Saturday, October 29, 2016

Calling a stenographer’s bluff

I wrote the following piece in response to Aleem Faizee’s mischievous piece .

Calling a stenographer’s bluff

A reporter should make sure that he speaks to experts on their respective subjects. For example, in the report architect Arif Shah is talking about religious nature of the mosque. It is like interviewing a criminal lawyer on the perils of colon cancer!

By Mubasshir Mushtaq

October 29, 2016

At a time, when Indian Muslims belonging to different sects are answering the call of ‘sectarian unity’, a self-proclaimed “Malegaonian” activist-cum-stenographer is busy thrusting his religious worldview upon the community through “reporting”.

Theological differences have existed among Muslims for centuries and will continue to emerge till Doomsday. That is one area we all shall leave to theologians and scholars of Islamic jurisprudence. Anybody who thinks that Muslims across the world should (or would) follow one particular strand of religious interpretation (which he or she thinks is the only “righteous” path) is living in fool’s paradise. It is akin to the daydreaming of Hindutva’s homogenisation project.

Having said that, let me dissect the news report journalistically and not religiously.

An ideal news report carefully follows what we call in journalism as “principles of reporting”. Some of the key principles are accuracy, fairness, verification, attribution, fact-checking, background detail, no colour (free from bias), speaking to all sides (parties involved) etc.

The report in question violates most of these cherished principles.

Strictly speaking, a news report is sacred. In reporting, the opinion of a reporter should not creep into the news report. A reporter should keep his ideology (right or wrong) in his buttoned shirt pocket. He should not pollute the report by inserting his views (right or wrong). A reporter can express his views (however venomous) only in an opinion piece.

The report’s headline (intro and starting paragraphs) clearly sets the tone of the reporting - that Masjid Haji Abdur Rauf ( not “Abdul Rauf”) is an architectural masterpiece but yet it lacks the element of completeness because of no “provision” for “women worshippers”.

From an objective journalistic point of “gender-equity”, it is a fair demand but it suddenly takes a sectarian plunge in the form of opinion.

The reporter should know that there is indeed a provision for women’s gathering on the mezzanine floor!
A careful reading of the report reveals that the reporter has inserted one’s personal beliefs into the report. Notice the adjectives and nouns like “embarrassing”, “humiliating”, “despair”, “disbelief”- an interpretation or inference drawn by the reporter and not quoted the by the nameless woman being interviewed.

A reporter should also reproduce names of his subjects as they desire even with incorrect spellings. To do the same, a reporter should perform some background check. The report terms my family as “Ghastelwala” - a suffix we dropped way back in 1995!

A reporter should pay attention to the details. My father’s reproduced quote to Maulana Arshad Madani is incorrect; a result of lazy journalism. I have the audio recording of Maulana’s bayan to substantiate it as evidence.

A reporter should also know that he cannot quote his own son in his reporting! There is an apparent conflict of interest. To the best of my knowledge, Ather Shazan is the son of Aleem Faizee. Shall I coin a new term: genealogical journalism?

The son’s quote is full of factual and architectural errors.

The red bricks used in the mosque are not known as “facade bricks” as the architect son claims! No such terminology exists in the architecture! They are popularly known as “exposed brick work” or “cladding”. These bricks are not “solid” as the expert son claims. They are made from imported clay! And the claim that they are “maintenance-free” is not true.

In a story, a reporter should directly speak to the subjects of the story. In this case, the reporter didn’t speak to the mosque’s working committee or the trustees! A news report will remain incomplete unless the subjects involved in it are appropriately represented.

A news report should also seek permission and give due credit to every single image used in the story. One of the pictures used in the story is clicked by a friend and copyrighted in my name. It is a good example of pictorial theft. This action alone is enough in journalism to discredit a news report or the reporter.

The reporter should also make sure that he speaks to experts on their respective subjects. For example, in the report architect Arif Shah is talking about religious nature of the mosque. It is like interviewing a criminal lawyer on the perils of colon cancer!

The news report also enters into the dangerous territory of pitting one mosque against the other. For example: “However, Masjid Aisha, Mansoora still outshines over 300 mosques of Malegaon.”

Again, a highly opinionated sentence which in simple words says: Mine is better than yours!

I have grown up admiring the architectural beauty of Masjid Aisha and continue to do so.

I shall end this rejoinder on a note from where I began by merely reproducing a line from the article:

“Interestingly, Masjid Haji Abdul Rauf is inaugurated at a time when India is debating extensively over rights of Muslim women and gender equality.”

Juxtapose this sentence to PM Narendra Modi's latest statement on the plight of Muslim women in India.

It says it all.