Why did I decide to run Muzaffarnagar story with violent videos?


By Rifat Jawaid

Follow the author on twitter @RifatJawaid

Since Jantakareporter.com carried the story on the brutalities of right wing groups against a Muslim youth in Muzaffarnagar, many of you have flooded my twitter timeline questioning my decision to run the videos so violent and gruesome in nature.

I owe it to my well wishers and followers of www.jantakareporter.com website to explain the editorial rationale behind my decision.

I came to know about this story around 1 am on Sunday. The videos were indeed very violent in nature but the story had to be reported. I was, however, not prepared to run this story (with or without the videos) without first speaking to the police. This was necessary primarily to confirm the authenticity of and balance the story.

Given the sensitive nature of this report, I decided to write the copy myself as even an inadvertent oversight had the a massive potential to cause further law and order situation in the area. I waited until morning when I was finally able to speak to Shamli’s SP, Vijay Bhushan. He confirmed that the incident in question had indeed taken place but he was not in a position to comment further. He, however, promised to call me back once his ‘high level meeting’ was over.

The rationale behind using the videos was not to amplify communal tension in the area but to explain the context of the story. Without the supporting videos, it would have been almost impossible to establish the context and the message was in danger of being lost.

These lumpen elements allegedly belonging to a far right religious group didn’t require our support to further inflame tension in an already communally charged area of UP. We already know about the frequency with which communal violence has been occurring in the area of Muzaffarnagar in UP. It’s utterly unfortunate that the UP administration has failed to effectively deal with these thugs.

As it turned out, our decision to embed the videos with our report on Shamli violence had the desired effect. The story shook the collective conscience of right-minded Indian public, who began to fervently share the story while condemning the act of these goons. This also prompted the law enforcing agencies in Shamli to swing into action and register criminal cases against the perpetrators of this inhuman act. I don’t think the story would have had such a massive impact had we omitted the video from this report.

One also mustn’t forget that ours was the only media platform which carried this story while the so-called mainstream media had bigger and more important issues such as Lalitgate, Mann Ki Baat etc to cover. We too covered these stories on Sunday but for us it was it was as well as and not instead of.

It was also painful to hear from a couple of TV editors that they had instructions not to carry the Shamli story as it would have portrayed a particular political party in a poor light.

As somebody who doesn’t miss an opportunity to take a moral high ground on objective and ethical journalism, I do know what’s expected of me. And I’m ever so conscious of my responsibility. I sincerely hope that there’s never an occasion when I am accused of causing willful deception to those who’ve pledged to stand by me in my determination to create an ethical media platform in India.

As journalist, while you have some restrictions on what you can broadcast, we also enjoy some privileges, the most important of them being the public interest. I have no doubt that the Muzaffarnagar story with embedded videos ticked that important box of public interest.

I’ve been humbled by the outpouring of your love and support and it will be utterly stupid for me to lose this invaluable asset because of my carelessness or for any other reasons.

So you know, one of those people who shared our report on Muzaffarnagar was none other than a very learned man called Justice Markandey Katju. I would like to believe that both as an eminent judge from the past and somebody who headed the Press Council of India, he was best suited to conclude if we breached any editorial ethics by carrying the videos. Clearly, he didn’t think we did. And, with this I rest my case.

P.S. One of those ‘culprits’ responsible for causing our website to crash on Sunday evening was Justice Katju as I’m being reliably informed. The web traffic went through the roof after he posted the link to our story on his Facebook page. But, we are not complaining.

Rifat Jawaid is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Janta Ka Reporter