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Mainstream, Vol LII, No 15, April 5, 2014

Media: News Medium and the Stereotypes

Sunday 6 April 2014

by Anil Chamadia

The Hindu, a leading English daily newspaper, carried a report on December 20, 2013 about the suicide of Dr Khurshid Anwar, an Executive Director of an NGO. He had committed suicide on December 18. In the report its correspondent mentioned that Dr Anwar was buried on December 19. As per the reporter, “Dr Anwar was buried here on Thursday after the post-mortem.”(http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/ngo-director-tried-to-contact-girl-before-suicide/article5482107.ece, NEW DELHI, December 20, 2013) However, this information was wrong and the newspaper accepted its fault and carried a clarification on December 21 that Dr Anwar was not buried but cremated at Nigambodh Ghat.

This news report raises a number of questions, which are related to the bent of mind and preconceived notions of scribes. These notions are embedded in their mind, which they carry since their childhood. The question is: what made the reporter to assume that a person with a Muslim name can only be buried? Actually this fixed notion is not only embedded in the scribes’ mind as information, which they assume to be the absolute truth. As they do not have clear perceptions so whatever information they gather, they do not crosscheck it and apply their biased mind and file a report.

It turns into a dangerous phenomenon when a reporter/correspondent falls prey to obscuran-tism and is biased enough to accept the religious ritual. When the reporter/correspondent accepts this as an irrefutable truth then they are free from being accountable arising out of the conse-quences of its dissemination. It’s not merely a matter of incorrect or correct information pertaining to the burial or cremation of any Muslim. In fact, it draws our attention towards the process of gathering and dissemination of information with a prejudicial mind. Scribes simply relate a Muslim name with Islam. This mentality of being “very obvious” does not differentiate an ordinary man and a reporter/ correspondent. A reporter has the responsibility to inform the people. In the social milieu, an individual is identified by his/her religion or caste first. In the Indian society, religion and caste have a strong bondage with the political, social and economic structure. The reality is that an individual is named by family members carrying the caste and religion which they belong to. Although the individual has the right to adopt or follow any particular religion or can quit his/her religion, which he/she was born into. Dr Khurshid Anwar’s name might show that he is a follower of Islam but it’s not necessary that he must be a believer of Islam and abide by the Islamic tenets. Ultimately, this question is related to a citizen’s right. So, a reporter/correspondent, who is sensitive and conscious enough, should be free from such preconceived notions or prejudices. Citizen’s individual freedom should be uppermost in his/her mind.

There have been many studies in the entire world on the scribes’ prejudicial mindset, working for media houses with reference to religious, sex, caste, language, region and economic biases. The reason behind the constant prejudices or biases in mediapersons about society and its people is solely due to not crosschecking the information which is carried in the name of legacy. An institution or scribe must break this inertia and carry forward to the next generations. This depends on the scribe’s objectives because if the media houses feel that carrying forward the prejudice is in his/her interest, he/she would maintain the status quo. But if the scribes desire to create consciousness in the society, then they would certainly break this prejudice. The reporter/correspondent did not even feel the necessity to know that after his death Dr Khurshid Anwar might or might not have an individual will/desire. Then it should be understood that the scribe is not very conscious about the rights of individuals. This act itself shows the level of consciousness of a reporter/correspondent. Not giving recognition to the individual’s rights means not under-standing the individual’s political rights. Dr Khurshid Anwar was leading an NGO, which spearheaded anti-communalism campaigns and programmes and ideologically he considered himself to be a Leftist.

The reporter/correspondent might claim that Dr Khurshid Anwar’s desire to be cremated and not to be buried according to the tenets of Islam is an exception, so the reporter/correspondent did not feel the need to confirm this information, but in fact this cannot be true for all. Just like Dr Anwar, there may be many other people who wished their last rites to be done differently. Actually this example is not just limited to the study of a Muslim, where the last rites were performed in a different way. Rather, it is an example to understand the deep-rooted prejudice in the scribes and media houses’ mindset. A good example can be cited here of Khushwant Singh, a renowned journalist and writer. He is turbaned and a Sikh but after his death, he has wished to be buried within the minimum space. His wish is to be buried in a vertical posture instead of horizontally and a tree should be planted at his burial ground. Popular theatre personality and activist Safdar Hashmi was also not buried after his death. He desired that his body should be cremated, so it was done like that. I have directly experienced about such a desire wherein an old man was put in a box and immersed in a river and that box was tied to a stone. He was a Hindu and this was his desire for his last rites.

So, if a reporter/correspondent is not up to date or connected with the changes taking place in the society, the scribe’s prejudices will remain intact. A reporter/correspondent should also be connected with his/her history because it will equip them with a vision of understanding the current phenomenon. Prejudices of the news media create obstacle in the development of society if they do not keep pace with the changes taking place around them.