March-April  2002 

Attacks on the Media

"...I would also appeal to the media to do their bit. The media is supposed to give subdued coverage to such volatile situations.... If you show dead bodies and then identify which community the bodies belong to then instead of playing the role of reducing tensions you are actually provoking people."

Arun Jaitley (Telephonic conversation in Is Waqt, March 1, 02.)

(Note: This appeal from a central government minister is ironic, given the fact that the dead bodies of murdered kar sevaks were brought to the Civil Hospital, Sola, Ahmedabad on the morning of February 28, by his own partymen in the state, led by CM Narendra Modi — who declared this intention on Akashwani radio — precisely to generate tensions and provoke the people.)

Journalists covering communal riots in the country over past decades have noticed a sea change in conditions of work and the risks they run over the past decade and a half. Prior to 1992, when communal violence did not involve the mobilisation of large mobs/cadres, a reporter doing his/her duty could move around with the expectation of reasonable impunity.

The street vandalism visible in the Ayodhya movement, where bands of unruly cadres ruled the streets, unchecked by the long arm of the law, changed all that. In 1992, as the Babri Masjid was demolished, several reporters, correspondents and mediapersons were brutally attacked. The motive: to destroy their attempt at documenting the whodunnit story.

Gujarat 2002 saw some of these tendencies being directed at the media. CM Narendra Modi himself made repeated and veiled threats about the television coverage by national channels like NDTV (Star News) and Aaj Tak. He even attempted a ban on the channel which did not quite work. The correspondents of the television channels worked against great odds. For over four years now, sections of the Gujarati language press and the English language newspapers have been their profession proud. During the genocide that ripped through Gujarat, one ray of hope was the consistency with which reporters and correspondents have stood by their metier: in the context of the erosion of all other democratic institutions within Gujarat, the part played by large sections of the media shines like a beacon of hope.

On February 28, Bhargava Parikh of ZEE TV along with his cameraman, was attacked because the attackers thought that he was documenting proof of individuals who led the mobs. Dibang from Aaj Tak was attacked near the Kabadi Market on March 2. Rajdeep Sardesai and Star TV were threatened and attacked. ANS staff was attacked. Two correspondents of NDTV, Sanjay Singh and Sanjay Rokhade were held at Bhavnagar for five hours. They were terrorised and traumatised by a band of Bajrang Dalis who kept taunting them, asking, should we kill you, should we not?

On April 3, 02, the Asian Age crime reporter in Ahmedabad, Ms. Sonal Kellogg, along with the reporter of a Surat-based daily, was beaten up by the police in the Mariam Bibi Ni Chawli area in Gomtipur. When she complained to the deputy commissioner of Police [Zone V] RJ Savani, whom she knew quite well, all he said was that "it might have been a mistake." When she protested to the Police Commissioner PC Pandey in his office, he was dismissive, "Don’t bother me…I don’t have time…file a complaint if you want." As the journalist herself puts it, "If policemen can be so brutal towards journalists on duty, their behaviour with ordinary citizens could be so much more atrocious. It is a pity that the police in Gujarat is either a mute spectator or it harasses and tortures innocent people."

Five days later, on April 8, 02, the Ahmedabad police, which had failed to control mob violence over the past 33 days, severely assaulted about two dozen reporters and photographers at the historic Gandhi Ashram. The journalists, who had assembled to cover two peace meetings, including one attended by Medha Patkar, were beaten up ruthlessly. Leading his men was Deputy Commissioner of Police VM Parghi.

Three of the mediapersons, including The Indian Express photographer Harsh Shah, NDTV cameraman Pranav Joshi and E-TV reporter Harshal Pandya were seriously injured. Pranav had to be admitted to the ICU at a private hospital and his condition is now stable. Aaj Tak correspondent Dhimant Purohit, who suffered a fracture in his hand, NDTV reporter Sanjeev Singh, Jansatta photographer Amit Dave, Gujarat Samachar reporter Ketan Trivedi, a photographer of the same newspaper Gautam Mehta and reporter Ashish Amin were amongst the other victims.


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