A panel discussion on Monday Is religion beyond media scrutiny? threw up interesting opinions on how the media should write on religion.
The seminar was organised by the Foundation of Media Professionals at India International Centre. The speakers included the editor of Suddi Moola Basavaraj Swami; managing director and chairman of Chitra Publications that publishes Karavali Ale,B V Seetaraman; managing editor of The Statesman Ravindra Kumar; The Pioneer editor-in-chief Chandan Mitra,actor Nandita Das,activist,writer and publisher Madhu Kishwar,and Muslim cleric Maulana Wahiduddin Khan,among others.
Swami,booked under Section 295 (A),(Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) for publishing a pictorial representation of Prophet Mohammed,said,It was a story on the kindness of the Prophet meant for children. Had I known it would invite protests,I would have refrained.
Seetaraman,whose evening newspaper Karavali Ale,allegedly got into trouble with the Sangh Parivar after it wrote against communal politics being practised in Mangalore; said: Curbs on the media is a sad thing. We were critical of the government,so it cooked up cases against me. Ravindra Kumar,in the news recently for running a column,Why Should I respect these oppressive religions? by Johann Hari,which originally appeared in the Independent in UK,said,No religion is beyond media scrutiny. He did not anticipate trouble in Kolkata,Kumar said,since there had been no protests in London.
Others at the discussion,including Chandan Mitra,felt because the country is so volatile politically and everything is linked to religion,the media must exercise self-restraint. Should 295 (A) be diluted? My immediate answer would be no, he said. Justice J S Verma said the media and judiciary were powerful institutions and needed to exercise self-restrain. If you are powerful,you should be circumspect, he said.
Wahiduddin Khan,known for his moderate views,said the media can criticise religion only when it has studied it. Simply being a journalist is not enough to scrutinise Islam, he said. The question is whether your scrutiny is valid. Nandita Das said people should discuss and debate religion in public space rather than be scared about it.. When we only invite right-wing voices,it is dangerous. People are being squashed in the middle, she said.