News narratives are complex, especially during times of crises. Journalism professional values often call for striking a balance between the various demands of the sociology of journalism with a focus on balance and fairness. This is not a simple case of reporting or copy editing, but works at various filtering mechanisms such as newsroom culture, biases and ideology, shared values, competition etc.
The 19 Sep police storming of Batla House in Jamia Nagar, Delhi following the 13 Sep explosions presented journalists with an unfolding story that is challenging.
The Hindustan Times coverage of the events presents interesting insights into news construction, discourse, and the role of newspaper layouts in creating complex and problematic narratives.
On Sep 20, Hindustan TImes ran a headline across its front page that asked: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Case Cracked?Ã¢â‚¬Â. The newspaper took a distanciated view by stating: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Alleged Delhi bombers shotÃ¢â‚¬Â and Ã¢â‚¬Å“Investigators claim to have solved recent bombingsÃ¢â‚¬Â. The layout narrativised the events as a reconstruction, which included an illustration of the the scene of the police storming. Three stories accompanied the headline. The lead story narrated the police version of the event. The second story rhetorically asked Ã¢â‚¬Å“Who was Atif?Ã¢â‚¬Â and went on to describe the alleged Indian Mujahideen militant. The third paid a tribute to the fallen police officer MC Sharma. The narrative aimed to put together a What and and Who.
The next day the newspaper followed it up with another impressive layout that declared Ã¢â‚¬Å“SolvedÃ¢â‚¬Â. The eye is diverted towards the headline Ã¢â‚¬Å“SolvedÃ¢â‚¬Â, which is surrounded by a cluster of news elements organised to present a complex narrative. Right below the headline run a series of factual statements. Below that a picture of Inspector Mohan SharmaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s funeral procession is wedged between two stories. One, immediately below the picture (Alvi:2008), is a first person account by Rais, the brother of Atif, a suspected Indian Mujahideen militant. The second, to the right of the picture, is a report (Sharan & Singh:2008b) detailing the scale of the network that the suspected militants ran.
What stands out is the mode of address, which can probably be attributed to newsroom and professional culture. The first address is made by the paper, which unambiguously declares the case Ã¢â‚¬Å“SolvedÃ¢â‚¬Â, and follows it up with a list of facts issued by the police. Is the declaration Ã¢â‚¬Å“SolvedÃ¢â‚¬Â made by the police or by the newspaper? On top of the headline sits the statement Ã¢â‚¬Å“Every second day, an Indian policeman dies fighting terrorÃ¢â‚¬Â. Problematically, the data to back up this statement (represented as a chart on the page) reads 124 policemen dead in 2006.
The report by Sharan and Singh begins with an address that declares:
It was a deadly three-way alliance among the now dead Atif aka Basheer (24) of the Indian Mujahideen, the pro-jihad faction of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) led by techie Abdus Subhan Qureshi (36) aka Tauqeer, and handlers of the Pakistani Lashkar e Tayyeba (LeT), that executed four serial blasts in the last 10 months across the country.
This statement of fact is an address made by the journalists. The second paragraph begins: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Delhi policeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Special CellÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Joint Commissioner of police told a media conference on Saturday afternoon that Ã¢â‚¬Å“LeT acted as the mediator between the two groupsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.Ã¢â‚¬Â. The leading paragraph is not attributed to the police. Compare this with the Times of India report (Tripathi:2008) on the same day.
Delhi Police on Saturday claimed to have cracked the September 13 blasts which were carried out by 13 bombers. What also points to close links of other members of the IM-SIMI group behind the recent serial blasts are pictures of Abdus Subhan Qureshi alias Tauqeer Ã¢â‚¬â€ the Mumbai techie who has been seen as the author of the terror emails that have preceded the blasts.
The Indian Express headlined it as Ã¢â‚¬Å“Linked to Lashkar, fan of Osama, Atif was part of 14 behind blasts: policeÃ¢â‚¬Â (Chauhan:2008)
The Hindustan Times page constructs a narrative to the story where the address by the police, which would be treated as a claim (as reported by Times of India and Indian Express) has been turned into a statement of fact. This bold assertive construction of the news sits uneasily when the newspaperÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s editor writes in a commentary article the same day:
But instead of wasting time on debates about Pota and Shivraj PatilÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s clothes, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get to the heart of the problem: why donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t our intelligence agencies ever know anything? (Sanghvi:2008)
There is an ambiguity in the attribution of the discourse. The newspaper copy does not clearly and unambiguously separate the discourse of the journalists and the police. This may be attributed to various filters such as copy editors who may want to make the copy dramatic. Is this linked to the dramatic and eye catching layout of the newspaper? A study of the newsroom sociology is required to better answer this question. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity, along with the conflation of discourse is uneasy.
- Alvi, Naziya (2008) Ã¢â‚¬ËœMy brother, the bomberÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Hindustan Times Delhi, 21 Sep, P1
- Chauhan, Neeraj (2008) Ã¢â‚¬ËœLinked to Lashkar, fan of Osama, Atif was part of 14 behind blasts: policeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Indian Express, Delhi Edition, 21 Sep, P1
- Sanghvi, Vir (2008) Ã¢â‚¬ËœAfter the blastsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Hindustan Times, Delhi Edition, Sep 21, P12
- Sharan, Abhishek and Singh, Vijaita (2008a) Ã¢â‚¬ËœWho was AtifÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Hindustan TimesDelhi, 20 Sep, P1
- Sharan, Abhishek and Singh, Vijaita (2008b) Ã¢â‚¬ËœNationwide terror network unravelsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Hindustan Times Delhi, 21 Sep, P1
- Srivastava, Tushar (2008) Ã¢â‚¬ËœIÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll be back in an hourÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Hindustan Times Delhi, 20 Sep, P1
- Tripathi, Rahul (2008) Ã¢â‚¬ËœLashkar support for IM-SIMI operation, explosives procured from KarnatakaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Times of India, Delhi 21 Sep, P2