Media houses and cultural diversity -Abu Tahir Mustakim
When Lionel Messi was adorned with — bisht— traditional Arab robe by Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, western media houses targeted Muslims and Islam. And thus the international particularly Western media became exposed to the whole world because of their racist attitude shown before, during and after Qatar World Cup. The world saw the grin of the European and American media and the lack of profound knowledge in cultural diversity in their respective houses. It was also unearthed that their newsrooms are white-dominated who lack in knowledge about cultural diversity.
Divide and rule policy has been working in Bangladesh and India. Journalists unions are divided in Bangladesh. It is the collusion of a third party to cause such animosity between journalists. It has made journalism in these countries vulnerable, making the trial of journalist couple Sagar-Runi murder in Dhaka difficult. And through this, cronies and politicians take advantage. Attempts are made to drag the political history into the attempt to divide journalists in Bangladesh along the line of the liberation war. But who are the opponents of the liberation war in India? How do the vested groups there divide the journalist community? Godi media and anti-Godi media — popularly known as embedded journalism which became popular during Iraq war — are two lines in the white collar economy of India. Why are journalists arrested and tortured there? Are those tortured who are anti-Godi media (who are against doing journalism sitting in the lap of Modi?
India’s Dissent magazine has given its answer. It has said:
As the mainstream media has consolidated behind the BJP, independent journalism in India has become a dangerous activity. And no group is more vulnerable than Muslim reporters.
Analyzing the situation, the magazine stated:
In late February 2020, as the novel coronavirus was beginning to spread across the world, Delhi burned. Shouting slogans while wielding guns, swords, iron rods, and stones, mobs of Hindus and Muslims turned parts of northeast Delhi into a warzone. Homes belonging to Muslims were destroyed, and shops and cars scorched. A body was found in a canal with head injuries; another was stabbed several times. Many were shot, and some had their limbs cut. At least fifty-three people, most of them Muslim, were killed.
The riots occurred after months of peaceful protests throughout India against a new citizenship law that was seen as discriminatory against Muslims. Demonstrations in the capital had become especially tense.
On February 23, a day before the riots broke out, a junior leader in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issued a call to violence against protesters, many of whom were Muslim women, in a Delhi locality. In the inflammatory speech, Kapil Mishra, whose followers had come out in large numbers in northeast Delhi, gave an ultimatum to the police: if they did not remove these “traitors” within three days, his people would take matters into their own hands.
What happened next would leave its mark both on the journalists covering the riots and on press freedom in India.
On February 24, Fatima Khan, a reporter with the news website The Print, was reporting with a colleague from one of the areas where fighting had begun. At one point, she found herself suddenly surrounded by a group of women who seemed to be part of a larger crowd of government supporters.
By this point, full-blown rioting had broken out in Maujpur, Jaffrabad, and other working-class parts of northeast Delhi that would only end several days later. The Delhi police, which is controlled by the central government, was later accused of standing by and even helping Hindu mobs. While the rioting was going on, Modi, whose BJP has been in power since 2014, was hosting Donald Trump on his first visit to India as US president.
Though India remains a nominally secular nation, Islamophobic rhetoric and other forms of discrimination are being normalized. Hate crimes against Muslims are rising. Radicalization is visible across institutions like the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the police, and the military, as well as in drawing rooms and on the internet.
No institution better exemplifies the transformation of India under the BJP than the media. Many newspapers, news channels, and online media outlets have become government cheerleaders. The Modi administration relies on them to push an image of power and competence, even as India’s economic performance has suffered under the BJP. Instead of subjecting the governing party to basic journalistic scrutiny, anchors have worked to find fault with the opposition and government critics. Dissenting editors have been fired by proprietors scared of retaliation and falling profits; many have self-censored, while more than a few are ideologically aligned with the BJP.
The mainstream media’s enthusiastic embrace of the BJP has increased the dangers of independent journalism for the few publications still willing to pursue it. Fearful of any efforts that challenge its propaganda, the government has sought to crush critics. Journalists at liberal publications like The Caravan and The Wire have been bombarded with police complaints, lawsuits, relentless online harassment, censorship, and, in one case, mob violence. Reporters have been arrested on dubious grounds.
In this environment, Muslim journalists are particularly vulnerable. Already underrepresented in mainstream media, Muslim journalists make for easy, conspicuous targets—as Khan and others like her realized last February.
A Christian journalist was interviewing some of the men. As soon as they realized the reporter wasn’t Hindu, they became hostile. They told him to leave, warning, “We don’t want anything negative to happen. The police that you see here, won’t do anything to help you.”
Saurabh Shukla and Arvind Gunasekar, reporters with the news channel NDTV, were badly beaten by Hindu rioters. The mob only stopped after realizing they were “our people—Hindus,” as the channel’s then-executive editor Nidhi Razdan said on Twitter.
A reporter for a Hindi news website was beaten up by a Hindu mob and forced to recite the Hanuman Chalisa, a Hindu hymn. He was also asked to drop his pants for proof he wasn’t Muslim (Muslim men are circumcised), according to a report in the Telegraph.
The Delhi riots marked a new low for attacks on journalists, but in the preceding years, government critics in the media and elsewhere already faced intimidation—and worse. Muslim journalists, particularly Kashmiris, who have been persecuted by the Indian state for decades, have complained of an increase in harassment since the military crackdown.
Gauri Lankesh, a magazine proprietor and journalist in Bangalore, was murdered outside her home in 2017. Hers was the fourth murder in four years of intellectuals who were well-known critics of Hindu extremism. An investigation found that a far-right Hindu organization was involved in at least three of the killings.
In 2019, the Indian government revoked the overseas citizenship of New York–based writer Aatish Taseer after he authored a scathing Time cover story on Modi. Overseas citizenship allows permanent residency to people of Indian origin such as Taseer, whose mother is Indian and whose father was Pakistani, as India does not recognize dual citizenship. The government said that it had revoked Taseer’s citizenship because he had attempted to “conceal” his father’s nationality, but the real reason was evident.
In August, over five months after the riots, three journalists for The Caravan were assaulted and threatened with murder in northeast Delhi by a Hindu mob when they were taking photographs of a lane festooned with saffron flags, a symbol of Hindu pride. Two of the journalists are from minority communities—one a Muslim, the other a Sikh. The third, a woman, said she was physically assaulted and sexually harassed by the mob. The Muslim journalist, Shahid Tantray, was attacked with communal slurs, strangled, and forced to delete pictures. Prabhjit Singh, the Sikh journalist, said in a statement to the police that if he weren’t present, the mob would have lynched Tantray. One attacker claimed to be a BJP member.
In another incident, a south Indian Muslim reporter Siddique Kappan was arrested under terrorism charges while he was on his way to cover the gang rape and death of a young lower-caste woman in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The UP government accused him of having associations with the Popular Front of India—a social welfare organization that the government believes propagates a radical Islamic agenda. Kappan was granted a five-day bail to visit his ailing mother but has otherwise been in jail since his arrest.
Five of the seven journalists who are currently jailed in India, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report for 2022, are Muslims, with four of them hailing from Kashmir. In the report titled “Number of jailed journalists spikes to new global record,” the organization said that India faced criticism “over its treatment of the media, in particular its use of the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act, a preventive detention law, to keep Kashmiri journalists Aasif Sultan, Fahad Shah, and Sajad Gul behind bars after they were granted court-ordered bail in separate cases.”
On the other hand, racism remains one of the most pernicious problems of white society. Though often less blatantly and overtly than in the past, it continues to permeate racial and ethnic relations in Europe, North America, and other westernized countries. Resistance and protests against this social, economic, and cultural oppression of minorities have brought about limited civil rights gains during the past two decades, but the fundamental relations of inequality have hardly changed.
This continued existence of the ideological and structural dimensions of racism presupposes complex processes of reproduction. This is particularly true for all forms of elite discourse, including that of the mass media in general, and that of the daily press in particular. Several countries have repeatedly demonstrated that ethnic and racial minority groups always have been, and continue to be, portrayed negatively or stereotypically by the press. Similarly, ethnic minority group leaders and institutions are still considered less credible sources, while minority journalists are seriously discriminated against in hiring, promotion, and story assignments.
At the beginning of this millennium, Western intervention happened in the countries of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. The once-wealthy people of these countries are now emigrating in the quest for peace and security. To prevent them, political movements have spread in the western world. The change of power is also happening around this issue of migration. This situation is reminiscent of the 1980s.
During the first few months of 1985, a large group of Tamil refugees appeared at the borders of several countries in western Europe. The governments of these countries reacted in a remarkably homogeneous way to this arrival of people whom they often subtly defined as `economic’ refugees: they either sent them back or grudgingly admitted them to await decisions by the bureaucracies and the courts about their requests for political asylum. It soon appeared that these decisions were largely unfavorable for most of the newcomers: many were sent back to where they came from, and sometimes risked harassment, if not imprisonment or death upon their return.
Of course, these events also hit the headlines of the media. In the Netherlands alone, hundreds of news reports, background articles, and television footages were dedicated to what one conservative newspaper called the ‘invasion’ of some 3,000 Tamils.
In the spring of 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa against the British writer Salman Rushdie, who according to Khomeini had betrayed Islam in his book The Satanic Verses by his scandalous fictional account of the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In the UK itself, but also in many other countries, this death threat of the Iranian leader, as well as earlier and later protests against the book by fundamentalist Muslims in Bradford and other cities, became one of the most prominent press stories of the year. The western governments and virtually the whole press were shocked and enraged about what they saw as international terrorism and fundamentalist intolerance. The western population at large, this time including most intellectuals, also participated in a contemporary variant of the old schism between Islam and Christianity, in which mutual accusations of intolerance and lack of respect for religious and cultural values were exchanged during a bitter ‘ethnic’ conflict.
But media houses of Muslim world, though they are weak, have more diversity in manning the print and electronic houses. Ending the near-monopoly of US media, Al Jazeera emerged with a culturally and racially diverse team. When Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak toured Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha said, “all this trouble from a matchbox like this”. The channel, born to challenge media hegemony, gave rise to diverse voice influence.
Recently in Bangladesh the Jatiya Press Club (JPC) election was held on the last day of the outgoing year. JPC is the highest place for journalists known as the conscience of the nation. Hence its election results have implications at the national level, giving it great cultural diversity. Despite the candidates competing with mutual respect, a vested group has made this election pro and anti-liberation. A report by the government-run news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sanstha said:
Farida Yasmin of the Dainik Ittefaq and Shyamal Dutta of Dainik Bhorer Kagoj of the pro-liberation journalists’ forum has been elected president and general secretary (GS) of the Jatiya Press Club (JPC) respectively for the next two years, reports BSS. Farida was elected president beating her rival Kamal Uddin Sabuj while Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamal Dutta was elected general secretary defeating Elias Khan. n