Gauri Lankesh, the prominent Bangalore based journalist was brutally shot dead on the night of 5th September outside her home at Rajarajeshwari Nagar. The 55-year-old journalist was the editor of the Kannada tabloid “Gauri Lankesh Patrike”. She was a staunch critic of Hindu right-wing politics orchestrated by the BJP. She was also well known for bringing the naxalites into mainstream. She battled for the rights of Dalits, farmers and other minority communities.
Murder of Gauri Lankesh was not an unprecedented event. This is not the first time when an anti-right wing journalist has been killed. In 2015, the outspoken academic M.M. Kalburgi was also shot dead by unidentified assailants. In fact, even the gun used for Lankesh’s murder was the same as Kalburgi. Another anti-right activist, Govind Pansare, was also murdered in 2015. In 2013, it was Narendra Dabholkar, unsurprisingly even he was anti-Hindutuva.
With the murder of Gauri Lankesh, a pattern has been established where anti-establishment journalists and activists are being killed. But this time something has changed as most of the media houses have come together to collectively condemn the killing. Journalists have realised that if this pattern continues, they could be next in line.
Immediately after the news of Lankesh’s murder, senior journalist Barkha Dutt rightly tweeted, “This is chilling scary and outrageous. So far always took online death & rape threats with a pinch of salt. Now we must all pause & wonder.” In her tweet, Barkha encapsulated the emotions of most of the journalists. Unlike the killings of Kalburgi, Pansare and Dabholkar, media has reacted very strongly this time. There was also a huge protest at the Press Club of India. According to Nidhi Razdan, this was the biggest protest that the press club has witnessed this year.
Although the media reacted very strongly showing their solidarity with Lankesh, the way they covered her death was not very ideal. Writing for “The Indian Express”, Shailaja Bajpai said, “The best way to remember her-and others like her-is to recall what she stood for. It does not lie in showing her dead and bloodied body, her face thinly veiled by a computer mosaic” but this is exactly what India Today did. They even created a comic book out of her murder, giving a bullet by bullet account of her murder. CNN-NEWS 18 made it into yet another trending hashtag by asking “#whokilledGauri”.
On the other hand, channels like “Republic” and “Times now”, after condemning the killing, turned it into yet another political battle by bringing in Congress. On Times Now, journalist R.Rajgopalan screamed continuously asking the UPA “what had they done” regarding the death of journalists during their time in office.
Republic’s coverage was also on the same parameters. Rather than asking broader questions regarding the freedom of press in India, they blamed the congress while shamelessly defending the BJP. Sumana Nandy, previously working with Republic TV, criticized the channel for their coverage of Gauri Lankesh’s murder. “A journalist is murdered in cold blood days after receiving death threats from the BJP-RSS cadres. And instead of questioning these murderers, you question the opposition? Where is the integrity?” Nandy asked.
Same was the case with NEWS X as they ran “BJP blames Congress for murder”-politics over Gauri’s death’. A scary event which has shaken the very roots of journalism has been shamelessly turned into a political blame-game between BJP and Congress. Both are blaming each other whereas the murderers are roaming freely.
India ranks 138 in the world on press freedom which is a serious worry. Other than CNN-NEWS 18 no other news channel felt the need to highlight this and connect it to Gauri’s murder.
The questions should have been “Why was Gauri Lankesh murdered?” “What does this imply for the overall media scenario in India?” “What are the police doing?” Rather, the news channels launched a full blown investigation asking who literally killed Gauri, which actually is the job of the police.
When it comes to condemning and covering Gauri’s murder, international news organisations were not far behind. Writing for Al-Jazeera, Saif Khalid called her murder an “ominous portent for dissent in democracy and a brutal assault on the freedom of the press.” Western media organisations also showed their solidarity. In an opinion piece written in the “New York Times”, Sudipto Mondal actually asked the legit question “Why was Gauri Lankesh Killed?” which the Indian media organisations failed to ask.
For once, all the media organisations took a common stand by condemning and mourning the death of Gauri Lankesh which was admirable. But this is where the admiration ends. Their coverage of the incident was vague and lacklustre. As Shailaja Bajpai says, media failed to ask the right question of “why”, rather, were fixated with “who”. News channels like Times Now and Republic turned into yet another political conundrum. The coverage she got was extensive but it had its faults.