This Article is From Jun 29, 2013

Response to Niti Central article on NDTV's Ishrat Jahan report

Response to Niti Central article on NDTV's Ishrat Jahan report
For the past 48 hours, since our report aired on the CBI's findings in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case (Did Narendra Modi, Amit Shah know of the Ishrat Jahan encounter in advance?), my Twitter timeline has been inundated with messages about how we have 'peddled lies', 'sold out' etc etc. Most of these hate-filled tweets referred us to this piece (CBI forging 'facts' in Ishrat case? on by Kartikeya Tanna on the right-wing site, Niticentral.

Imagine my surprise when I read the piece to find that the only outright discrepancy to which he refers is not part of our report at all!

It refers, perhaps, to a comment I made during a panel discussion on our report, that the High Court has found the Ishrat encounter as fake. I say perhaps because the link provided by Tanna connects to the original piece, not the discussion. I separately heard the discussion at the counter number he provides (5:30) but couldn't find it there.

Leave that aside. I do recall having said something on similar lines during the course of the debate. I was referring to the High Court's order of 2011, where it accepted the SIT's report which found the encounter as fake and asked the CBI to probe the matter. It could be argued that this is standard procedure, and that this does not amount to judicial endorsement.

At the same time, it must be borne in mind that the history of the Ishrat SIT (as with SIT's into other encounter killings in Gujarat) has been marked by intense controversy with the court having to intervene on several occasions on questions of neutrality, on occasion even finding that the SIT was leading the probe in the wrong direction. Keeping that distinct history in mind, the court not just accepted the Ishrat SIT report but overruled the objections of Gujarat's Advocate General to the filing of a fresh FIR. Given this context, whether the court's order goes beyond simply a matter of legal formality is a matter for interpretation.

Even so, if my emphasis overstated the court's view in the heat of a panel discussion, than I am willing to stand corrected on that one limited point. While re-emphasising that this has no bearing on the ostensible purpose of Tanna's piece, to poke holes in our report on the CBI's findings.  

On the actual report itself, the Tanna piece mentions no other 'lies'. Instead, it offers a sermon on how we should have interpreted the information the CBI has gathered. This is subjective commentary and doesn't merit a response other than to say we placed the facts before the viewer, raised in our view the obvious questions, and allowed a debate on its merits. End of story.

Separately, someone forwarded a set of tweets sent out by Tanna, in which he mentions that we had gravely erred by referring to the presence of Bhupinder Singh Chudasama, Education Minister at a meeting ostensibly called to sabotage the SIT report, and which was secretly recorded by GL Singhal, one of the accused police officials in the case.

Tanna rightly points that Chudasama was not an Education minister in 2011, when the meeting took place but wrongly surmises from this that Chudasama could not have attended the meeting at all! (his tweet below).


I wonder how Tanna made this leap of judgement.

When we mentioned Chudasama, we referred to his current designation as Education minister.

According to information with the CBI, Chudasama was very much present at the meeting. His designation at that time I believe was vice chairman of the state planning commission.

If that was confusing to Tanna (or gave him a surge of false hope), I hope this clarifies matters.

To extrapolate from the above that we are guilty of incompetence is to invoke that same charge. (If Tanna has found any other devastating 'lies' in our report of the kind suggested by the troll-attack on my timeline, then they do not feature in his piece. Or his tweets.)

This is not to say journalists are not at fault. Far from it. But this episode is becoming increasingly symptomatic of the dilemma for mainstream media professionals like myself in responding to criticism from the online Right. Typically, as in this case, a commentator from its ranks of relatively moderate hue posts a piece finding fault with reporting critical of their favourite politician (Modi)/political party (BJP). An army of trolls almost on cue then ferociously forwards this piece amplifying its findings to suggest a catastrophic journalistic breach. And makes hysterical demands for a response NOW. The reality inevitably turns out to be, as in this case, quite different.

Yet I chose to respond in good faith, despite a weakly argued piece, entirely out of proportion to the hateful Twitter ambush that has used it to clog my timeline.

Equally, Niti and its ilk must make their stand clear on the abusive nature of their online followers and the extreme manner in which they interpret its reports. Is this the kind of online community they want to foster? In the fish-tank like environment of social media, to argue that a website cannot be responsible for its followers is disingenuous. Especially given the enmeshed nature in which the online Right operates.

It is the only way a civil conversation will be possible. Otherwise, we are very close to breakdown point.