Do reporters really know how to choose their topic and do their homework right these days?

Columnist FAISAL HOSSAIN exhorts columnists and reporters to check their facts before reporting them.

A Jesuit priest from Bombay, Bishop Steins, after a visit to the Vatican in 1861, requested help from a Belgian Missionary organization called “Daughters of the Cross” to help spread the message of The Good Lord (Christianity) in the Subcontinent. A year later, several sisters made a long and arduous journey from Europe to plant the seeds of peace, goodwill and religious tolerance in a town called Karachi. From their selfless work came forth a reputed educational institution called St. Patrick’s Missionary High School (founded by Reverend J. Wiley). This school would teach patience and tolerance to many young budding minds of the subcontinent in the next 100 years of the British Raj.
St. Patrick’s Missionary High School however currently has one great anomaly in its list of distinguished alumni. So anomalous is the alumnus, that his name spurs a sense of distancing by the current administration of the school. Because, at the age of 14, contrary to the teachings of the Jesuit priests, this anomalous alumnus joined an ultra right-wing nationalist youth movement called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is akin to the Anti-Semitic heritage of Adolf Hitler’s Brown Shirt movement during the Second World War. After the RSS was banned by the Indian Government in 1948 for its role in the assassination of one of the greatest men of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, this anomalous alumnus continued fervently with his preaching of fascist beliefs that his teachers of St. Patrick’s Missionary High School could never undo in him. By 1980, his fiery Mien Kempf-like oratory had won the hearts of so many young Indians that he managed to co-found a political party on a purely religious mandate — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP aspires for an Ideal Hindu Rashtra based on total allegiance to the principles of Hindutva similar to that followed by the Taliban of Afghanistan, the Nazis of Third Reich Germany or the Zionists of Israel today. In fact, Golwalkar (Guruji to BJP followers) and Hedgewar, the two founding fathers of RSS, were both so impressed with fascist Mussolini’s and Nazi Hitler’s vision of a one-pure-race-nation, that the RSS was the direct outcome of their trip to Europe in the 1930s. Most of the RSS youth indoctrination of Indian boys aged between 12 and 16, of which this anomalous alumnus was an unfortunate victim, is based today on the propaganda tactics first used by Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.
12 years after its founding, in December 6, 1992, the BJP, the political party set up by the same anomalous alumnus of St. Patrick’s Missionary High School, became responsible for the demolition of a place of worship in Uttar Pradesh (India) called the Babri Masjid. His complicity in the demolition and the subsequent incitement of riots that left thousands dead across India was so obvious that the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had to file an FIR — a First Information Report. After a year long investigation, in October 5, 1993, the FIR clearly alleged that the anomalous alumnus participated “in a conspiracy to demolish the masjid on December 6, 1992 and committed grave offences in pursuance of that conspiracy”. A further 10 years later, in February 2002, when unidentified men set fire to one of the coaches of an Indian Train Sabarmati Express carrying Hindu Pilgrims in Gujarat, the home state of Mahatma Gandhi was aflame with Hindu-Muslim riots. Gujarat is one of the states ruled by the BJP, and the riots left more than 2000 people dead, most of them Muslims. After six months of official investigation by the Central Government of India in New Delhi, as to who really set fire to the train compartment S-6 of Sabarmati Express?, the BBC went on the record to state (on July, 3, 2002), “...Now, conclusions reached by official forensic investigators contradict earlier accounts of the incident. They say the evidence suggests the fire was started inside a carriage, not by a mob outside....
“..The new theory does not answer the key question of who started the fire and why and seems at odds with eyewitness accounts given at the time. Some independent reports into the anti-Muslim riots which followed the train fire have accused the state government of collusion in the violence. An internal British report said the riots, far from being spontaneous, were pre-planned and carried out with the support of the BJP supported chief minister of Gujarat. ...”
Ladies and Gentlemen and my distinguished readers who have persevered this far into my preamble, it is now time to solemnly remind ourselves that this anomalous alumnus of St. Patrick’s Missionary High School, is none other than Mr. Lal Krishna Advani, the current Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of India. As the world’s largest democracy and the land of the Mahatma, India has traditionally prided herself on being a secular state founded on principles of religious freedom for all. But in an ironical twist of fate, the principal accused in the FIR of CBI on the Babri Masjid Demolition ACTUALLY governs that very CBI today! The principal political party accused of complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 is the party (BJP) that not only rules the State Government of Gujarat but also decides the federal policies of the world’s largest democracy as a coalition. In the last 60 years of his political life, Mr. Advani has made spectacular progress with his fascist campaign in creating a religiously intolerant fabric for Gandhi’s India. His ardent followers currently head powerful communal organizations like Vishwa Hindu Parisad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Shena (Soldiers of the Hindu God Shiva similar to Hizbollah — The Party of Allah). These three organizations together with the BJP are so tight-knit and common in their agenda that they are often labelled as the Sangh Parivar (family of organizations) by the Indian Media. According to a recent commentary by a noted Indian Columnist Praful Bodwai (31 Oct, 2002), “an ugly contest has broken out in the Sangh Parivar over who can reach the lowest possible depths of abuse and vulgarity while pursuing the politics of communal hatred.” Mr. Narendra Modi, the BJP supported Chief Minister of Gujarat, has been known to publicly have threatened to “wipe Pakistan off the map of the world” through “Hindu militancy”. This comment however appears insignificant to Mr. Bal Thackeray (of VHP) going public with statements challenging the Prime Minister of India like “Why do you hesitate to declare the country a Hindu rashtra?” The tapes of Mr. Thackeray’s ‘finest speeches” have more statements recorded such as “all Indian Muslims are traitors”, while his deputy, the VHP vice-president, Mr. Giriraj Kishore, had once cited the Hindu shastras as, “the life of a cow is higher than that of men — the five Dalits lynched in Jhajjar (Haryana, India).” In another speech on October 19, 2002, by the VHP general secretary, Praveen Togadia, his mass of zealot supporters listened with awe with statements like, “We are five crore, you (Indian Muslims of Gujarat) are just 50,000. You think Hindus can be suppressed with bomb explosions or violence? We are five crore Hindus. If 50,000 Hindus get killed in a terrorist attack, the five — crore figure will not get smaller. If you people who number 50,000 die, no one will be left”.
What is clearly evident, according to Indian socio-political analysts of today, is that the moral trend of the ruling class, the BJP and its branches founded by Mr. Advani, is now deviating from the 50-year-old teachings of Mahatma that was once the core inspiration for writing the Indian Constitution. Today a large proportion of the Indian population publicly hail Nathuram Godse, the killer of Gandhi as a true Indian Hero. So much has been his (Nathuram Godse’s) alarming popularity, that the Maharashtra and the Kerala State Governments had to ban the play “Me, Nathuram Godse Boltoy” (by Pradeep Dalavi) that glorified comments by Gopal Godse’s to magazines like Time (14 February, 2000) that ‘Gandhi’s Principle of Peace was Bogus’. This downward deconstruction of religious harmony in India takes particular significance with the recent spate of reports on Bangladesh by foreign reporters. First it was Bertil Lintner in April 4, 2002 reporting for the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), that Bangladesh was on the fast track to becoming the next Taliban state. “Beware of Bangladesh: A Cocoon of Terror” read the title of his article brandishing a Osama-like mollah who was ironically protesting against the riots in Gujarat and not for a Taliban state as Mr. Lintner claimed in his article. The report had all the ingredients of an obscure freelance journalist desperately trying to rise up the ladder to a news editorship. After all Islam and Terrorism sell well in the Western Media in the post-September 11 era. However, Mr. Lintner is no obscure and freelance journalist by any means. His resume boasts of an impressive record of books such as Blood Brothers, Burma in Revolt and Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma, many of them having been funded by the prestigious McArthur Foundation. Lintner continued with his wave of attacks on Bangladesh using the same type of ammunition with more reports like “Bangladesh: A Breeding ground of Muslim Terror” (Asia Times, 2nd Sept, 2002) and “Religious Extremism and Nationalism in Bangladesh” (presented at the International Conference on Religion and Security in South Asia in Hawaii, August, 2002). For someone who has been living permanently in Thailand since 1979 with frequent trips to the Indian Subcontinent, it is amazing how a McArthur Foundation Fellow reporter can fail to make any allusion to Mr. Advani, the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal and the Gujarat Riots in his reports on religious fundamentalism and terrorism in South Asia.
After Mr. Lintner, it was the turn for Alex Perry, of the TIME Magazine. He reported the shipment of arms and Al-Qaida terrorists in Deadly Cargo ( 21 October, 2002). According to Mr. Perry’s ‘investigative reporting’, Bangladesh had unofficially become a safe-haven for followers of Osama bin Laden. The report had caused so much discomfort in the White House that has been trying hard to preserve the Muslim coalition against terror, that the US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Mrs. Mary Ann Peters had to write a statement refuting the TIME report. The young Alex Perry has been no stranger to controversy that seems to suit him best to promote his publicity. In June 2002 he portrayed in TIME Asia the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Bajpayee in a very unflattering manner. Mr. Perry’s ‘superb’ journalistic ethics led him to comment, “The frail bachelor seems shaky and lost, less an aging sage than an ordinary old man.” Soon, BJP workers in Mumbai started burning copies of the TIME magazine similar to Satanic Verses, calling it ‘yellow journalism.’
A curious reader wonders —where is all this reporting on Bangladesh as a fundamentalist state actually taking us? What purpose does it serve and to who does it serve best to have the secular reputation of a very poor nation tarnished? Do these ‘ethical’ reporters really care about a poor country with a fledgling democracy struggling to survive, or are they just motivated by the impulse of reporting for the sake of keeping their jobs safe? I never thought for once that I would be in such a unique position to write this commentary for readers who sincerely believe in peace and prosperity of South Asia (includes Mr. Bertil Lintner and Mr. Alex Perry). Fate, I believe, has its own charming ways of making lives more introspective. From 1992 to 1996, I was very fortunate enough to have pursued my engineering bachelor’s degree in India and thus have my eyes literally opened to the truth. Near Kashi, the historically significant town of both Buddhism and Hinduism, where RSS first blossomed, my first Indian year witnessed the Babri Masjid Demolition and its terrifying effects on the minority psyche. In the subsequent 3 years I also witnessed the Bubonic Plague Scare that ironically originated from Gujarat and the upper caste Brahmins self-immolation campaign that was in protest of the lower caste Hindus receiving an Indian Government-sponsored package for emancipation. I also recall having once survived with a near Gandhi like ahimsa the time I was forced by senior students to lay prostate and recite a verse from the Gita on my way to a Physics class. I even wonder why for once, I never lost my cool when the term katlu (i.e. ‘circumcised’) became a favourite slur to call me by for my Indian colleagues regardless of whether it was jovial or a serious innuendo. And finally I remember with fond patriotism that I never hit back once in anger during times I would be childishly accused by many of my well-educated Indian colleagues (as well-educated as Mr. Lintner and Mr. Perry) of being either a Pakistani, or a sympathizer of ISI (The Intelligence Agency of Pakistan), or a Muslim Terrorist or not even being considered a true Bengali because of my apparent Muslim surname. If Bangladesh indeed has become a fundamentalist state according to Mr. Lintner and Mr. Perry, it surely did not become overnight or even over a year after the September 11, 2001. Then why didn’t they write their reports forewarning their readers long before the Sept, 11, given that both of these reporters have been monitoring South Asia for more than a decade? Why didn’t they write the same about BJP’s dreams of a Third Reich India and the violence of the Gujarat Riots? More people have become victims of religious extremism in the last one year in India than the rest of South Asia over a decade. Is there currently any democracy where the ruling government publicly connives in race riots to win political campaigns?
With so many questions left to ponder about, my last question that I leave open to my readers is the following. It is also a question that I seek a direct answer from reporters like Bertil Lintner and Alex Perry:
Have you all highly respectable reporters really forgotten how to choose your topic and do your homework right before writing a report?