Mamata Banerjee’s decision to begin her election campaign from Malda is not incidental. North Bengal remains relatively immune to the Trinamool Congress’s dominance and Malda has emerged as the epicentre of all that the opposition believes is wrong with Mamata’s governance, culminating in the riots at Kaliyachak in January.
The opposition, particularly the BJP, has gone on to highlight the alleged failure of the Bengali media to report the communal violence at Malda. A charge, reiterated when rioting took place at Birbhum earlier this month.
Though it is not true that the Bengali media has not reported the two incidents, a senior Kolkata-based editor of Bengal’s leading daily Ananda Bazar Patrika explained that the move was “deliberate” and had at its heart the fear that “giving the incidents too much publicity” would only lead to further violence, spreading an instance of localized communal tension.
But following the riots at Malda, and the criticism that followed from different quarters, of the local media’s attitude towards communal violence — a debate has sparked off within the media fraternity.
But there are some in the police, however, who feel that such an attitude towards the coverage of communal riots has outlived its purpose. Now, a senior police officer who investigated the Birbhum riots explained, riots are sparked off and spread through the social media – Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Newspapers need to play a larger role in ensuring that the “right information” is disemminated and misinformation is weeded out, he added.
The Birbhum riots, for instance, were sparked off by an objectionable Facebook post that a 21-year-old student had posted on his Facebook wall. Within hours, the knowledge of this post had left his entire village fuming. In a couple of days, the entire district was seething and it wasn’t until the violence actually began that the terribly under-staffed police officers at the Illambazar police station realized that there was something wrong.
The police reacted predictably — arresting the boy and promising swift action. “But this is where things went wrong. There wasn’t enough publicity regarding the arrest. So people came from outside, seething in anger,” said the officer. Further violence followed and by the time the administration had disabled wireless communication in the area, one person was dead.
Another senior editor who was worked at two leading Bengali dailies — Bartaman and Pratidin, said that while Bengal had remained immune to communal violence in the past, things were rapidly changing and there was a need to adapt. “Social media and communal politics make a deadly combination. Caution needs to be exercised during the reportage of riots. But to ignore such incidents is perhaps no longer viable.”