Kindly pardon me for writing to all of you collectively and not individually. Also for approaching you publicly. As a matter of principle, I detest the idea of addressing a person publicly even in matters which may have consequences for people and public life beyond the correspondents. There is, however, a reason to choose this path with this letter.
Let me first explain that I did try to correspond with you privately. Please check your mail boxes to fish out the letter written by me on August 11, 2020. For your convenience I reproduce the text of the letter below:
Apropos of your ‘exposé’ dated 10th August, 2020 (the source of which was left out), I wish to state the following: I have a lifetime of an open position on politics, democracy, dissent and peace. Whatever the source of your news report (and it is part of journalistic ethics to mention the same generally), a one-sided story which makes very serious allegations, adversely affecting my reputation, as also putting my family and me in harm’s way, is not in the best traditions of journalism.
It is disappointing to see that no effort was made to even contact the person against whom such grave charges were being made. You would agree that, when done this way, it becomes a propaganda against the person concerned, involving serious consequences in his life.
It would not be out of place to mention that I have myself put in the public domain that I have interacted with the police after being called for questioning in connection with the investigation into the violence that had hit Delhi in February, 2020. Also that I, as a responsible citizen of this country, would cooperate with the police, as and when required.
You may recall the Delhi high court’s recent directives against publication of the police versions against accused under trial. These would apply with greater force to those who are not even accused.
I would appreciate a response from your side.”
This text was used in my letters to Zee News and Aaj Tak.
Twenty days have passed since I mailed you this letter. Unfortunately, there was no response from you.
You would agree that it was not a trivial matter regarding which I was writing to you. You had, in your understanding, done a great service to the nation by doing an ‘exposé’ to reveal the faces of those who were part of a conspiracy which led to the violence in Delhi. But while doing that you had made serious allegations against a person, who is a citizen of this country with all his rights guaranteed by the Indian constitution. Your report made sensational claims that the person in the story was ‘instructing young persons to mobilise women to take part in rioting’.
It is bad enough for any citizen or person to be so described, but it is worse when the person in question is a teacher. That too a teacher who believes that the role of a teacher is to encourage critical thinking in students and help them think for themselves. The insinuations that your story has made against me are very hurtful and also have very dangerous implications. Your viewers, including students, would be inclined to believe in what you were saying and act upon it with unpredictable consequences.
If you were under the impression that you were making a huge revelation about me in public interest, then was it not important that, precisely for this very reason, the facts of the case required examination with extra care and caution? You can say that your sources were very reliable and you trust them. You thought you had a story. But if my understanding of journalistic ethics is correct, you had a duty to crosscheck the information with the persons named in your story.
I also expected you to know that custodial disclosures are not admissible legally. They can give you some points for further investigation perhaps, but then was it not necessary to check with someone with a legal background as to the merits of the claims being made?
In the absence of this simple background check, that even cub reporters are expected to know, your report got reduced to mere propaganda inspired by some unseen force. Does this do any credit to you and your media house at all?
It is not as if the person you were making allegations against was unknown or inaccessible. Your office, your guest co-ordinators have made contact with me on some occasions to appear on your shows as a discussant. So, you have used my services in the past. It is again another reason that you should have felt obliged to hear my side of the story. Simple rules of civility demanded that you talked to all the persons mentioned in your story.
Your responsibility is enormous, as your reach is wide. Visuals have great pull and tremendous persuasive power. So the moment you air a story, a ‘truth’ is created. It can have dangerous consequences. Should I request you to recall your programmes on Professor Gauhar Raza? You had described him as part of an imaginary “Afzal premi gang”. They were very damaging to his reputation. He complained to the NBSA and it ruled that you should express regret and take down your program. You did not honour the instructions of even this body, which you along with others created to oversee the conduct of the electronic media.
The damage has been done. There must be those in your huge base of viewers who sincerely believe that he was part of a ‘terrorist sympathiser group’ and would think it their nationalistic duty to teach him a lesson. The lesson could be anything, including assault or murder.
I witnessed in horror an attack on Umar Khalid, again arising from the kind of journalism that you practice. A faithful viewer of your programmes took the trouble to travel from Haryana to teach Umar a lesson. It was sheer chance that his pistol jammed and Umar escaped death or serious injury. But Umar and Kanhaiya Kumar now live under permanent threat and have suffered small and big attacks.
Would it be futile to remind you that even after five years, the police has not been able to prove any of the charges against them?
I still believe that you consider yourself a journalistic enterprise. Your job, with the kind of resources you have, is to equip the people with information which they can use to examine the claims made by different kinds of power. The state is one kind of power. Business is another. The ordinary citizen is the most vulnerable in this entire web of power relations.
It is expected that the media in any society would stand with this vulnerable citizen. To recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi, it is our duty to stand by the last person in the queue.
When you aired the aforementioned programme, were any such thoughts on your mind? Or was there something else driving you?
I would request you to kindly review your programme and think for yourself, how does it help us to understand the violence that hit Delhi in February this year? It does not cite any source and makes unsubstantiated claims.
There have been hundreds of reports from the ground by Indian and foreign media. Was there a balanced critical discussion on their observations on your channels?
I feel sad as a teacher to see your medium creating not an informed citizenry but preparing a lynch mob. An audience baying for the blood of those the system would like eliminated. Those who question power and fight for the rights of the people are not being supported. On the contrary, they are portrayed as the enemies of the people and sought be finished.
As I write these lines, I get the news of the Allahabad high court quashing the detention of Dr Kafeel Khan under the National Security Act by the UP government for speaking at an anti-CAA protest at AMU. The court said that he was speaking for national integration, for unity and was not inciting people to do violence as the police wanted the court to believe. How are you going to report this news on your channels?
Closer home, the Delhi high court, granting bail to Devangana Kalita, a member of Pinjra Tod, rejected the claims of the Delhi police. It held that she was well within her rights to protest and that the S.164 statements that the case diary relies on to show any incitement to violence were belatedly obtained. She is one of those you have named among provocateurs who led the violence in Delhi in your report.
Please introspect. Think about what you have done and what you are doing. Think about how would you like to go down in the history of Indian journalism. Will you ever be part of the lineage of Makhanlal Chaturvdedi or Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi? Are you helping create individuals with their own minds, or unthinking mobs? Do you think what you are doing is actually serving the cause of the people of India, the truth or the well-being of our country?
Apoorvanand teaches at Delhi University.