliberately fails to cover an important issue, expose its disparate facets, throw light on the darker sides or when it blows something out of proportions, we call it irresponsible media act. The Indian media, be it electronic or the print, frequently suffers from this disease. Quite often, especially the electronic media indulges in turning a mole into a hill while ignoring the hill as if it were a mole.

Although there are many biases of the media, the celebrity-bias is perhaps the most pervasive. For the media, only the celebrities matter. In India, when a celebrity sneezes, the whole media weeps in sympathy whereas when ordinary people die - in protests, atrocities, calamities, or even in state inflicted massacres - it's hardly a news.

Although there have been many such cases in the past of the mainstream media's obsession with celebrities while being completely tame about serious issues involving ordinary citizens, I will focus on some ongoing concerns which show the stark contrast in the media's attitude.

Seeing the overwhelming success of the anti-corruption movement led by veteran activist Anna Hazare, which - enjoying intense media publicity - compelled the central government to bow before the civil society, the ultra-famous Baba Ramdev launched the second phase of anti-corruption movement on June 4 pooling over sixty thousand of his supporters in the Ramlila Ground in Delhi.   This move has been upheld by some while severely criticized by others.

Irrespective of the relevance of this agitation, which was redundant at best - as Ramdev's aides admitted that the government had already accepted 99% of their demands and politically motivated at its worst - since Baba has shown inclination to join politics and was trying use the movement as his political platform, the electronic and print media gave it their fullest publicity .

The media did not spare even a moment of the whole protest drama at Ramlila ground, right from its planning through the forceful dispersion by the Delhi police using tear gas, from publicizing. The live broadcasts of the events as they unfolded followed by analyses and commentaries kept media totally engaged for at least a couple of weeks.

But why not the same is true for other protests in the country? Just a day before Ramdev's protest, in Forbesganj, Bihar, an eastern Indian state, on June 3 a group of villagers staged a protest against illegal blocking of a road connecting the village to the outside by Auro Sundaram International - a privately owned company. Their protest however, far from creating a desired impact, had an adverse effect on the villagers. When the Bihar-police was expected to help them fight against the company, the police played party to the land-grabbing company authorities.

The state police not only acted against the public interest, they cold bloodedly fired rounds of bullets on the un-armed villagers and killed five people including one woman and a six-month-old infant and an unborn baby and injured a dozen others . In their killing spree , the police chased the villagers into their homes and fired at them cornered in the houses from point-blank. But the mainstream media was strangely silent on the whole issue.

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None of the leading regional or national daily newspapers reported the incidence. Only a few online news portals like www.TwoCircles.net , www.indianmuslimobserver.com , www.Ummid.com , and YouTube videos conveyed the news to the world. It was only after the sixth day of the incidence, when it became a political issue, the mainstream media took interest.

The police's attitude, behavior and actions toward the mob raises multitude of questions. Was it required of them to fire bullets? What about other options like baton-charge or using tear gas to disperse the mob? Why were the police so furious at the mob as to open fire, stomp on the injured bodies of the victims and chase others up to their houses? Why did the police kill the woman and the children inside the house? Was it an act of sheer arrogance or an intentional massacre?

Due to the involvement of incumbent political leaders on the issue, it is being strongly suspected that the state government allowed the police to act against people's interest and favor the company's land-grabbing and road blocking operation, although the exact nature of the government's complicity is yet to be revealed.

But who is there to raise these questions to the wider world?   The mainstream media hardly gave any time or space to such an outrageous incidence of the police's betrayal against its own people. Where is the media ethics? Doesn't such a heinous act deserve a serious media investigation, a wide publicity, and a sincere condemnation?

The contrast in the media's attitude is evident from the fact that they focused disproportionately on the Baba Ramdev's protest and claimed with full vigor that dispersing the mob of protesters by the Delhi police and causing injury to a few protesters was a severe blow to the democratic values while they almost ignored the killing of five protesters in Forbesganj by the Bihar police including women and children. Where do the zealots of mainstream media stand in regard to the Forbesganj police firing?

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The media's bias turned injuries of Ramlila ground a greater damage than death at Forbesganj! Why so much obsession with the former and seemingly willful ignorance about the latter? Is not it a sheer apathy of the media toward the common people and fondness for the celebrities?

This is not the only case of media's apathy towards common people. Unless you are famous enough, your cause - however noble it maybe - will go unnoticed by the partially blind media. Our not-so-famous iron lady from Manipur, Irom Chanu Sharmila has been fighting for last 10 years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) , a draconian law which bestows unlimited powers to the armed forces.

What is the media's take on this? A decade of Irom's hunger is not enough to awake the mainstream media, which has largely been quiet on the issue. Why is this apathy? Is it because she is not as famous as Baba Ramdev or because the effect of the AFSPA, which has already taken away hundreds of innocent lives, is not dangerous enough?

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Having graduated from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in 2006, Shahidur Rashid Talukdar moved to USA for higher studies. After completing MS (in Mathematics) from Youngstown State University, he joined Texas Tech University as PhD student in (more...)

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