‘Media in Karnataka is complicit in moral policing’

Naveen Soorinje, the Kannada news television reporter who spent four months in jail for capturing on camera the moral policing of a homestay in Mangalore by a Hindu fundamentalist group, has given an interview to Geeta Seshu, who hosts the free speech centre at the media blog, The Hoot:

# Media support for the vigilantism was, barring a few exceptions, absolute. The media played a major role in the growth of communal elements in coastal Karnataka. Very clearly, it took the side of the perpetuators and gave all acts of the vigilante groups a religious colour.

“The moral high ground sought to be occupied and evangelistic notions of saviours of virtue and tradition of these vigilante groups was mirrored by media reports of their attacks.

# Headlines in newspapers routinely referred to ‘dharmadetu’ and said those attacked should be happy they were getting ‘free’ education into religious principles and values!

In another instance, when a raid by the local wings of the Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal (Hindu fundamentalist organisations for women and men respectively) took place in a pub where some girls were found smoking, the headline and copy stressed that the smokers were ‘rescued’.

# The media’s role is deeply disturbing and attempts to discuss biased media coverage with colleagues have been completely futile, with sharp divides between journalists who aligned with one religious group or the other. Moreover, with the spread of the Hindutva agenda into villages and rural areas, it became even more difficult.

Muslim or Christian groups did try to counter the rise of Hindu fundamentalism and there were some attempts to bring in their own brand of fundamentalism, but these efforts were negligible and largely ineffectual.

# I wouldn’t go so far as to say the media was using communalism to sell. The media support for communal elements was not linked to TRPs or the selling of dramatic attacks of one community over the other. The media’s ideological support for the perpetuators of such attacks was very strong and most disturbing.

During the Church attacks of 2008, a photographer of a leading newspaper, actually snatched a lathi from a policeman present and began beating up the nuns present…

Arrested in November 2012, Soorinje was charged under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including “rioting with deadly weapons”, “unlawful assembly”, “criminal conspiracy”, “using criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty”, “dacoity” and Section 2 (a) of the Karnataka Prevention of Destruction and Loss of Property Act 1981, and Sections 3 and 4 of The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986.

Read the full article: Media complicit in moral policing

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