Thursday, July 22, 2010

Death of a journalist

The death of freelance journalist Hemchandra Pandey in an alleged fake encounter has triggered outrage among many journalists and human rights activists all over the country, even at the level of UNESCO and International Federation of Journalists. Shamefully, the national dailies he used to write for continue to disown him.
The memory of freelance journalist Hemchandra Pandey, widely perceived to have been killed in a fake encounter by the police in Andhra Pradesh on July 2, is still raw. In that backdrop, Journalists for People organised an open discussion on the 'Role of Journalists in Undeclared Emergency' at Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi on July 20, 2010. Several senior writers and young female and male journalists participated in the 'conversation'.
Consulting Editor of Economic and Political Weekly, Gautam Navalakha, said that the death of Pandey was not an isolated incident. Several youngsters have been killed in Kashmir in just the last two months. "Reporters face lot of pressure since the ruling class tries to suppress or buy off media houses. The editors also tend to kill genuine stories out of fear," he said.  "Reporters must learn to deal with this by not letting their pen become a pawn at the hands of others," he added. "We must take a stand now and speak up because those killed were in favour of peace."
He was also referring to the death of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, top leader of the banned CPI (Maoist), who was part of the peace process between the state and Maoists initiated by Swami Agnivesh, and was killed alongside Pandey, when the latter had reportedly gone to interview him. There is widespread opinion that he let his guard down due to the invitation for peace talks and hence was caught and killed - that it was a fake encounter.
"This is indeed a state of undeclared emergency, where levels of democracy has stooped so low that anyone can get arrested for raising their voice," said Suresh Nautiyal of the Uttarakhand Journalists Forum. "Why Hemchandra, anyone of us can be shot dead. It is conformism which is ruling the roost. In this generation, most journalists try to avoid leg-work themselves and willingly settle for low-standard, convenient reporting while views expressed by correspondents from small-scale publications have lesser reach and are taken lightly. However, they are often the only truth being told."
"In such a scenario, communicating the right information to the larger public is even more important so that correct opinion can be mobilised. Pandey's killing symbolises a much larger struggle," he stressed.
Poet Neelabh agreed that the rich and the powerful do not care about public welfare as they are the ones who also loot the country, snatching natural resources from adivasis and tribals. Yeh goliyan baantne vaali sarkar hai, kheer baantne vaali nahin (This government distributes bullets, not sweet dishes). "Therefore alternative media, as opposed to corporate-driven media, is most crucial at this juncture as one can hope to get the right information only through them," he said.
He said there should no illusion that they are powerful, and most writers chose to keep silent when the idea of dissent was clubbed as a crime in alignment with Maoists. All dissent is being dubbed as Maoist, so why are writers silent on this. "This is like the witch-hunt in the US during the Cold War," he said.
Poonam Pandey from Navbharat Times said that journalists should deal with the duality within themselves first and become true journalists rather than employees, who mechanically follow orders from bosses. She said there is an "undeclared emergency" inside the heart and minds of journalists, and they seem to be unable to break this ossified realm of internal and external censorship in reporting and writing.
Swami Agnivesh, also an advocate of the peace process between the Maoists and the State, said that if one has to speak the truth then one should be ready to pay the price for it. "In a state of undeclared emergency in the country, we cannot afford to be fearful or discouraged. If reporters really want to speak the truth, there are so many new ways in which they can reach out to people, for instance, using modern technology, through websites, use of mobile phones, SMSes etc. Besides, they should be prepared to pay the price for telling the truth and not compromising."
It has been more than two weeks since Pandey was killed, why haven't reporters written about it? Where is investigative journalism? Why didn't journalists go to the spot at Adilabad and investigate about the killing?" he questioned.
He said that there are too many zigzags, so there is no straight line, and there are too many contradictions within the ruling structure, more than we can imagine. Hence a new strategy should be defined.
 "A story should be objectively reported and should be pluralistic in coverage so that all aspects of truth get fairly represented. But today, reporting is driven by corporate clubs, one-dimensional police versions and jingoistic patriotism that have no notion of ethics, restrain, fairness or sensitivity," said Amit Sengupta, Executive Editor, Hardnews magazine. "Being stupid, inefficient, lazy and mediocre does not make a journalist more patriotic or successful," he said.
"There are so many peaceful, indigenous non-Maoist struggles in our country (Kalinganagar, Niyamgiri etc), there is intense repression out there, so why are we not reporting about these conflict zones," he said. "The Batla House encounter is widely perceived to be a fake encounter, so why did everyone buy the police version only with no other angles explored? Why did we blindly blame the Muslims when the Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad, Ajmer Sharif, Samjhauta Express and Malegaon blasts happened - whereby Hemant Karkare's leads are all now taking the investigations towards Hindutva terror groups with RSS links?"
"Being corrupt as reporters and lobbying for corporates is not my idea of patriotism and nationalism, while posing the right question at the right time probably is," he added.
Senior journalist Anand Swaroop Verma made a plea to join forces and not to succumb to any form of repression or censorship. Academic and journalist Bhupen cajoled everyone to rethink their priorities and push for an alternative mainstream which stands for truth and public interest journalism.
UNESCO and International Federation of Journalists, among several civil society groups have criticized the killing of Pandey and asked for an enquiry. The meeting resolved to hold a commemorative memorial lecture in memory of Pandey every year, and not to let his memory die. His murder is not acceptable and journalists will not be cowed down by the State, it was resolved. Truth must be reported, and not through the prism of fear or compromise. Writers and journalists should have the freedom to think different, to experiment with ideologies, and the right to resist and creative dissent.
It was also decided to pass a resolution strongly criticizing three Hindi dailies which brazenly lied to the media and public that Pandey never wrote for them - though his clippings stand as evidence. Indeed, there was much angst and anger at the Hindi dailies, especially against one particular editor, who promptly held a press conference to disown Pandey. "Shameful," said most speakers at the meet.

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