Lawyers versus media

The friction between lawyers and media persons does not seem to be dying down. A day after that awful attack took place, the Karnataka Bar Council and Advocates Association have taken a decision to boycott court proceedings on Monday. Further, they will not argue any cases for media houses and withdraw from existing ones. They will also file defamation cases against those media houses that referred to lawyers and advocates as ‘goondas’. The Bangalore Police meanwhile have arrested four lawyers in connection with Friday’s attack.

One television journalist asked the most appropriate and significant question there is to ask, now. ‘What is happening?’ Well, nobody seems to know exactly. But the problem that spiralled out of control on March 2nd has definitely sparked off something.

Lawyers said that the media coverage has been one-sided, that the atrocities carried out on the lawyers was conveniently left out or mentioned only in passing. Well, true. But if the lawyers are going to go about town pointing fingers at the media, they also need to be willing to acknowledge the fact that ‘they’ in fact ‘started’ it in the first place. Many say that it was the media that provoked the lawyers at the city civil court. I was right there. And the chaos unfolded right before my eyes. It was a group of close to 30 lawyers who started it.

Now some city lawyers and the Advocates Association say that those lawyers were in fact not lawyers at all and that they bought black coats in bulk from a nearby store. Fine, let us take what they say, at face value. So if these lawyers were ‘fake’, why didn’t a single ‘real’ lawyer come to our rescue that day? Why did they just stand and watch? Easy question. No simple answer I’m sure.

That said, I would also like to acknowledge that a section of the media did express their anger in a completely unacceptable manner. But no advocate seems to be acknowledging their mistake as well. If 10 scribes damaged vehicles belonging to lawyers, are you going to call the media, in general, unethical? If so, that should apply to you as well. 30 lawyers may have started the mayhem, so we will also call lawyers in general to be violent. But I wouldn’t.

It is sad that the media and lawyers have brought it down to a game of ‘tu tu main main’. Lawyers have now started citing the Indian Constitution and other rules to prove that media persons cannot be allowed on court premises without prior permission. That’s complete bull. For the past many months, media persons have religiously tracked and covered high profile court cases, many of which have been filed by lawyers themselves. The lawyers have come to us and given sound bytes. After all this, they now decide to point out laws.

The issue is very simple. Friday’s attack was unwarranted. Those who attacked or assaulted must be identified and punished. Then, there should be a proper solution to whether the media should be allowed near the courts. If you don’t want us there, then fine, say so clearly. If the police can’t give us protection, then say that as well. If the state government can’t make up their mind, then be clear about that too.

At the end of the day, we have no interest in indulging in any sort of duel. We want to do our job and go back. CBI inquiry, judicial probe, committee report, are all for the sake of records. When you are on ground, none of it is going to matter. It’s going to come down to how the lawyers and media really want to be on the field.

Mahatma Gandhi preached non-violence. Ironically, he was a qualified lawyer and a practicing journalist.

What happened at the Bangalore civil court

They say it’s a black Friday. Lawyers went on rampage at the city civil court in Bangalore. Media was attacked. Public property vandalised. It was a day of good and bad. Here’s what really happened.

It all started at around 10.30 AM. Former Karnataka minister Janardhan Reddy was moments away from being brought for his case at the special CBI court. A majority of us were standing at the Canteen entrance of the court, while several other media persons were at the main entrance. A group of about 30 lawyers walked up to us and told us to leave, hurling abuses all along. It was all because of the negative publicity they received back in January when the lawyers had protested on another incident. They were here today to seek their revenge.

These lawyers were clearly agitated. They wanted us out of there. We slowly walked out, not wanting to create any trouble. They continued screaming. Hurling abuses all along. Pushing some of the cameramen. We were helpless even as the police watched on doing nothing.

Just then Janardhan Reddy had arrived. At the main entrance. We rushed to that entrance and the lawyers blocked all the media persons there as well. Pushing and throwing anything and everything they could hold on to. We were forced out of the city civil court, even as Reddy was taken inside the court.

We were all disgusted at the cops who did absolutely nothing. NOTHING. I knew that the cops could also do nothing since it is an open secret that they are obviously scared of the lawyers. We tried getting in touch with top police officials. No one responded. The media felt utterly helpless.

The lawyers continued their tirade. Pelted stones. One stone hit a cameraman of a local news channel. He was injured on his head. We shot visuals of all this, at the same time battling for our own safety. It was a confusing situation because no one really knew what to do.

Some of the local media channels decided to sit on a flash dharna, blocking traffic. This despite understanding the inconvenience it caused to the general public. Traffic was blocked for a long time. The mediapersons finally relented and went back to the court entrance. They tried preventing lawyers from entering the court premises. It was tit for tat. There was a lot of chaos till Janardhan Reddy was again being taken out of the court. The court granted his custody to CBI till March 12. The media ran to get visuals of his van leaving the court.

This was when we thought the situation was okay, and under control and that we could leave. But another altercation broke out between the lawyers and few of the media persons. The lawyers again started pushing and hurling abuses.

They started throwing anything they could find. A helmet came flying barely 2 feet from where I was standing. Next came a huge stone. Another helmet. A water bottle. And the police were requesting us to only leave. Stones were being pelted at the closest Outdoor Broadcast Van. The police used their lathis to shoo us from the scene, hoping that that would help. We were still confused about whether we should leave or not, whether we should shoot the goings on or not. That’s when more and more stones came our way. The lawyers, who till now, were hurling the stones from inside the court, slowly started moving towards us on the road.

We knew we were in trouble. That’s when we ran, literally. We fled the place. I jumped into my OB van with another reporter. Several OB vans belonging to local channels were damaged. We went up to KR circle and waited there. Most of us were feeling quite foolish, our egos hurt, that we had to run from those lawyers.

Channels had already begun broadcast of this news. It was national.

We then received information that several media persons were roughed up by the lawyers, several injured. At about 12.30 PM, when a Deputy Commissioner of Police arrived on the spot, he was hit on the head with a stone. That was probably when the police finally realised that they could no longer remain mute spectators. They finally resorted to lathi charge and fired four rounds of tear gas shells in the air. The Police Commissioner visited the spot briefly but left the scene before speaking to the media.

We were all shocked at the passive way in which the entire situation was handled. Why was no one supporting the media?

We went back to the spot to find that the situation continued to be tense. The lawyers were provoked just by our presence. Many media persons vandalised cars which belonged to lawyers, venting out their anger. One lawyer (unsure if he was part of the unruly gang) was severely kicked and thrashed by the media. And we were repeatedly being told not to film any of this. It was the most unfortunate part of the day. The media was doing exactly what we preach to others. Was violence the answer to violence? It was sheer mob mentality, rage and seething anger. All of it manifested in just the wrong way.

There was a protest at KR circle. Another lawyer was roughed up by media persons. It was ugly. A local channel reporter even prevented me from doing my recording saying nothing that the media is indulging in should be caught on camera. Not realising that some policeman on duty could very easily have captured this on one of their handy cams for evidence.

We finally went to the Vidhana Soudha, met the Home Minister. Met the CM at his residence.Most who spoke to the CM were those who were not even present at the spot when hell broke loose. There were many speakers. The CM seemed to be in his own world. By the end of the day, he ordered a judicial probe. No arrests were made still. Despite reels of footage showing the lawyers in action.

The judges who seem to have nothing to say about the lawyers who started it all, I have only one thing to say, Shame On You. You have no right to sit and deliver verdicts if you can’t control your men and stand up to the injustice. Would you watch on if you were being pelted with stones?

Black Friday

Today was a bad day for the media. Even as we were attacked and assaulted by lawyers, we had absolutely no right to stoop down to their level. Some said that that was the best way to teach them a lesson. How would it help to take these lawyers to court? These were lawyers who knew their job well. But the media, which is carrying out blackouts, and protests, should have also had some control.

The biggest faulter in all this, however, is the police. It took them close to two hours to take action. For two hours the police were motioning to us to leave the court, hoping to ensure peace. But they did nothing to control those shameless lawyers. After their DCP was hit, it seemed to have hit them as well.

None of the top police officials even responded to our calls. Most refused to come on the spot. Why were these men in uniform so hesitant to protect us? After all isn’t it their job?

Of what use is a police force, if they have to stand and watch people being abused? If they are scared of lawyers, why don’t they admit it? Why not have the armed forces man court complexes instead of the police?

The Home Minister may be in the man in charge, but he doesn’t seem man enough to take control. The city top cop should have at least stayed at the spot. After all, he isn’t a politician but a bureaucrat. While we could expect inactive behaviour from the Home Minister, why didn’t an IPS officer live up the fact that he is meant to do his job.

That said, my heart goes out to those policemen who were injured. I hear that one constable was hit by a wooden bench that was dropped from one of the top floors of the court complex.

The CM may say that every profession has both good and bad people. He needs to wake up to his senses, realise the situation, and stop making empty promises.

The media cannot be attacked and must not attack back either. The primetime debates are there for that.

As for the good that happened. It was all for Janardhan Reddy. The only one smiling.

A new low in wayward politics

It has been a hard week for Karnataka politics. A shocker really as it has never happened in the history of the world. We could still be shocked after scandals like Silvio Berlusconi, Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Three politicians from Karnataka hit international headlines when they were caught allegedly viewing an adult video on a mobile phone when the Assembly session was underway. The incident was unbelievable to start off with but the act was caught on camera by several television crews. It was indeed true.

The three ministers stepped down from their cabinet posts and are now in line to respond to a show-cause notice. Will they be asked to give up their membership of the state Assembly? Highly unlikely as the Opposition has a really weak case especially when they have N D Tiwari and Mahipal Maderna to deal with.

While several questions have been raised about the double standards of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) even as they preach about tradition and culture, it has also literally brought the cat out of the bag. These sorts of ‘experiences’ aren’t very new to politics and politicians. And this is something that the politicians themselves admit.

A senior BJP leader who also happens to be a seasoned lawyer narrated to me, how in the eighties, during a trip to Belgrade in Serbia, several MLAs from Karnataka insisted on making a trip to a nearby city (I have been unable to verify this independently or even locate the name of this city) where the people are said to be completely naked (that’s how they live). Anyone who visits is also expected to be not wearing any clothes. Despite this particular member’s protests, the other politicians are said to have made the trip to that city (don’t know if they had to abide by the ‘no clothes’ clause!).

During another trip to Bangkok, a senior politician wanted to ‘experience’ the ‘real’ Bangkok. Assuming that his wife who was accompanying him would object, he requested another lady politician to ‘convince’ her. Such was the state! And desperation!

This BJP source also tells me that back in 1996 when the Miss World pageant was scheduled to take place in Bangalore, there was a quiet uncertainty that right-wing groups such as the party itself would object since their parties always object to women being looked at as commodities. But in this case, several members of the party made appeals to their colleagues not to protest against holding of the pageant in Bangalore, as it would give them an opportunity ‘to see beautiful women’.

While none of the above has been independently verified, it has come straight from the mouth of a BJP leader. This leader also felt that the entire ‘porngate’ episode was being exaggerated and blown out of proportion. An argument being made is that watching pornography is not an offence under the Information Technology Act, but broadcasting it is and therefore the media can be punished for televising these clips as sharing or passing on a porn clip is an offence (Some media channels did not blur the video, while others did).

The argument of course is weak. The BJP is in no position to explain itself well and has therefore been coming up with some ridiculous excuses.

Some say the three ministers have paid their price. Others ask if we have the moral right to judge them on the basis of that behavior. Will their watching an adult video impact their performance as ministers? Yet others feel that all this will be forgotten when the elections take place next year.

But whatever happened in the past, the matter boils down to what happened now. These three ministers had no right to do what they were doing. For every day they attend Assembly, they receive ‘sitting fees’. We pay them to do their job. And their job is not to entertain themselves during work. Even if they were watching a video of Katrina Kaif gyrating to the tune of Sheila ki Jawaani, I still believe they would be doing wrong. So it’s not just about having watched an adult video during a session. They could have very conveniently done so in the lounge outside the Assembly hall or in the confines of their homes. Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that this matter will be looked at from the point of responsibility (and morality).

It may be a practice long seen in politics but it’s a new low nevertheless.