How the Indian media went completely bonkers

SUNAAD RAGHURAM writes: All is not too well in the immense country of Australia. Or so it seems.

A country that is known as much for venom spewing, bad mouthing cricketers who always try their best to stamp their supremacy on the cricket field, also has some grossly inefficient investigators and law enforcers. Or so it seems.

L’affaire Haneef has done to media headlines and television sound bytes in our country what even the tectonic shifting of Mount Everest probably cannot do. Or perhaps ten dozen tsunamis pounding the coasts of the world in one go!

One man gets detained in the wake of a terror attack. He cries out that he is innocent and obviously, so do his lawyers. A few weeks later, after the world, and mainly India, has been fed by the media, even the minutest twists and turns to the case, and the complete unabridged utterances of the dramatis personae, he is a free man.

The very basis of the practice of jurisprudence, anywhere in the world for that matter, obviously, unequivocally, states that no innocent man or woman or child should ever be punished. And seemingly, justice for Dr Mohammed Haneef came soon enough; his ‘thumbs up’ sign as he emplaned for Bangalore, saying it all.

Amidst the high drama the Australian authorities opened the curtain to; amidst the Indian media’s 24×7 kind of interest in the case; amidst the ‘vigil’ kept up by a brigade of reporters at the Bangalore residence of Haneef, which enabled us all to read the reports of who went in and who didn’t come out for how long—with the reporters just merely barely falling short of telling us the colour of the milk coupon for the day that was exchanged at the gate; amidst Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s inability to sleep well at night because one Indian was wrongly confined in a foreign prison; amidst the Indian government’s request to Australia to treat Haneef in total fairness; I simply cannot push an extraordinarily overpowering thought that has rendered me sleepless in Mysore for quite a long period indeed.

The thought of the media’s obsession with one case of wrongful detention, which without a shade of doubt shouldn’t have been ignored or condoned, but nevertheless definitely didn’t warrant an almost maniacal, quite ridiculously high powered focus, almost by the minute; so much so, that every single newspaper and television channel, made it look like highlighting the Haneef case was their very reason to exist as organisational entities.

To put it mildly, too is not innocent of the charge.

Who on this great earth should be telling the media that there are more Indians that one cannot perhaps even take count of, in various jails, ranging from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, from Tihar to Bihar to Kolar, just to name a few, who have been incarcerated in the most inhuman and devastatingly shocking conditions without even a remote possibility of a trial?

Who should be informing the media that among these sad, unfortunate set of human beings, a large percentage of them are completely innocent and mostly wrongly framed, either because of their misfortune which gave them a poverty ridden womb to take births in or as it happens so often in India, because of their so-called lower caste?

Who is there to tell the media that even these wretched men and women have families—mothers and brothers and sisters and fathers—who pine for their return and shed silent tears of angst and helplessness and frustration somewhere in the dingy confines of their ill lit huts? In some forsaken part of our country. Abandoned by god and law alike. With no hope of deliverance or release or liberation?

Where are all the members of civil liberties groups, and human rights activists; the kind of men and women who almost lost their voices in their quest to shout for justice for one man, Haneef; who do not deem it their duty to do the same for tens of thousands of others who have met the same fate as the doctor from Bangalore? In the jails of our land as also a few jails outside of our land?

Does the media have a conscience at all or is it just a question of taking back to the office some juicy, sensational paragraphs to write or video grabs to be aired for the world to revel in for the day?

The attention to the Haneef case bordered on a sort of pathological obsession, a kind of uncontrollable desire to beat the same tune from the same drum, while the sepulchral strains of a funereal dirge could be distantly heard from the cells of prisons around the country or elsewhere, where surely lie huddled, more than a bunch of men and women, all as much Indians as Haneef, miserable and lost, and plainly alive in body but shattered in soul. Withered and wasted.

Good night, Mr. Prime Minister.

Cross-posted on churumuri


  1. Aatmasakshi

    Shooting the messenger has become a kind of tribal ritual in the global village after the grand feast, and Mr Raghuram is not alone or the first in raising the question.

    That Mohammed Haneef himself should have in his media conference yesterday asked the hordes assembled in front of his residence to clear out so that he and his family can get on with their lives is testimony that the media sword cuts both ways, and even the beneficiary himself is not benign to its role beyond a point.

    At one moment, it can help to get the doctor released. At another moment, it can be prying into his private life. The rough comes with the smooth, but in blaming the media for going bonkers we fail to appreciate the good work it plays.

    Yes, there are hundreds of Indians languishing in various countries. They have been for years. But the reason Mohammed Haneef captivates our attention through the media’s gaze is because of the special circumstances. The fact that he was an Indian, that he was a doctor and that he was embroiled in a terror attack. None of these contributing factors were manufactured by the media. The eventual miscarriage of justice in Australia, the obscene suspension of his civil liberties and the assassination of his character too weren’t manufactured by the media.

    In exposing the discrepancies in the Australian case—and it wasn’t the Indian media which had the round ones to do so but the Australian, mind you—the media is playing a very vital duty. Probably its most vital duty. Today Haneef is a beneficiary of that watchdog role; tomorrow it could be me or you. In the age of 24×7 coverage, the excesses come with the territory given the cut-throat competition. But we do our own civil liberties and human rights no good by being so dismissive of the media role so repeatedly.

    Yes, other Indians are languishing. But before Haneef happened, why didn’t Mr Raghuram want to raise their issue? That is the force-multiplier role the modern media plays. I will bet my bottom yen that very soon some TV channel or the other will be batting for the other unfortunate. If they don’t we need to remind them. How many of us bother to do that? And how many of us are happy with the piffle we get?

  2. hari

    ” I will bet my bottom yen that very soon some TV channel or the other will be batting for the other unfortunate. ” Lets see!
    Time will tell. What are the special circumstances? Australia or terrorism? I think we will not find it exciting arguing with/about Saudi as much as we find it fighting the Westerners. Well, the latter is racist in our view and the former just an extreme form of ourselves?

  3. […] sans serif on the media frenzy surrounding Haneef’s detention in Australia. Share This […]

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