Post-Ayodhya hearing coverage draws SM flak
The conclusion of the Ayodhya hearings at the Supreme Court of India took an unusual turn on the following day as a large chunk of the Indian social media users directed their emotions against news media channels who pursued the majoritarian agenda.
The hearings were held over 40 days before a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, convened specially to hear appeals filed against the judgement of the Allahabad High Court, which had taken the middle road and split it between three different parties.
The Ayodhya case is a dispute over who has the title to the land where the Babri Masjid (demolished by Kar Sevaks in December 1992) stands. The Hindu claimants to the tile have said that the Mughal rulers built the mosque over an ancient temple at the very spot, which, they believe, was the very spot where Lord Ram (a Hindu god-king) was born.
As soon as hearings concluded two things happened, the News Broadcasters Standards Authority (NBSA) issued an advisory on 16 October for the coverage of the hearings. The NBSA is headed by retired Supreme Court judge, Justice AK Sikri. The judgement has been reserved and there are also Supreme Court guidelines and rulings on how the media can cover cases that have not yet concluded.
India Today Group channel Aaj Tak ran a controversial social media post that carried the sentiment of the Hindus, inviting a legal notice from journalist-activist Saket Gokhale who asked them to take it down and apologise for the tweet.
The coverage drew sharp criticism and through most of 17 October, one of the top trends on Twitter was #NoidaFilmCityExcavation with close to 40,000 tweets, all claiming that they believed that many of the TV channel studios, located in Noida, were built on an ancient temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Lord Hanuman–a temple called Hanuman Manka
There seemed to be some contradictions between the reportage as well. Some media houses reported that one of the Muslim parties–the Sunni Waqf Board–was ready to give up its claim. However, there seemed to be no official statement from it and it was not clear where this proposal had been made, except a few reports which said that it had been made in parallel mediation proceedings. The mediation itself is under public scrutiny because some of the key players such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are not party to it. They dropped out of previous attempts at mediation as well.
The lawyers for the Muslim parties also said that that they had not been given any such instructions by their clients and concluded their arguments on 16 October. The judgement is expected before 18 November, when the present Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, retires. He led the bench that heard the matter.