journalist must express himself through media, not by shoe
By B.R.P. Bhaskar
Jarnail Singh, correspondent of the Hindi daily Dainik Jagran,
was following the well-established Indian media tradition
of imitation when he hurled a shoe at Home Minister P. Chidambaram
at his press conference in New Delhi.
There was a slight departure from tradition, though. The Indian
media usually imitates the West. Many newspapers are indebted
to the West not only for their journalistic style but also
for their names. Jarmail Singh imitated not a westerner, but
an Arab, Muntazer al-Zaidi of Iraq, who had attracted attention
worldwide by hurling a pair of shoes at President George Bush
at a Baghdad press conference late last year.
Muntazer's was an act of protest against the US atrocities
in Iraq. He became a hero across the Arab world instantly.
He also found admirers in anti-US circles elsewhere.
Jarnail Singh's was an act of protest against the Central
Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) report absolving Congress
leader Jagdish Tytler of complicity in the anti-Sikh riots
of 1984. He became a hero to at least a section of the Sikh
community instantly. Quite possibly he has also found admirers
in anti-Congress circles elsewhere.
Muntazer was tried by an Iraqi court and sentenced to three
years' imprisonment on a charge of assaulting a foreign head
of state. Jarnail Singh was let off by police in less than
two hours as Home Minister P. Chidambaram forgave him immediately
and did not want the police to prosecute him.
When Muntazer and Jarnail Singh hurled shoes they were registering
political protests, not performing any journalistic function.
Like any other human being, the journalist has multiple identities.
When his political or social identity overrides his journalistic
identity, it is a clear sign that he is failing as a media
practitioner. It testifies to his professional weakness. It
is professional grounding that enables the journalist to overcome
the pulls of other identities.
Ideally, a media person must express himself through the media.
At least that is what his professional training must equip
him to do. But, then, the media has limitations. A media person
who becomes conscious of these limitations is entitled to
step out of the professional bounds and use other means to
put across his ideas.
However, so long as he functions within the framework of
journalism, he has an obligation to ensure that his conduct
is consistent with the requirements of the profession. Media
persons must have good working relations with newsmakers.
Shoe-throwing is not conducive to healthy interaction between
newspersons and newsmakers.
Colleagues have described Jarnail Singh as a serious journalist,
not given to maverick conduct. His action cannot be explained
merely in terms of dissatisfaction over the home minister's
answer to his question about the CBI giving Jagdish Tytler
a clean chit. Quite obviously he was giving vent to the sense
of hurt in Sikh minds over the administration's failure to
bring to book those responsible for the killings.
Nearly 3,000 Sikhs are believed to have been done to death
in Delhi as Indira Gandhi's supporters went on a rampage after
her assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. According to eyewitness
accounts, Congress leaders like H.K.L. Bhagat, Tytler and
Sajjan Kumar had instigated the riotous mobs.
Twenty-five years after the reprisal killings, the system
has not been able to render justice to the victims. Since
some Congress leaders of Delhi have been personally implicated,
the party has a special responsibility to assuage the feelings
of the victims. Delhi has just seven seats in the Lok Sabha.
Is the Congress party so short of leaders there that it needs
to nominate Tytler and Sajjan Kumar as candidates?
The CBI's credibility as an investigating agency has been
called into question often. The agency is directly under the
prime minister. Use of the official machinery by those in
authority to serve their political interests is not entirely
unknown. It is necessary for those on the two sides of the
political divide to realise that the credibility of such institutions
needs to be protected. When the CBI named Communist Party
of India -Marxist (CPI-M) politburo member Pinarayi Vijayan,
who is a former electricity minister of Kerala, as an accused
in a corruption case arising from a deal between the State
Electricity Board and the SNC Lavalin company of Canada, the
party charged the central government with implicating him
with a political motive. Yet when the alleged Israeli missile
scandal broke, the CPI-M demanded that the CBI be asked to
look into it.
While the sense of grievance of the Sikhs is genuine, the
current furore over Tytler's role is essentially political.
An eyewitness account may not be sufficient for a judicial
commission to indict a person. The investigating agency will
need evidence that a court will consider credible to launch
The Shiromani Akali Dal, which has rushed in with a reward
of Rs. 2 lakhs to Jarnail Singh for bringing the Sikh grievance
to the fore, was a part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led
National Democratic Alliance, which was in power at the centre
for six years. It must, therefore, bear its share of responsibility
for the denial of justice to the Sikh community.
(08.04.2009-The author is a veteran journalist and commentator.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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