November 2006 
Year 13    No.120


Prising open spaces

Whether it is the debate and controversy caused by British Labour party veteran and former foreign secretary, Jack Straw’s ill-disposed statement on women wearing the veil or any other issue, alternate international
news and views websites offer the sensitive reader varied and rich perspectives. Unfortunately, as often happens during controversies such as these, the focus of the debate shifts from the issue of the hijab or
and its continued control of or over Muslim women to the context in which a politician like Straw makes such a statement. Fundamental and individual matters of choice get interlinked with wider, visible levels of political influence and dominance. A collection of articles from diverse sources in the current issue of Communalism Combat offers readers a glimpse of these varied and valid perspectives.

The debate on the media and its role at times of major international and national conflicts reached a peak with the US declaration of war on Iraq even as the mainstream US media (especially television) failed to distance itself from the foreign policy chosen by the government of the day. This reality coexisted with hundreds of thousands of people, Americans, Britons and even Australians, protesting the unjust war. Closer home, the Indian media (especially after the advent and influence of television) has come in for some uncomfortable questioning with particular regard to its coverage of issues related to tribal struggles, caste and communal conflicts as also its portrayal of mass democratic protests and movements. This month’s cover story devotes itself to an examination of this theme with reports from various movements and sectors critiquing the media along with responses from senior Indian media practitioners. Ever since its launch in August 1993, a step that had much to do with our disillusionment with the mainstream media of which we were, until then, a part, CC’s involvement with the media has been rich and complex, constantly attempting a dialogue on the ethics of media coverage. It has been our experience that sincere and regular engagement of movements and individuals with the media is called for in this day and age – dominated as it is by the world view put forward by the media – and that such an engagement is not fruitless. It is both necessary and educative and hence we urge our readers to attempt this engagement, sustainedly.

One of the major challenges before the national media has been posed by the Dalits and the minorities; the former on the issue of the ghastly incident of mass mutilation and killing at Kherlanji in Bhandara district near Nagpur in Maharashtra and the latter with regard to the Mumbai and Malegaon blast investigations. Reports of the findings of the Rajinder Sachar Committee, appointed to study the socio-economic conditions of Muslims and offer its recommendations, have revealed that a large number of detainees in Indian jails are Muslims and Maharashtra is a state where they constitute one of the highest if not the highest number. What does this say about our criminal justice system and about the police administration? Unless some of these uncomfortable questions are raised, we are unlikely to find the answers.

The media picks and chooses not only the story that it relays but also the campaigns that it launches. As we go to press, a question that stares the media in the face is whether the Kherlanji massacre can come to symbolise the fight for justice just as the Jessica Lal case and the Priyadarshini Mattoo case have. Similarly, media balance will be tested in its assessment of the police administration’s handling of blast investigations in Mumbai and Malegaon.

In last month’s issue, the violence in Mangalore broke just as we were closing the issue. A fact-finding report on Mangalore will be featured in the next issue of CC but in this issue we carry a report on the media, local and national, turning a blind eye to the questionable conduct of the police in the Mangalore violence of October 2006.





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