Mumbai: A joke doing the rounds on Whatsapp goes like this: A US marine is strolling in a zoo and he sees a little girl dangerously close to a lion’s cage. The lion suddenly attacks the girl and drags her into the cage. The brave man jumps in to rescue the girl. A journalist who is a witness to the incident reports the event the next day. The headline says: ‘Marine attacks African immigrant and steals his lunch’. The joke ends with a note, ‘Yeah, it’s a joke but we hate media.’
The Indian media seems to have behaved similarly in two recent cases. First, in the controversy surrounding Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who allegedly delayed an early morning Air India flight to Newark to accommodate his principal secretary Pravin Singh Pardeshi. Second, in pulling up the Maharashtra government for its controversial decision to treat students studying in madrasas (Islamic seminaries) as out-of-school.
In the Fadnavis case, the media demanded his resignation for allegedly throwing a tantrum and delaying a flight so that Pardeshi could get his passport and a valid US visa to fly with him. In doing so, the media relied on an internal email of Air India’s duty manager. However, in the entire email, this duty manager has nowhere mentioned that Fadnavis pressurized Air India employees.
The email only says: “When chief minister was apprised about the situation, he said, he will fly with his entire delegation. However offloading all eight passengers and their baggage in two different containers and preparing new load sheet would have delayed the flight further. And while the offloading process was on Pardeshi’s valid passport reached boarding gate.” Also, the email doesn’t suggest that Fadnavis demanded to be deboarded, as claimed by the media.
The correct questions to ask should have been: If Pardeshi did not have a valid visa, how was a boarding pass issued to him? Why was his luggage put in containers by the Air India staff? Why did custom authorities complete his immigration formalities?
Had Air India staff been alert and told Pardeshi that he was not carrying a valid visa and declined to issue a boarding pass, the decision about Pardeshi potentially catching the next flight available to Newark could have been taken immediately. But perhaps this due diligence didn’t happen at all as VIPs in this country don’t have to go through processes such as check-in and immigration clearance the way any other Indian citizen would do. They have protocol staff at the airport to do these things for them. And, more often than not, airlines staff, especially that of a domestic airline, process their papers without even a second look.
So if we are serious about ending the so-called VIP culture and delay of flights because of them, we should make VIPs, including chief ministers and union ministers, stand in a queue like all Indian citizens and make them complete these formalities in person.
In the madrasas case, there was no move to derecognize them as schools as claimed by the media. The media called the so-called move by the Bharatiya Janata party-Shiv Sena government as communal in nature. Even in the previous Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) government’s 15-year tenure, madrasas were never recognized as formal schools.
On 4 July, the entire state government machinery and volunteers carried out a state-wide census of out-of-school children. The first-of-its-kind exercise was carried out to determine the actual number of children between five and 14 years who have not received any kind of formal education because of a variety of reasons. Since governments have no data on the actual number of out-of-school children and the reasons behind it, often policies directed to put such children in school fail miserably in delivering results.
For children studying in madrasas, the government realised that they had no formal education in languages, social sciences, science and maths and, hence, they decided to treat these children as out of school.
Unless we stop twisting facts to get more readership or to propagate our own political agenda, the media will continue to lose credibility.