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‘The flame that media carried is out’

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS

Bhopal : Media in the present times of conflict and turmoil needs to assume its positive, neutral and impartial role and use its freedom more responsibly, speakers at a workshop here said.

“The flame in the media that used to enlighten us to our responsibilities has been extinguished by economic and other petty business interests,” rued Madhya Pradesh Governor Balram Jakhar at the workshop on Armed Conflict — Emerging Challenges Role and Responsibility of Media, which was organised by the Press Institute of India and the International Committee of the Red Cross Thursday.

In his emotionally charged speech, Jakhar, who has also served as speaker of the Lok Sabha from 1980 to 1989, castigated the Indian media for playing down issues of public interest and not setting a positive agenda.

Jakhar was literally in tears when he rued over the “shift in the media”, which he said “was once capable of stirring the spirit of freedom during India’s fight against British rule”.

“I don’t believe this is the same media, which once drove me to be a freedom fighter. The media then instilled in us the spirit of revolution, made us dream of an India with people of all colours, castes and religions in its bosom. But the dream remained unfulfilled even though we had pinned our hopes on the press.

“Economy drives today’s press, which is full of propaganda and sensations … their target has changed,” Jakhar said.

“They (media) keep repeating and re-repeating the same thing throughout the day and then the advertisements pop up only to let you down furthermore,” the governor added.

“Criticising the government policies is not questionable, but can we go beyond mere criticism and assume our role more responsibly by awakening the people who elect these governments. Tell them the truth devoid of our own interests,” said the 85-year-old Jakhar, who has had a long political career before being nominated governor of Madhya Pradesh in 2004 and was also union minister of agriculture in the Congress-led government 1991-1996.

“Every (media) outlet reports trauma, turmoil and conflict. But see the way it’s reported and glamourised. Pictures that flash on our TV screens are horrible,” remarked Jakhar, the first Asian to be elected as chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentarian Executive Forum in 1984.

With equally harsh words about the “communal forces” in India, Jakhar again placed the blame on the media for the growing religious intolerance, saying: “People needed to be told that these merchants of various religions are dividing them and killing them in the name of faith. But who would do that? Do we have the guts?”

Justice D.M. Adhikari, a former Supreme Court judge who now heads the State Human Rights Commission in Madhya Pradesh, also criticised the role of the media in India, saying journalists needed to be responsible.

He said that while negative elements in the country needed to be pointed out to set things right, “human values should not be swept under the carpet” while reporting riots or terrorism.

He added: “While killings, bloodshed and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir hog our headlines, has anybody given the same extensive coverage to what women, youth and a common man in Kashmir has to voice?”

Adhikari asked the media to move beyond mere reporting, strengthen the democracy and be as responsible as the fourth pillar of the state should be.

“In your studio trials if you held somebody guilty before being proved so why don’t you highlight his or her innocence in the same way later?” asked the former judge, who was chief justice of Gujarat High Court during the riots in 2002.

Arun Chacko, director of the Press Institute of India, also spoke of the role of media in conflict, which he said was to help in mitigating it, not glorifying it.