Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mumbai attacks: one man's freedom-fighter is another man's terrorist

My dear students,

Just like the proverb, “One man’s food is another man’s poison”, so also we may argue that one man’s freedom-fighter is another man’s terrorist or militant. I deliberately chose a provocative headline to focus on the place of perception and “ways of seeing” in journalism.

Ever since my school-mate Dr Vivek Pinto got to my blog, he has been deluging me with links, which he is sure (and I agree), will be useful for my students and anyone interested in the topics I take up “Against the Tide”.

Among his many links, one such gem is a thoughtful piece entitled, “Separating the Terror and the Terrorists” by Clark Hoyt, published in the New York Times (NYT) on 13 December 2008. Dr Vivek Pinto sent this topical piece for you, my dear students, because the issues that it instigates are "beyond mere semantics and word-play".

Somewhat like the reader’s editor or ombudsman in ethical Indian newspapers, Mr Hoyt, who became the NYT’s third public editor on May 14, 2007, is “the readers’ representative and responds to complaints and comments from the public and monitors the NYT’s journalistic practices. The public editor works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the NYT.”

The following is my edited version of Mr Hoyt’s biography. “After starting his newspaper career in 1966, Mr. Hoyt began working at the Detroit Free Press in 1968. He became Washington correspondent for The Miami Herald in 1970 and was later news editor of its Washington bureau. He was named managing editor of the Wichita (Kansas) Eagle-Beacon from 1981-85, before returning to Washington where he became bureau chief in 1987.

“He was Knight Ridder's vice president/news from 1993-99. And from 1999 until the sale of Knight Ridder, he was Washington editor, where the bureau received much praise in recent years for its aggressive reporting. Its journalists have won the George Polk, Overseas Press Club and Headliners awards, among many others.

“In 1973 Mr. Hoyt shared the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting with Robert S. Boyd for their coverage of Democratic vice presidential nominee Thomas Eagleton's history of treatment for severe depression. Mr Hoyt is a director of the foundation of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and a former chairman of the National Press Foundation. He is a graduate of Columbia College.”


Though Dr Vivek Pinto sent me Mr Hoyt’s piece at once on 14 December, I have waited ten days -- for our emotions to cool down -- before putting it up. Maybe, I should have put it up at once, because some of you may have been grappling with some of the issues Mr Hoyt incites. But I prefer, from personal experience, to take things up in a detached way. One of the stalwarts of the Indian freedom struggle, Gobind Vallabh Pant, a chief minister of U.P., used to day, “Thanda karke khao.”

I have supplied Mr Hoyt’s bio-data, because I want you to take seriously what world-class professionals like him are saying. It will not do for journalists like us in India to be swayed by the local tide, especially the kind of mind-numbing repeats that were unloaded on Indian TV in the name of “breaking news” during the three days of 26-28 November 2008 and, following that relentless hammering, the jingoistic calls to “war” being made in the name of fighting against terror.

I am reminded of the Goebbels-like hysteria unleashed across the USA by Bush, Cheney & Co. after 11 September 2001. Later, the Bush administration manipulated “26/11” to justify the invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq. No wonder, an Iraqi TV journalist has become a hero after flinging his shoes at Mr Bush in Baghdad. You may refer to my 5 November 2008 post, “From Bush to Obama – The Killing will Continue”, for the drift of my arguments.


Dr Vivek Pinto is a research fellow at the International Christian University, Tokyo. After his doctorate in the US, he taught there for some time; before moving to Japan. Earlier, he had worked for a few years at Kishore Bharati, a pioneering NGO in science education at a village in Hoshangabad district, Madhya Pradesh, en route to Jabalpur on the Itarsi line. Kishore Bharati was founded by Anil Sadgopal, a molecular biologist at TIFR, who was disillusioned with the way science was taught in schools and with his own research work.

Wishing you that joy and peace of Christmas, which only sharing with our less-fortunate fellow human beings can bring.

My warmest of regards in these cold nights,
- Joe.
Pune, 24 December 2008.

1 comment:

Joe Pinto said...

My dear students,

Kajal Iyer sent me a comment on facebook. I am copying out the first para and pasting it here as a comment:

"This question (about how to label the perpetrators of 26/11) was raised by quite a few of my friends because the BBC continually referred to them as gunmen ..."

"It's surprising how much of editorial thought goes into calling someone a terrorist or not ... I haven't seen any such thing happening here frankly ..."

"In 24/7 breaking news, there is seldom such thought involved ..."

I hope all of you will come to grips with these issues -- once you have come out of the Christmas merry-making and cleared the hurdles of the New Year Resolution.

Warm regards,
- Joe.