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A thumbs down for Delhi Police, thumbs up for media

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By Sidharth Mishra

The past week has been bad for Delhi Police. No, it has not been because of any particular spurt in crime graph but largely due to the spanking it has received from a trial court to the Supreme Court in their handling of the February 2020 Delhi riots.

Last week a trial court in Delhi came down heavily on the Delhi Police for its probe into a 2020 riots case in North-East Delhi, saying that its failure to conduct a proper investigation will "torment" the sentinels of democracy when history will look back at the worst communal riots in the national capital since partition.

The court said that the case was solved merely by filing the charge sheet without any real effort to trace out the eye witnesses, real accused persons, and technical evidence. Furthermore, the court said that the probe lacked sensitivity and skillfulness.

In another instance, Delhi High Court took the Delhi Police to task saying that placing of video clips of burqa-clad women indulging in violence cannot be the sole basis for prosecuting a woman activist from the riot-hit area. 

In such riot-like situations media also plays a role. With the spread of social media, the role has become more pivotal. However, it’s to the credit of the traditional media that the courts so far have found no instance for castigating newspapers and to that extent established news channels for fueling the communal fire.

As a teacher of journalism and mass communication, I have always insisted that despite the hardships caused by Covid, the print was there to survive. Just that the genre of print has spread its scope from newsprint and ink to also the e-papers and the news portals run by the newspapers.

In a recent hearing on the biased reporting on the Tablighi Jamat at the beginning of the first phase of Covid epidemic, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said that print does responsible reporting, has in-built corrective mechanisms and highlight a great dichotomy vis-à-vis the social media. In another observation in the same case, the chief justice took the ‘fashionable’ social media and YouTube to task saying that the communal overtones of content published by them show India in a poor light, though some of these offenders consider themselves ‘patriotic’. 

There could not have been greater thumps up for the traditional media in this country, largely identified with print, which has so far resisted being labelled media houses committed to a particular ideology. The editorial line of a newspaper may have an ideological bend but newspapers in this country so far are known not to fuel a particular political agenda.

One of the best examples of this has been the news reporting in the national Capital during the trying times of the communal riots in February 2020. The media refused to ply the line which the Delhi Police took, for which its being now taken to cleaners for a shoddy job.

Delhi Police like practice has also been followed by the social media executioners in the Delhi riots cases. They first take a position and then try justifying it by giving evidences which are largely fake. The chief justice’s comment may imply that the social media is a cesspool of fake, hateful or communal content, which publish contaminated information without paying any attention to facts.

This is, however, not to claim that the newspapers have always been perfect but they need to complimented for following a rigorous wok culture of several levels of fact-checking and editorial gatekeeping. 

(First Published in The Morning Standard)


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