Tipu protests: Media get its facts wrong, once again, but not us! Why?


Rifat Jawaid

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On Tuesday, the controversy around Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary celebrations dominated media headlines with the members of some radical Hindu groups staging protests in Karnataka.

The protests soon turned violent and the police had to resort to lathicharge. What may not have merited to be more than just a headline, became the centre of unprecedented coverage particularly for TV channels. That’s because a 60-year-old man was reported have died during the protests.

Social media erupted into a frenzy with some blaming rival groups for having killed the ‘VHP leader’ during the stone pelting incidents.

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Katiyar explained that the man, D.S. Kuttappa, was fleeing from the scene to escape the canes being used by the police to disperse the crowd when he fell off a wall.

“The victim succumbed to injuries he sustained when he fell from a retaining wall after he ran away from a trouble spot where a huge mob was caned to disperse and avoid a clash on the Tipu event,” she said.

But remarkably, the channel’s headline described the death an alleged murder. If ever we needed to see an evidence of just how far the journalism in India had deteriorated, this was the occasion, when the channel failed to simply transcribe on screen what the police officer was stating to its anchor.

This was a job even a translator could do with aplomb, but my colleagues in the newsrooms simply failed on this occasion, once again.

Katiyar’s version was also corroborated by Karnataka DG Police, Om Prakash, who said that the death had taken place not due to stone pelting but after falling from a 15-foot hospital compound wall. He added that the person was rushed to hospital but was declared ‘dead on arrival.’

Channels were not alone in throwing facts out of the window as far as this story was concerned. Even the agency copy published late in the afternoon chose to do away with verifying the facts. One news agency, who we’ve also subscribed to, said, “Kutappa suffered head injuries in stone pelting when a pro-Tipu Sultan group and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists clashed at Thimmaiah circle in Madikeri, officials said.”

Thankfully, it caught my attention just in time for me to be able to correct the error.

Showing disdain to facts and doing away with attribution would be deemed a crime in the world of ethical journalism. Little do we realise that one inadvertent lapse of concentration or in this case plain incompetency often has monumental implications. One irresponsible coverage by us can result in the loss of several innocent lives.

One of my well-wishers on twitter asked how we at jantakareporter.com were once again spot on with our facts despite being severely crippled by paucity of resources while others had eggs on their faces.

My reply to him was that resources weren’t the only prerequisites for credible journalism. Of course, resources are absolutely key, but not the most important requirement. Honesty is what you need the most in the newsgathering exercise. And honesty is what we’ve been left with in the least quantity in our industry.

Not that I’m a psephologist or poll pundit, but the reason why I could accurately foretell the election results for Delhi and Bihar was because I chose to convey what potential electorates in these states told me during my interactions with them. Unlike others, I didn’t have any agenda or have to worry about any commercial imperatives.

I have not learnt to ‘kill’ the story just because it doesn’t suit a particular ideology or an individual. I have also not learnt to black out the coverage of event or story where the individual, likely to be portrayed in good light, is not liked by me.

Where, I’ve learnt my journalism, it didn’t teach me to commit fraud while reporting news. Nobody ever asked me to pass off a product promotion as news item or build an orchestrated hysteria around a commercial product to give it the much-needed legitimacy. It happens on your news channels every day. The problem is;  you are too naive to detect it.

That precisely sums up the reason why I’m struggling to run jantakareporter.com. With absolutely no funds at my disposal now, I ‘m beginning to get worried about the future of this mission that I started with your support six months ago. The corporates are simply not willing to entertain our requests for ads or even CSR collaborations, perhaps because of the ethics we stand for don’t chime with their expectations.

But, even in the midst of this utterly hopeless situation, I’m determined not to surrender my integrity to anyone at any cost. I mean at any cost.

Rifat Jawaid is the editor-in-chief of Jantakareporter.com