Touria Prayag's Blog

l’Express Weekly, 17 September 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on September 17, 2010

Editorial             Click here to read l’Express Weekly

Burning Issues

Some nonentity from a tiny obscure church in the middle of
nowhere rises to stardom overnight by threatening to burn
the Quran. As the media, hanging on to his every word,
beamed images of him on all its channels, the world held
its collective breath and prayed for some sanity to return to our lives.
Basking in the media attention he had always been dreaming
of, Pastor Whatshisname played on as the world watched helplessly.
First, he suspended the action to enjoy more media attention and
then, just as the cameras started to move away from him, he tried to
make news again by announcing his cancellation of the whole plan.
And the international media unwittingly magnifi ed the story, making
Whatshisname what he had always wanted to be: news. Big news.
In the indescribable fear which gripped America, and in the
middle of the publicity around the event and the consequences that
ensued, the fi nger started pointing towards the media: Should it have
covered Pastor Whatshisname? How much harm did this over-publicized
event cause in a country whose president just over a year ago
promised a “new beginning” in the relationship between America and
the Muslim world?
In a mea culpa editorial, Ravi Somaiya, a Newsweek editor, admits
that the media had, in fact, become the pastor’s “fulcrum and
lever”. He even acknowledges that “Reporters and editors (myself
included) did lay the groundwork for him by tacitly promoting the
current wave of Islamophobia seething across America” and that they
may have even “helped promote Terry Jones and his Christian fundamentalists
as exemplars of faith in America.”
But in an era where information is at everyone’s fi ngertips, do
editors really have a choice? As it happens, the coverage of such an
event, despicable though it may be, also created an opportunity to
show the tolerant side of an America pleading against extremism.
The debate is as pertinent in our local context, in the light of
the other burning issue of l’express: without wanting to excuse some
occasional excesses or going against the sound argument that a story
which carries a risk to life or security should be dropped, should editors
really deny their readers the opportunity of a good debate? We did
perhaps run the risk of tacitly promoting some ancient objectionable
and obsolete issues which are now restricted to some backward-looking
sitting rooms, but didn’t we at the same time create a platform for
a healthy debate which showed precisely how obsolete the system is
in an era where the son of a barber is no longer bound to be a barber?
Didn’t we challenge mentalities by pushing people to rationalize their
thoughts and perceptions? If we did, raising the issue was worth it.
Well, Pastor Whatshisname decided that he had had enough publicity
and that he was not interested in burning copies of the Quran
any more. But if he had, there is no doubt that the number of cameramen
and reporters would have outnumbered the pastor’s followers.
And I doubt that anyone would have pinned a degrading label on the
press. The reason is very simple: fi rst, as Somayia concludes, we are
“in a world where a cabal of a half-dozen editors no longer controls
what is news.” Citizens from all walks of life infl uence news and views.
Secondly, thrashing out issues openly creates a healthy forum for
presenting different views.
Does creating opportunities for debate warrant the label the
“gutter press”? I doubt it. Is anyone likely to extend an apology for
the refl ection of the semi-intellectual reeking of the sewers which the
mirror has been sending us since? I doubt that even more.


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