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EDITORIALS

Carry on, Pranab
Focus on rural India
F
inance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has stuck to what is a good convention that an outgoing government does not make major tax changes or policy announcements ahead of elections. That is why critics expecting big-bang announcements dismissed the interim budget, tabled in the Lok Sabha on Monday, as “a non-event” and “more a political statement” and “a report card” of the UPA government.


EARLIER STORIES

More open to FDI
February 16, 2009
Pitfalls of democracy
February 15, 2009
One step forward
February 14, 2009
Amarinder’s expulsion
February 13, 2009
Violence in the House
February 12, 2009
Deaths in custody
February 11, 2009
BJP in two minds
February 10, 2009
Nuke Khan is set free
February 9, 2009
To handcuff or not
February 8, 2009


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

 

Intolerance unlimited
Moral policing violates people’s rights
I
nvasive and unwarranted moral policing continues unabated and is getting more brazen. If Valentine’s Day was marred by forced marriages, beatings and abuse, recently the moral police extracted a price in terms of a precious human life. In a tragic incident at Mangalore, a young girl allegedly committed suicide, unable to take the harassment meted out to her by vigilantes.
ARTICLE

A Tribune Debate
Looking for ‘neutral umpires’
It shouldn’t be left to govt alone
by K.N. Bhat
T
he Election Commission is very powerful and pivotal in a democracy like ours. That is why the Navin Chawla episode has rightly attracted considerable public attention. Incidentally, the source of the seemingly unlimited powers of the EC is Mr Mohinder Singh Gill, a candidate in the 1977 election to the Lok Sabha from Ferozepore, Punjab.


MIDDLE

For whom the bell tolls ...!
by Rajbir Deswal
P
ress the doorbell if you hear sounds suggesting domestic violence. This message is being conveyed through an advertisement on the TV these days. It may appear to be intrusive, yet it checks the extreme execution of anger. 


OPED

Israel is trapped
The chance of peace is ever more remote 
by Bruce Anderson 
W
hile the West is preoccupied with a crisis, a tragedy is unfolding. The world’s financial system will recover. On the Israel/Palestine peace process, there can be no comparable optimism, for it is not clear whether such a process still exists. No process, no peace; a settlement is further away now than at any time since 1967.

Media has social obligations 
by Navjit Singh Johal
W
hat happened in Mangalore on the evening of January 24 is now known to people all over the country. On that evening girls sitting in a pub were humiliated, thrashed and molested by members of a fundamentalist organisation.

Delhi Durbar
Diplomats’ wives turn to writing 
A
fter senior IFS officers produced some of the best-selling novels, it is now the turn of the better halves of ace Indian diplomats to try their hand at writing.

Going down
Just wait



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Carry on, Pranab
Focus on rural India

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has stuck to what is a good convention that an outgoing government does not make major tax changes or policy announcements ahead of elections. That is why critics expecting big-bang announcements dismissed the interim budget, tabled in the Lok Sabha on Monday, as “a non-event” and “more a political statement” and “a report card” of the UPA government. The interim budget is a stop-gap measure intended to take care of the essential government spending until a new government is voted to power. Despite avoiding giveaways on election eve, Mr Mukherjee was accused of making “the first election speech in Parliament”. India Inc and the stock markets gave a thumbs-down to the budget as the BSE Sensex fell by 329 points.

Given the deepening economic gloom, there were expectations that the government would announce another fiscal stimulus and direct or indirect tax breaks for at least some of the beleaguered sectors of the economy. Had Mr Mukherjee done that, he would have still been hauled up by his detractors for not upholding the parliamentary convention. The Finance Minister, therefore, justified his stance by saying that fresh taxes could not be imposed without the mandate of Parliament and that “I have done whatever could be done in the framework of the vote-on-account”. An economic stimulus is improbable outside the budget and may have to wait until a new government is formed at the Centre. After the disappointment of the tax front, all eyes will now be on the Reserve Bank of India to lower interest rates.

However, the real reason for the government not coming out with much-needed sops for the troubled sectors like exports, manufacturing and housing or tax relief for citizens in general, perhaps, is that it had little fiscal leeway to do so. Because of the economic slowdown the government’s tax collections have declined by Rs 60,000 crore over the budget estimates for 2008-09. The fiscal deficit (the gap between the government income and expenditure) has risen to a massive 6 per cent of the GDP, which is more than double the government’s initial target of 2.5 per cent set in the previous budget. While the revenue has shrunk, the government’s expenditure has ballooned due to two stimulus packages announced in recent months, the waiver of the Rs 65,000 crore farmer debt, the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report and large commitments made to employment, development and social welfare schemes.

To its credit, the UPA government has, in all its budgets since 2004, significantly raised allocations for education, health, irrigation and rural development. Despite resource constraints, the latest budget has continued the UPA’s thrust on infrastructure building through public-private partnership. The government approved 37 infrastructure projects worth Rs 70,000 crore between August 2008 and January 2009. The India Infrastructure Finance Company Limited has been authorised to raise Rs 40,000 crore. Agriculture, which supports a large segment of the population, has also received considerable attention. The plan allocation has been hiked by 300 per cent in four years. Credit for agriculture has been raised three fold to Rs 2.5 lakh crore.

Another area which was expected to be at the center-stage of the UPA fund allocations was defence. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai have changed the security scenario, giving a new dimension to cross-border terrorism, and relations between India and Pakistan have deteriorated. Experts have been emphasising the need for retaliatory action. India’s defence preparedness, therefore, has to be strengthened. In view of this, the government has raised the country’s defence budget by 35 per cent to Rs 1,41,703 crore, which non one would grudge. Besides, the paramilitary forces have also been given a higher allocation of Rs 4,500 crore.

Though the budgetary focus on agriculture and the social sector may not immediately appeal to industry, any attempt to raise rural incomes would ultimately benefit industry also. The vast majority in rural India has no social security, hardly any clean drinking water, health facilties or even roads. Any attempt to address such rural issues is, therefore, welcome. The budgetary allocations to at least four major schemes have been increased. The child development schemes have got an additional allotment of Rs 6,705 crore, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has received Rs 30,100 crore, Bharat Nirman Rs 4,900 crore and the mid-day meal scheme Rs 8,000 crore for the coming year. Industrialists who dismiss the budget as disappointing should take heart from this pro-rural bias of the budget. The UPA has obviously tried to ensure that on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections it does not commit the blunder the NDA committed five years ago by projecting a “Shining India” when benefits of economic reforms had hardly touched a large majority living in rural India.


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Intolerance unlimited
Moral policing violates people’s rights

Invasive and unwarranted moral policing continues unabated and is getting more brazen. If Valentine’s Day was marred by forced marriages, beatings and abuse, recently the moral police extracted a price in terms of a precious human life. In a tragic incident at Mangalore, a young girl allegedly committed suicide, unable to take the harassment meted out to her by vigilantes. That she paid with her life for something as innocuous as being with a Muslim boy reflects upon the growing intolerance and lawlessness of the self-styled custodians of Indian tradition and culture. The fact that Mangalore has become an epicentre of moral policing should come as no surprise. Less than a month ago, Sri Ram Sene activists mercilessly beat up defenceless young girls in a pub. The incident has evoked public outrage across the country. Nevertheless, the hooligans of the so-called moral brigade are spreading the culture of intolerance creating fear among the young boys and girls.

In Haryana, a sub- inspector, representative of the force meant to protect innocent citizens, attacked a young couple. Earlier, a young woman was publicly thrashed by her spouse for “daring” to wear jeans. Political leaders, cutting across lines, have shown a mindset inimical to women’s safety and security. This is not the first time that the culture “cops” have taken the law into their own hands and meted out punishment to whosoever they have deemed fit. Women and artists have always been their favourite targets. It is all thanks to their unlawful ways that India’s most celebrated artist MF Hussain has been forced to live abroad.

The Karnataka government’s decision to keep Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik and others under preventive custody may have saved the day in Karnataka on Valentine’s Day. But the moral police needs to be dealt with a firmer hand and sterner action. The Haryana government must punish the sub-inspector, as also the miscreant who bolted the room from outside and called the policeman. Actually, the state governments cannot allow disruptive elements to go unchecked. No one has the right to infringe upon people’s private space and freedom.

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Thought for the Day

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. — Benjamin Franklin

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A Tribune Debate
Looking for ‘neutral umpires’
It shouldn’t be left to govt alone
by K.N. Bhat

The Election Commission is very powerful and pivotal in a democracy like ours. That is why the Navin Chawla episode has rightly attracted considerable public attention. Incidentally, the source of the seemingly unlimited powers of the EC is Mr Mohinder Singh Gill, a candidate in the 1977 election to the Lok Sabha from Ferozepore, Punjab.

Following an engineered mob attack on the counting station the Election Commission decided to annul the election and to hold a re-poll in the entire constituency even though there was no complaint of irregularity in the polls held. A dejected Mr Gill challenged the legality of the EC’s order. Even there he lost, but the decision of a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court (1978) remains the watershed for the election jurisprudence regarding the powers of the Election Commission.

Justice Krishna Iyer, speaking for the court, observed: “Article 324, in our view, operates in areas left unoccupied by legislation and the words ‘super-intendence, direction and control as well as ‘conduct of all elections’ are the broadest terms. Myriad maybes, too mystic to be precisely presaged, may call for prompt action to reach the goal of free and fair election.” The commission is accordingly empowered to do anything for holding free and fair elections so long as the action is not opposed to any legislation. “The Model Code of Conduct” is a product of this residuary unspelt power. The Commissioners who constitute it are like the umpires or referees in any game. Every decision of theirs — right or wrong — can change the outcome irreversibly.

A classic example of the immense power of the commission was demonstrated in Bihar in the first quarter of 1995. The general election to the State Assembly was due in January that year. T.N. Seshan, who considered himself as the monarch of all that he saw as part of free and fair elections, directed in 1994 that the State of Bihar should provide photo-identity cards for all the voters before the next election. Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav failed to comply. In December, 1994, the Election Commission passed a written order that until photo-identity cards were ready, no elections would be held in Bihar.

On a petition challenging the order, the Supreme Court stayed Seshan’s dictat and directed that the elections be held forthwith without insisting on photo-identity cards. The CEC, smarting under the humiliation of a court order, dragged on the election process from February till the end of March, directing repeated postponement of the polls, re-polls and the like. None of them could be questioned because they were within his powers.

The commission’s powers relating to pre-election, during election and post-election stages are enormous and often unspecified. All of them can directly affect the outcome of the election. Thus, the allotment of symbols to political parties, their recognition or de-recognition for the purpose of symbols and determining the effect of merger or separation of parties are within the jurisdiction of the commission. The preparation of the electoral rolls and their revision are done by the commission. In the name of free and fair elections, the commission had in 2002 postponed the general election in Gujarat indefinitely.

Electronic voting machines are produced under the instructions/supervision of the commission. It has been found technically feasible to programme these machines to record the votes in a particular way no matter which button was pressed. After the elections, the commission can find fault in the return of expenditure by a candidate — the consequences are serious.

One would expect the process of appointments to these all-important offices to be carefully designed to select the right persons — or to eliminate the undesirable ones. Unfortunately, it is not so. The Constitution simply says that “the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners shall, subject to the provisions of any law made in that behalf by Parliament, be made by the President”.

There is a law on the subject defining the conditions of service of the Election Commissioners enacted in 1993. However, it does not prescribe the mode of appointment. The matter, therefore, is entirely left to the President, which in effect means the government at the Centre.

Accordingly, Mr Navin Chawla could come in as an Election Commissioner without any impediment during the UPA regime led by the Congress party. Mr Gopalaswami could come in during the BJP-led NDA regime. The Law Minister, Mr Bharadwaj, is technically correct in asserting that he decides who the next CEC will be — in fact, the bigger danger is that he decides who the next EC will be in place of the retiring Gopalaswami. Thus, during the ensuing general election to the Lok Sabha, Mr Chawla and his newly appointed colleague would be the “umpires”. Recall the good old days when cricketers on an overseas tour dreaded the umpires more than the rival players.

It is interesting to note that in the case of all our constitutional offices, security of tenure is zealously guaranteed; but no check is there at the “entry gate”. Our unsuspecting Constitution-makers believed that for all time to come honest and sincere people would be in power and they would appoint only suitable, good persons to the constitutional offices. Experience should compel to remedy the situation.

The CEC enjoys the same protection as a judge of the Supreme Court does — that is, the maximum protection — and the other Election Commissioners cannot be removed except on a recommendation by the CEC. Dr Ambedkar’s speech in the Constituent Assembly shows that he and other founding fathers were satisfied that the ECs would be adequately protected.

The CEC undoubtedly has a constitutional power to recommend removal, and it is obvious that this power is coupled with a duty to make such recommendation where circumstances justify. Mr Gopalaswami was entirely within his rights to send the letter as he did, recording his observations on his collegue — well in time before he demitted office. The President, i.e. the government, should, unless he has good reasons to reject the charges, accept the recommendations. Reasons for rejection should be recorded and published before someone resorts to the Right to Information (RTI) machinery.

But the question is: how to ensure the appointment of “neutral umpires”? Surely, filling of such sensitive posts should not be left to the pleasure of a government in office at a given point of time. Suggesting any wayout may be an exercise in futility unless the party or persons in power have the needed vision.

Mr Gopalaswami suggested in one of his three letters of January 16 that there should be a collegium for the appointments to the Election Commission. The appointment of members of the National Human Rights Commission, where Mr Gopalaswami had once served, was obviously the model in his view. Until better solutions are devised, the suggestion is worthy of trial.

Fortunately, the Constitution itself provides that the procedure for the appointment to the commission can be prescribed by Parliament by law — there is no need for amending the Constitution — which means that the President can make provisions similar to those in the NHRC Act through an ordinance. Surely, such a collegium would not appoint an EC with a CV that cannot be publicly owned or defended.

Checks on the executive’s power of making appointments to crucial offices are not alien to a democratic government. In the US, for example, Article II of the Constitution required all appointments to be subject to approval by the Senate — now the list stands pruned and restricted to key appointments by a Congressional statute.

There are many important constitutional offices in India to which appointments are to be made by the President “by warrant, under his hand and seal”, e.g. the Comptroller and Auditor-General and judges of the higher judiciary. All such appointments should also be regulated by subjecting them to the approval of a high-powered collegium instead of leaving them entirely to the whims of a set of persons in power.n

The writer is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India. The previous articles on the subject were by B.G. Verghese (Feb 9), Ramaswamy R. Iyer (Feb 11) and N.H. Hingorani (Feb 12).(To be concluded)

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For whom the bell tolls ...!
by Rajbir Deswal

Press the doorbell if you hear sounds suggesting domestic violence. This message is being conveyed through an advertisement on the TV these days. It may appear to be intrusive, yet it checks the extreme execution of anger. Wise people say if you push the ungainly moment into eternity just one time, it may not come back to you with the same tight-fisted intensity.

It so happened during our the initial years in service that in the Officers’ Colony, we had someone ring the doorbells at odd hours. None was found around on enquiry. The mysterious act continued for days altogether, creating a kind of fear among the families during those grim days of terrorism. Across the fences, in the driveways and over the boundary walls, we discussed as to who and to what end would dare to torment the officers and their families for nothing.

One summer evening, I and my wife were sipping coffee after dinner in the dimly lit lawn with Chander Prakash and his wife. We saw our neighbour A.K.Garg’s house carefully bolted on all sides, including the main gate, besides the entry to the flat. The Gargs seemed to have entrenched themselves in a kind of fortification. We could see their pet sitting on his haunches in the balcony. We collectively decided to play a prank to have fun.

Executing the conspiracy, I told my orderly to go home after ringing Mr Garg’s bell, and that of M.K.Mahajan, and two other officers in tow. He grinned demurely, knowing pretty well the consequences. He also knew we would backtrack on his abetting by us. But as the cops would always go for the kill if it amounted to some adventurism, he agreed.

Almost as a “non-state actor”, we saw him vanishing in the dark after pressing the Gargs’ doorbell, to further carry out his assigned task. With controlled whispers and gagged giggles, we began to watch the goings-on in Gargs’ compound.

The windows started to light up one by one. The pet rose to the call of duty perhaps to cover up his not raising hell when a familiar “stranger” had sought a sneak. The door opening into the balcony made a creaking sound while Mr Garg appeared there with genuine apprehension but bold disposition, saying it loudly and forcefully — “Kaun hai! Arre bhai kaun hai?” Like an apparition and in tow, appeared a visibly scared Mrs Garg.

Mr Garg saw us from the balcony and yelled, “Deswal Sahib,aaj hamri ghanti baj gayee!” All the four of us feigned ignorance and assured the couple that we had been sitting right there, and did not notice anyone coming near the house. “Moreover, Brownie, too, was fairly alert”. We tried to be clever by half.

A hypertensive Mrs Garg almost began to faint. My wife realised the gravity of the situation and promptly whispered the conspiracy plan into Mrs Garg’s ears. Thankfully, she instantly smiled, holding her head in both her hands, more to relax herself than to be amused.

While we were there enjoying the aftermath of a successful stunt, we saw M.K. Mahajan arriving on the scene with his wife and three-year-old daughter. His carrying a steel curtain rod, twice his size, though threatened us initially, but all was well soon.

Next day it was our turn to turn down our orderly’s “dossiers” sent to us by the neighbours. Surprisingly, the doorbells stopped ringing in our colony thereafter.

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Israel is trapped
The chance of peace is ever more remote 
by Bruce Anderson 

While the West is preoccupied with a crisis, a tragedy is unfolding. The world’s financial system will recover. On the Israel/Palestine peace process, there can be no comparable optimism, for it is not clear whether such a process still exists. No process, no peace; a settlement is further away now than at any time since 1967. Israel seems bent on a course which will lead to its eventual destruction.

There is a hideous irony. The way that events are unfolding is a posthumous triumph for Adolf Hitler. With the winding-up of the Soviet Union, the last of the poisons created by the Second World War could be eliminated from the European bloodstream. Not the Middle Eastern one.

It is easy to understand why the Israelis reacted as they did. Once you have suffered a Holocaust at the hands of the race which produced Beethoven, Goethe and Mozart, you lose trust in mankind’s benevolence: lose faith in everything except your own soldiers and weaponry.

It is equally easy to understand why the Palestinians reacted as they did. Those who are driven into exile and refugeedom do not feel well-disposed towards their oppressors. The Palestinians felt no linguistic inhibitions, and why should they? They bore no guilt for the Holocaust.

In the grip of – understandable – rage, some Palestinian rhetoric developed Nazi resonances. That was a mistake. It aroused every Israeli trauma. We have been here before, many Israelis concluded. This time, no one is going to herd us to our death like cattle. This time, we will get our retaliation in first.

Because of the circumstances in which their Jewish state was created, most Israelis believe that they have two existential necessities, and entitlements. They want to enjoy security and they insist that their neighbours recognise their rights to do so. That does not seem unreasonable. But it is. It fails the highest test of political rationality. It is not realistic.

This does not mean that Israelis should have to live in bomb shelters under constant risk of attack. But they have chosen to live in a dangerous neighbourhood, so there must be compromises. Instead of the delusion of absolute security by imposing a humiliating peace on crushed opponents, Israel should understand the need for a modus vivendi.

Israelis are proud of their achievements over the past 60 years, and rightly so. But most of them are guilty of a crass failure of moral sensitivity leading to an equally crass strategic misjudgment. They fail to understand that their security will always be under threat from their neighbours’ misery.

Above all, their leaders lack the political wisdom and the moral courage to tell Israelis something which most probably know in their hearts: that to make peace, they will have to take risks.

The first act of the current tragedy began in 1967, after the Six-Day War. Plucky little Israel was master of the battlefield. She had overrun a vast acreage of Arab territory. Almost immediately, even by those who had never been enthusiastic about the State of Israel, distinctions began to be drawn between the pre-’67 boundaries and the 1967 conquests. Israel had a tremendous hand of cards, strategic and moral. There was never a better moment for “in victory, magnanimity”.

Israel should have announced that unlike almost every previous military victor, she did not seek territorial gains; her sole war aims were peace and justice. To secure them, she was prepared to trade her conquests, with the obvious exception of the Holy Places in old Jerusalem.

On such a basis, and with huge international support, a deal would have been possible. But there were problems. At its narrowest point, pre-’67 Israel was only 12 miles wide. A tank thrust from the West Bank could have cut the country in two.

Although the generals cannot be blamed for failing to predict the era of asymmetric warfare in which tank thrusts would only occur in war movies, their insistence on a demilitarised West Bank complicated matters. Then a temptation emerged, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Israel was short of land. Much of the West Bank seemed to be inhabited by raggedy goatherds, primevally picturesque, poor and unproductive. Israeli agriculture would soon have the place flowing with milk and honey, while Israeli architects built new homes for a growing population.

So the settlements began. The temptation to colonise the occupied territories was abetted by theology. Under the Jehovah declaration, somewhat preceding the Balfour one and also somewhat more extensive, historic Israel was said to include the West Bank. Israel ate the apple.

In order for Israel’s pre-’67 Promised Land to be secure, most of the settlements would have to be evacuated, so that a viable Palestinian state could come into existence. It would always have been virtually impossible to generate the political will for this in Israel. Last week’s election results eliminated the “virtually”.

Even if it wished to do so, which seems unlikely, the new Israeli government could make no progress towards a Palestinian state. Because of its rigidly proportional electoral system, Israel will be condemned to weak governments blackmailed by extremist parties. The imperative to reach a just peace with Palestine will have no leverage on Israeli domestic politics.

A prosperous Palestinian state would not guarantee Israel’s safety. Some young men would still be enticed by fanaticism and violence. But the problem would be much more manageable. If most Palestinians had a stake in a decent future, there would be many fewer suicide bombers – and the ‘67 vintage Israeli generals were right on one point. Theirs is a tiny country. The first WMD suicide bomber would do terrible damage.

Over the years, Israel has proved that it can deal with conventional threats. Like the rest of us, it is now working out how to cope with terrorism and asymmetric warfare. Israeli opinion would angrily reject any answers that smacked of appeasement.

But a Palestinian state is justice, not appeasement. There are alternatives. Israel could abandon the pretence of a two-state solution and offer the Palestinians Israeli citizenship: the end of the Jewish state. Or she could try ethnic cleansing: drive the Palestinians into Jordan. That would be the end of the Jewish state as a moral entity.

Assuming the alternatives to be unacceptable, there is only justice, or continued muddle, with a sullen, resentful Palestinian population awaiting inflammation. That, alas, is almost a certainty, and who knows how far the flames will spread?

Israel is a wonderful place, with landscape, culture, increasingly good wine and as much political argument as you can hold. The country emerged out of tragedy. It would be heart-rending if its heroic journey ended in tragedy. Yet that is the likeliest outcome, and it would be Israel’s fault.

— By arrangement with The Independent
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Media has social obligations 

by Navjit Singh Johal

What happened in Mangalore on the evening of January 24 is now known to people all over the country. On that evening girls sitting in a pub were humiliated, thrashed and molested by members of a fundamentalist organisation.

Pub culture is very common in cities like Bangalore and Mangalore where youngsters sit for some time without indulging in any immoral activity.

The event was covered almost live by most of TV channels and it is clear by now that TV journalists reached the pub even before the attackers. Didn’t they realise that they were there to multiply the humiliation of the young girls by repeatedly showing them on the screens?

The marathon coverage given to the Mumbai attacks made me realise that we are living in a dangerous media world. The live coverage also brought forth the pros and cons of breaking news in a highly charged situation.

It also proved that how the ethical standards can be thrown out of the frame of the idiot box. The lines that divide reporting and editing were totally blurred.

While covering acts of terrorists, the media got involved in “visual terrorism” for capturing maximum eyeballs.

As the action unfolded before the TV cameras, it became unclear whom our TV channels were serving — the audience or the terrorists?

For days TV channels forgot that they were not only transmitting signals to the domestic audience but also giving sensitive and valuable information to the cross-border patrons of terrorists who were controlling them through satellite phones.

The media, no doubt, bridge the gap between the event and the people, but in most cases they blow some events out of proportion. It was definitely the duty of the media to keep people abreast with the latest developments during the attack days; they were supposed to do it in a progressively responsible manner.

India has more than 400 private channels, whereas the number of public channels is around 30. Our country, perhaps, has the highest number of news channels in the world, therefore, whatever private news channels show is seen by a very big number of people.

Media thinker Denis McQuail has laid down certain principles for the socially responsible media. After arguing that the media accept and fulfil certain obligations to society, he goes on to say that these obligations are mainly to be met by setting high professional standards of informativeness, truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance.

It has been noticed continuously and consistently that in a mad race to be the first with information, most of the private channels trespass the boundaries of professional and ethical standards.

The transmission of television signals has undergone a sea change in the satellite era. The transnational coverage of events has drastically changed and transformed the scope and style of television news.

In their book “Satellite over South Asia”, David Page and William Crawley rightly say that the satellite communications have brought the monopoly of national broadcasters to an end and this has happened “without negotiation or discussion of international implications.”

I often remember the comments of a Fulbright scholar, Prof Richard Buttney from Syracuse University, New York. He came to Punjabi University, Patiala, as a Fulbright scholar about five years ago. When asked about his views on the status of television journalism in India, he simply said that he had not seen a single TV anchor with grey hair in India. Whereas, in America he didn’t see any anchor without grey hair.

Indian TV journalism is not mature enough and, definitely, it is not competent to handle a crisis situation with care and caution.

A mad race for TRPs has been eroding the ethical backbone of Indian television channels for a long time now. Sir Robin, a veteran BBC broadcaster, once rightly remarked that “television is a tabloid medium, at its best when there is war, violence and disaster.” Somehow, Indian TV journalists found all the three there in Mumbai.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, various channels have come out with a code of conduct to deal with a crisis situation. It is yet to be seen whether divided, competitive and uncontrolled TV channels would again turn the war against terror into a war for tariff. Let us hope that breaking news will not become “barking news.”

The coverage of the Mumbai crisis reminds me of a story narrated by American journalist Krakuer. In his best-selling book “Into Thin Air,” Krakuer says he was a member of a team that conquered Mount Everest on May 10, 1996. He had to write a story for Outside magazine on the commercialisation of Mount Everest. The magazine paid a whopping fee to his guide, Bob Hall.

When the climbers were coming down from the top of Mount Everest, suddenly a snowstorm rolled in. Somehow, he managed to get into his tent before becoming unconscious. When he regained consciousness, he found eight bodies of his co-climbers outside the tent. The whole event was covered live by many satellite TV channels.

In “Into Thin Air”, Krakuer has given a ruthless account of the whole event. He was sure that these eight people lost their lives because of his and other journalists’ presence on the scene. He was convinced that the guides would not have pressed them so hard to go to the top had it not been telecast live. Since the whole world was watching, the guides could not afford not to get their clients to the top of Mount Everest.

Whether eight people die or 180, the presence of TV cameras and the parking to outdoor broadcasting vans play a crucial role in the event. Instead of just reporting the event, TV journalists have developed a tendency to become a part of the event or even an event themselves.

A newspaper reader who watched the telecast of the Mumbai attacks very closely, finally wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper suggesting that some of the TV journalists should be sent to the outer space. Krakuer, perhaps, would not advise them to be sent to Mount Everest. 

The writer is a Reader in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Punjabi University, Patiala.

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Delhi Durbar
Diplomats’ wives turn to writing 

After senior IFS officers produced some of the best-selling novels, it is now the turn of the better halves of ace Indian diplomats to try their hand at writing.

Close on the heels of Nilima Lambah, wife of S.K. Lambah, special envoy to the Prime Minister, launching her work “Recollections of a Diplomat’s Wife”, Poonam Suire has come out with a book “China: A Search for its Soul” (Leaves From A Beijing Diary).

Poonam is the wife of Nalin Surie, Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, who was the Indian Ambassador to China before returning to headquarters.

The book was launched by Vice-President M Hamid Ansari at a well-attended function in the capital last week. The book makes an interesting reading on the Chinese way of life. Consciously steering clear of geo-strategic and political issues, Poonam seeks to draw cultural and historical comparisons between the peoples of India and China.

Going down

The Supreme Court last week expressed its exasperation over the neglect of children by parents and the deteriorating behaviour of lawyers.

A three-judge Bench headed by Justice B.N. Agarwal gave vent to its feelings on the two issues in separate cases. “What kind of an uncle are you,” the Bench asked a petitioner, who said he came to know only after 10 years that his brother’s daughter was an adopted child.

The same Bench, while hearing Capt Amarinder Singh’s expulsion case, praised the senior counsel representing the two sides, observing that only such advocates were preventing the legal profession from slipping into a state of anarchy.

To drive home the point, Justice G.S. Singhvi said some of the students who witnessed the proceedings in the SC as interns asked him: “Why do lawyers quarrel in the apex court instead of stopping at making their points”?

Just wait

A number of Tamil Nadu MPs were kept waiting for their turn to speak up on the issue of Sri Lankan Tamils the other day. One of them was first called and then asked to sit down when he was mid way in his aggressive speech. He was told to hold on and wait for another call. Similar was the fate of another MP, who rose and started speaking in Tamil. Deputy Speaker Charanjit Atwal asked him also to wait.

Just when everyone was wondering what was wrong with these MPs’ speeches, it turned out that the House did not have any interpreter for Tamil when they were speaking. So it was decided that they should be asked to wait lest their observations should go unrecorded. Soon, an interpreter was summoned and within about 20 minutes, the Tamil narrations resumed. 

Contributed by Ashok Tuteja, R. Sedhuraman and Aditi Tandon

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