Libya, Lucknow, Gopalgarh: Radio coverage would have clarified more

BY SAEED NAQVI

There is a delusion that the communications explosion has widened our understanding of global and local affairs. Quite the contrary has in fact happened. There is a cluttering of images, cris-crossing and gathering into a undecipherable knot.

I offer three different stories this week for scrutiny. Take the Libyan tragedy, for instance. We all know that US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was attacked and killed in Benghazi along with his three other colleagues. But how did he die? In a car or in the Consulate building? What was hit by rocket launchers, the car or the building? Terrorists with rocket launchers in the middle of a crowd near the Consulate? Where was the multi-layered security? Why in Benghazi on the 11th anniversary of 9/11? Is Tripoli not yet safe enough?

Al Jazeera brings into focus a vault with a full size door. The reporter points to the door, with a key hole. “This is where Chris Stevens was trapped.”  Trapped? Yes, because someone thought this was the place of utmost security against a howling, rampaging mob. Having securely locked Stevens in the vault, the man with the key actually became so disoriented (who knows, he may have been injured) that either he was taken away with the key or the key was lost in the melee.

Just imagine the young American ambassador, locked in a vault of which the key has been misplaced. Did the rocket pierce the wall from the rear? How was he choked by the smoke?

Now, this is Al Jazeera’s version of Benghazi. As the priest asks in Roshomon, “what is the truth?”

There are two other stories I have been monitoring, both important. And in both instances my experience was the same: no information when one would have expected a glut of it.

You will agree that UP is the key state where Rahul Gandhi had staked his all but Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi party came up trumps?

Minorities were a big issue and, confounding everyone, 69 (sixty nine) Muslim candidates actually won the elections. You will agree that in the build up to the 2014 General Election these details will have to be diligently followed.

During June and July, the state went through municipal elections for 630 nagar nigams, nagar palika parishads, and nagar panchayats. Muslim share in the state population is 18.5 percent. If the community won proportionately as many seats, it would be a triumph of minority representation in elected bodies.

Guess what happened? The state election commission does not provide data on the basis of religions but names are an easy guide. It transpires that out of 11,816 seats, Muslims have won 3,681. This is 31.15 per cent of the seats!

Surely this startling piece of news should have been displayed prominently by all the major newspaper. This did not happen. Instead a teacher at Kanpur’s Christ Church College, A.K. Verma compiled the data which, as far as I can make out, only the Indian Express published. I owe every figure in my piece to Verma’s article. Where is the great news and communications explosion?

The third story I was following and on which too I drew a blank from our noisy press, was the anniversary of the Gopalgarh police firing on a congregation in a local mosque in September last year. This was the first ever police firing inside a mosque in India.

A delegation of Meo Muslims met Wajahat Habibullah of the Minorities Commission. He, in turn, navigated them towards Rahul Gnadhi who contacted Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Like Assam’s Tarun Gogoi, Gehlot has clearly acquiesced in the position that Muslims will not vote for him in any case. Who, pray, will they vote for?

While the debate continues, Rajasthan government has blocked the planned demonstration by imposing curfew and paying Rs.3 lakhs to the next of kin of the 10 killed in the mosque attack, a sort of hush money. A leader of the Meos, Zahida Khan was bought over by being given a cabinet rank job in Jaipur. But action against the alleged culprits was not taken. And none of it has been covered by the media even though Gopalgarh is two hours from Delhi.

These three instances expose media inadequacy despite an impression to the contrary.

What is the solution? I have always been a great votary of the Radio which, unlike TV, is not constrained by having to follow visual images. A radio anchor would have linked Benghazi to other parts of Libya, the Tuareg tribe who have crossed over to Chad, Niger, Mali, linking up with Salafists who desecrated Sufi shrines in Timbuktu – this wide canvas in a 20 minutes capsule.  On the other hand, a linkage could have been established by voice interviews, on the consequences of recent Western misadventures. Iraq, Libya, Syria were efficient, secular dictatorships which the West dismantled (it is at it, in Syria) to bring in Islamist anarchy which is roaming free and willing to strike as it did so viciously in Benghazi. I am keeping my fingers crossed on how the nasty film on the Prophet feeds on Anti Americanism which has erupted as Green-on-Blue in Afghanistan. The 3,50,000 Afghan troops trained by the American are emerging in the surprising profile of an enemy. Was it Kipling who said “never the T’wain shall meet”.

All of this stuff would lend itself brilliantly to radio news and analysis from the spot.

I remember my first day with Nelson Mandela in Archbishop Tutu’s Cape Town mansion. Within hours of his release from the nearby Victor Voerster Prison, Mandela was searching for his transistor to listen to BBC’s Africa Calling.

During the Sierra Leone’s Civil War, guns would fall silent for “Africa Calling”. Melville de Mello, Roshan Menon, Surajit Sen, Deoki Nandan Pandey were iconic images in our minds even though we only heard their voices. Yes, those were the days when Radio was king. It can be so with redoubled vigour since TV, and continue large sections of print, let us down repeatedly.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)