28 December 2013
The Press Club of India today saw a large turnout of journalists, academicians, activists and concerned citizens for an open forum organized to discuss the ethical limits of trial by media and social media.
The forum, organized by the Campaign for Khurshid Anwar, had to be shifted from the conference hall to the Press Club lawns at the last minute due to the sheer size of the turnout.
It may be recalled that Khurshid Anwar, JNU alumnus and director of a New Delhi based NGO, had committed suicide on the morning of the 18th of this month after allegations of rape were leveled against him by another activist.
This was immediately following a broadcast on a prominent Hindi TV channel on the night of the 17th, which ran a sensationalist programme linking the complainant’s account with the year old Nirbhaya rape case. Anwar’s NGO had been amongst the spearheads of the anti-rape protests following the Nirbhaya case.
Anwar’s friends and family have filed a counter complaint with the police alleging a frame-up, and further charging those who vilified him on Facebook and television with abetment to suicide.
The gathering was first addressed by Om Thanvi, editor of the respected Hindi daily Jansatta, in which Anwar used to write regularly. He demanded why India TV, which gave full play to one side of the story in an hour long show broadcasted on Prime Time, not give Khurshid Anwar a chance to respond? “With my thirty five years experience, such shoddy journalism just shocks me”, he said.
“In my 22 years as an investigative journalist, this is the first case I’ve seen where the accused was acting in a manner more transparent than the accusers. Anwar kept asking for an FIR to be filed, for a medical test to be done but no process of law was followed”, said Deepak Sharma, a journalist with Aaj Tak.
Anwar’s wife Meenakshi Sundriyal, a professor at JNU, was also present at the gathering. She said that when we stop following due process, those who are the most vulnerable, such as women, suffer the most. “I would not defend my brother or even my son against such heinous charges. But no one gives Madhu Kishwar or assorted Facebook activists the right to take the law into their own hands”, said Ali Javed, Anwar’s elder brother and General Secretary of the Progressive Writers Association.
Annapurna Jha, a journalist with the Pioneer, said that she did not know Anwar personally but looking at the facts, she thinks this was a clear case of trial by media.
Sharpening the attack on those who accord themselves extra constitutional authority on such matters, Kamal Chenoy, former president of the JNU Teachers Association, said that “Be it Madhu Kishwar or Kavita Krishnan, TRP activism has become a major bane today. They should acknowledge their role in this unfortunate turn of events. A man was vilified, hounded and pushed to the brink without any investigation by any responsible authority”.
Former UPSC member Purushottam Agrawal exhorted the media as well as social media to introspect and self-regulate, otherwise liberal opinion will have no leg to stand on in the face of strict censorship by the State.