Terror Trial: Biased media communalizing the society, damaging the nation

By Syed Zubair Ahmad,

‘Pune Jail me ek aatanki dher’ (One terrorist was killed in Pune jail), cried in celebratory mode this headline of a national TV news channel on the afternoon of 8th June. An accused whose charge-sheet was not yet filed by the police even after six months of custody was unanimously declared a terrorist by the national media. Next day the largest selling English newspaper of the nation Times of India describing the murder of Mohammad Qateel Siddiqui wrote: “The 27-year-old “TERRORIST” was believed to be a close associate of Yasin Bhatkal, the main suspect in a string of terror attacks, including the German Bakery blast. Bhatkal is yet to be arrested.”

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After such description of an accused what will be the reaction of readers could be expected. There was a barrage of celebratory comments on the web page of the English daily among more than 280 comments that the news story received. Reacting on this news item one reader said: “Natural justice done. These gangsters are true patriotic Indians who eliminated this terrorist.” Another wrote: “Put all the culprits and terrorists there… issues will be resolved on their own.” Some similar celebratory comments were: “Whoever did it, they have done a very good service to the nation”; “Well done jail mates for killing an Islamic terrorist”; “Good job whoever did it. Thanks to that hero. He should be given Bharat Ratna. Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, Subhash Chander Bose kind of desh bhakts got us freedom”; “Good, this is the answer to Congress govt …..public should on the spot, in the court in jail. jab tak terrorist ke man mein dahshat nahi hoga ye terrerism khatm nahi ho sakta.”

Mecca Masjid blast [Photo Courtesy: AFP]

Undoubtedly these reactions are the outcome of the poisonous reporting and presenting an accused like a real terrorist by the national print and electronic media. The largest selling English daily declared “TERRORIST” a suspect who was only an accused and charges against him were yet to be fixed, whose trial had not started, who was yet to be declared an offender by the court. The Police had caught him on the basis of suspicion, but media declared him a “terrorist” and he was given a capital punishment by criminals in the most protected place.

The delay in filing the charge-sheet of Qateel by police raises some serious doubts that there was no concrete proof against the accused, so he was eliminated. An accused whose house has no proper roof, whose 10 member family was living in one rented room near a gutter in Nabi Karim was declared an Indian Mujahideen operative and killed in high-security Pune jail. Whatever may be the motive behind the murder of Qateel in the high security jail, the partial reporting of terror arrests and malicious description of suspects and accused also played a role in his suspicious murder.

Dr. Junaid Ali Ibrahim, Rayeesuddin and Abdur Raheem are among dozens of Muslim youths who were arrested, tortured and implicated in Mecca blast case but court later acquitted all of them[TCN photo]

In normal cases our national media, print or electronic, never believes in the story of police and intelligence agencies but when it comes to Muslim terror suspects the same media becomes an amplifier of the Police and intelligence agencies and not only believes in their version of stories but put a lot of spice in the story and forward them in the direction fixed by the Police. There is no cross questioning, no anti thesis, no visit to the homes of the suspects to put things objectively, rather Police version of the story is taken as the most authentic source of information and believed with 100% certainty.

In 2007 when Bangalore based Dr Haneef was arrested for questioning in a terror case in Australia the whole Indian media was trying to gather evidences to prove him guilty while the Australian media was criticizing Australian government for the illegal detention of Haneef. When they didn’t find any proof, Australian government officially apologized to Dr. Haneef, gave him a good compensation and even offered citizenship of the country. There was a complete blackout by Indian media of the news about the remedy steps by Australian government.

How media trial of an accused can destroy the life and family of a person can be seen in the story of a young man who was acquitted by court after spending 14 years of his youth in prison. Amir Khan was arrested in 1998 in connection with multiple bomb blasts. Nineteen cases of bomb blasts in three states were lodged against him when he was only 16 years old. On 11th December 2007 when after spending 10 years in jail Amir was to be presented in a Ghaziabad district court from Dasna Jail, the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran came out with an exclusive story categorically declaring Amir a Pakistani terrorist. This was to influence the attitude of the court — the honorable judge refused him bail mentioning that the matter is very sensitive and serious. The cops who were accompanying Amir from the jail were constantly staring at him with disgust and when he got inside the Dasna jail his inmates were asking: “Why didn’t you tell us that you are a Pakistani?” While the matter of fact was that Amir was neither a Pakistani nor a terrorist. He was acquitted in 17 cases for the lack of evidence against him and was released in January 2012. He was bonafide citizen of India and resident of Delhi.

The Hindu English daily and NDTV news channel are considered most respected names in the national media but when it comes to reporting about Muslim terror suspects, their insensitivity is no different from others.

Swami Aseemanand, RSS pracharak who admitted his and the role of Hindutva outfit in the Mecca Masjid, Ajmer, Malegaon and Samjhauta blasts [Photo Courtesy: facenfacts.com]

In 2007, Praveen Swami, then the associate editor of The Hindu, in his several reports and editorials, had consistently declared the arrested Muslim youths of Hyderabad as members of “Harkat ul-Jihadi-e-Islami (HUJI) and responsible for the Mecca Masjid blast 2007. Swami had also overtly hinted that Ajmer and Mecca Masjid blasts were the deeds of “Islamist terror” groups, while investigations have now brought out the fact that they were the handiwork of Hindutva groups like Abhinav Bharat.

Jumping on the conclusion even before probe began, as early as 23 May 2007 (the Mecca Masjid bombing took place on 18 May) Praveen Swami told the nation who the culprits were. In his news analysis titled “Behind the Mecca Masjid bombing” Swami stated with absolute certainty: “What the Mecca Masjid bombings make clear is that the Islamist threat to India’s cities remains in place, notwithstanding the decline in violence since the Mumbai serial bombings…”

In his exclusive report on Ajmer Dargah blast, Praveen Swami wrote: ‘the war of Islamist neoconservatives against the syncretic traditions and beliefs that characterize popular Islam in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh’. He further writes: “South Asian terror groups associated with recent attacks on Muslim shrines — notably the Lashkar-e-Taiba — draw theological inspiration from the Salafi sect, a neoconservative tradition also sometimes referred to as Wahabbism. Salafi theologians are intensely hostile to Sufi orders like that founded by Chishti, characterizing them as apostasy.” (The Hindu, Friday, Oct 12, 2007)

The Hindu editorial of October 15, 2007, titled “Challenge of Islamic terror”, begins with this line: “Investigative leads point to the Harkat ul-Jihadi-e-Islami (HUJI), the Islamist organization behind the Mecca Masjid attack in Hyderabad, as being behind the terrorist strike at the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer…investigators have been able to establish that many of these attacks were carried out by Islamist terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the HUJI…”
In June 2002, when the police raided the house of Delhi-based Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani he was in his house at Malvia Nagar. Outside his home the NDTV reporter Neeta Sharma was telling the world that sensing the raid of police the suspected journalist ran away while the fact was that Iftikhar Gilani was talking with police and at the same time watching Neeta Sharma reporting about his escape. Because of negative reporting in media he was also attacked in Tihar jail. He was declared an ISI agent by police and media alike. After spending two years in jail he was acquitted.

Amir Khan showing court acquittal papers. He spent 14 years in jail in 20 blast cases but acquitted in all of them [TCN Photo]

Before reporting terror incidents media persons should look their own clips of reporting on Malegaon, Hyderabad, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express bomb blasts. They should not become amplifiers of investigative agencies and police department. They should realize that by sensationalizing they communalize the environment. By fixing the direction of investigation towards a certain community they play with the life of an accused and commit the act of injustice as a whole.

No doubt the media is no more a mission now, it has turned into a corporate and business but even business has some ethics. Insensitive journalism and irresponsible reporting not only destroy a family, defame a community but also communalise the society.

Terrorists can’t defeat a united nation at all. Terrorism can’t do as much damage to a country as insensitive and partial journalism can do. Honest journalism can unite and empower a nation while a partial and prejudiced journalism can destroy the basic fabric of the society and even divide a nation on communal lines.

(Syed Zubair Ahmad is a Writer & Journalist. He can be reached at [email protected])