Wikipedia defines Communalism in South Asia as an attempt to promote religious stereotypes between groups of people, identified as different communities and to stimulate violence between those groups.
India, a country with people belonging to multiple religions, living in various regions of the nation, defines communalism in two categories. Modern India suffers not only from conflicts based on religious communities but also between people belonging from the same religion but from different regions and states. Political parties with manifestos based on religious grounds, plays a vibrant role in invigorating, suppressing and motivating Communalism.
Communal violence has been appearing frequently in the history of India. ‘History repeats itself’, can be used as a phrase for communal violence in India. Whether it has been partition of India, Gujrat riots, 1992-93 riots, Babri Masjid violence, and assassination of Indira Gandhi, ethnic cleansing of north Indians from Maharashtra, issue of Mumbai as capital between Gujrat and Maharashtra, India has seen both types of communal tension for years now.
Media means medium. A medium through which message can be spread across a large number of people. Unlike America, newspapers still occupies a major part of mass media in India. Regional newspapers in India reach to all those people who don’t even watch television. These newspapers have played an important role in achieving independence from British and have highlighted various issues, which were not taken into consideration by the mainstream media. Therefore, it holds a great amount of respect among majority of its region. It has been seen that owners of these newspapers comes from political background, which restricts the ethics of journalism and makes the news biased.
Saamna is a Marathi/ Hindi language newspaper owned by the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Hindu party in Maharashtra, India. The Chief Editor is Bal Thackeray. The Executive editor is Sanjay Raut. Saamna is also considered as Shiv Sena’s mouth piece as it spreads party’s agenda on a larger scale.
Saamna has been a controversial newspaper for its editorials, published during Bombay 1992-93 riots. Due to its ownership, its agenda becomes very problematic because it does not just carry biased reportage against the minority community but also against north Indians who comprises people from both majority and minority communities. Therefore, in a way their agendas keep on changing on the basis of their political stand during a particular situation.
These are some of the editorial headlines published in 1993 against the Muslim Community, which clearly depicts newspapers biases.
“Burning Pyres”, January 11, 1993
“They Were Turned Into Lambs”, editorial, Saamna, January 14, 1993
“Behrampada Reverberates to a Maha Aarti”, report, Saamna, January 21, 1993
“Hindu Pride Must Be Upheld: The Country and Hindu Dharma Must Triumph”, editorial, Saamna, January 23, 1993
“Keep the Nation Alive”, editorial, Saamna, January 9, 1993
Today in 2012, the newspaper seems to follow a particular pattern while addressing any news element related to this community. Recently there was an article in the Saamna Marathi, Mumbai edition about an attack on American consulate in Libya. The headline of the article was, ‘Dharmadh muslimanch hallyatt americi raajdootsah chaar thaar’. First rule while referring to communal conflict based on religion is to not name the communities. Whereas Saamna clearly mentions it. They could have written ‘Libiyans’ instead of ‘Muslims’ or secondly they could have said that ‘attack on American consulate in Libya’.
They refer to Muslims as Pakistanis on various occasions. They make subtle statements in which they directly or indirectly make offensive comments.
They also have very biased/negative reportage against Pakistan. Anyone who does anything related to Pakistan becomes the target of Saamna.
Moving on to the other category of communalism as mentioned earlier, Saamna seems to have problems with people coming from other states in Maharashtra for work, especially with people coming from Bihar and UP. In one of its article, published in Saamna Marathi, Mumbai edition, carried a headline saying, ‘7 Biharina Kurla yethhe shastrasathayasahe atak’. The article focuses on the word Bihari. The piece was trying to indicate that all criminals are from Bihar. The article could have simply stated in the headline that ‘seven people have been arrested with illegal weapons’ and later in the story it could have talked about the place they come from.
On regular basis, one can find instances of these biases in the newspaper. And its connect with the past editorials. Headlines are very offensive.
Is media the fourth pillar of democracy? What is the role of media in democracy?
India has been facing communal violence since ages. Media has set certain principles of reporting communal issues. As per the rule facts should be sacred, reporting should be comment free, have both sides of story, facts should be rechecked and the most important of all is never name the communities involved. One cannot ignore the fact that these are not enough when reporting any sensitive issues but yet useful. Reporters are asked to follow some guidelines, which include looking for background details, not perpetuating stereotypes, to find residents where both the communities live together and most important of all is to find stories where both the communities have been found supporting each other.
After referring to Saamna, one can clearly say that media has not been following these rules. And media does not act as the fourth pillar of democracy. It would be wrong to judge all the newspapers and news channels based on one newspaper but it is unavoidable that media is not successful in adopting these rules and the consequences are the continuous communal violence in the country. Media, which caters to a larger audience should not forget the basic journalistic ethics and should not get blindly influenced by the agendas of political parties. In case of Saamna, it becomes a little problematic; because it is owned and edited by the chief of a political party who has hardcore agendas but media is supposed to be a watchdog in democracy not a pet dog. Media is owned and dominated by its corporate connections but one cannot forget that communal conflict is a matter of concern not only for the government and the people involved but also for the entire nation and the world because its violence destroys everything and it is a matter of national concern in terms of security.