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Journalistic ethics at Durban

by Chandrabhan Prasad

A t the Durban conference, I was greatly perturbed by the intellectual taste of the Indian media and the excessive dependence on secondary sources for news.Not one of them seemed to have confirmed with the WCAR Secretariat facts relating to Para-73, before pronouncing judgments on the "exclusion" of "Work & Descent" in the UN Charter.

And nobody reported that throughout the debate, the European Union, and countries like Canada were, to the acute embarrassment of the Indian delegation, unwilling to vote against inclusion of Para-73.

Back home, I find people who watched developments at Durban in total confusion, and opponents in joy as how "the world body had rejected the Dalit case." To the benefit of Indian citizens - both Dalits and non-Dalits - the fact of the matter is following: First the procedural issue. As per the UN procedure, in case of a dispute between NGOs and government of a particular country, the official governmental delegation is entrusted with the task of leading the debate in inter-governmental conference, where an NGO has only observer status. In this scenario, official delegates of various countries can take a stand during the debate, and if the "leader country" is unprepared to relent, any one country, or many, can press for voting. Since countries like Chile, Norway, Guetamala and Canada were expressing their desire for voting, the only option India could think of was to somehow ensure that Para-73 lapsed for want of time. As per the UN procedure, the items which could not be discussed by the concluding day, would stand "lapsed."

The WCAR was officially concluded by September 7 evening, but about seven dozen paras could not come up for discussion owing to the stalemate over Middle East and Reparations. The WCAR extended the conference by another day, with a warning that all working groups complete discussions on all the paras by September 8 noon. Since the Indian side had the privilege of leading discussion on Para-73, it invoked the Shastri Bhawan babus' work ethics, and continued delaying initiative. By September 8 noon, about 50 paras were yet to come on the agenda and WCAR extended the deadline by a few more hours. Even then the Indian side failed to initiate a discussion, and thus, along with some 40-plus items, Para-73 lapsed. This is an abridged (not edited ones, as most Indian journalists chose to do) story behind the headline "WCAR decides to exclude Caste" with an apparent message that Dalits lost their case in Durban. I am yet to find a despatch in any Indian daily which says that by delaying discussion on Para-73, we lost lots of reputation at the WCAR while the Dalit side had earned more credibility.

In one academic engagement, my friends and I had the privilege of listening to Prof. Kimberle Grenshan of Columbia University. On the evening of September 5, the learned Professor of Law was emphatic in her assertion that, "One of the successes of WCAR was that nobody would leave Durban without knowing about caste discrimination as prevalent in India." In her deliberation, she was quite categorical that she knew a lot about India, and its caste system, but was totally unaware of its discriminatory nature. While I would not emphasise on the competence level of Indian journos, I was stunned when a well-wisher of mine wanted to know as why Mary Robinson rejected the World NGO Forum Declarations. I was shocked as who and why did someone send a dispatch to India without confirming facts. There was a group representing some high-profile Indian NGO which was publishing a daily bulletin and one fine morning came out with a banner headline telling all us that "Mary Robinson rejects NGO Declaration." But soon publishers were mocked and hooted out by the world community for gross misreporting and thus behaving like "an Indian!"

The head of this particular non-Dalit NGO was frustrated as he wanted to rob the leadership role at Durban, but was denied that opportunity, and thus had every reason to paint the NGO meet as a "failure." But what reason did Indian journos have to indulge in falsehood?

Robinson's press-briefing was simply this: "She was objecting to NGO Forum's description of Israel's actions against Palestine as 'genocide' and thus, according to her, she was constrained to recommend that part of Declaration".

The Varna journos, too, by compromising journalistic ethics, have helped Dalits' cause as in future international meets, their despatches can be presented before the world community as proof of the discriminatory nature of India's caste system.

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