The republication of Taslima Nasrin‘s 2007 essay on the burqa in Kannada Prabha, the riots that resulted in the death of two in Shimoga, the reported filing of an FIR against the Kannada daily and the “regret” expressed by the newspaper reopen an evergreen question: is the media within its rights to publish incendiary material knowing fully well its potential to wreak damage, or should it play safe especially when certain communities (read Muslims) are involved?
For the moment, the Bangladeshi author has washed her hands off the Kannada Prabha translation, leaving no doubt that it was unauthorised. Maybe, but so what; copyright is an issue between the author and the paper. The timing of the protests, just when Nasrin has sought a visa from India, and quite coincidentally in the beleaguered chief minister’s home-district, also raise some doubts of hanky-panky. Nevertheless, neither of those issues quell the bigger, fundamental questions.
Is it the media’s role in society to spark debate and discussion, or is it supposed to swim with the tide and coast along and protect public order, even if dictated by dogma and worse? If the Danish (and European) newspapers could en masse decide to publish the supposedly controversial cartoons on the Prophet despite knowing the havoc it could cause, do Indian publications have a special onus on them to not rock the boat? And, the eternal question: if it is OK to publish M.F. Husain‘s paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses, should the media take extra care to not hurt “religious sentiments” only when Muslims are involved?