Jaskaran Sandhu: The Problematic Media Coverage Concerning Ripudaman Singh Malik’s Death
"The media should be more careful about how they speculate on incidents like this, and the ways in which the average Canadian takes in that coverage, considering viewers and readers lack nuance..."
July 15, 2022 | 3.5 min. read | Opinion
The Canadian mainstream media mostly failed in its reporting of, and reactions to, Ripudaman Singh Malik’s murder early yesterday morning in Surrey, British Columbia (B.C.).
The media made much of its coverage about Air India Flight 182. To be fair, it is hard to tell the story of yesterday’s brazen shooting outside of his business without referencing the 1985 Air India bombing case for which Malik was acquitted in 2005 for a lack of evidence. It is of course what he is probably most well known for amongst non-Sikh Canadians, so one cannot expect the media not to speak about it in reaction to the targeted killing of the man.
However, as it is in our criminal legal system, you are innocent until proven guilty - and Malik had his day in court and the Crown fell considerably short in meeting its burden of proof. Sikhs have always condemned the bombing, and have called for justice as well, which both the Canadian and Indian states have failed miserably in delivering in their own ways. Anything more than that, in connection to yesterday’s events, is a conversation for another day.
We also saw the re-emergence of old talking heads, from print to prime time TV slots, that had been long discredited as appropriate commentators or observers of the Sikh community, such as Ujjal Dosanjh and Terry Milewski.
CBC, for example, made sure to bring Terry Milewski on live television for about seven straight minutes in which they allowed him to engage in wild speculation regarding Malik’s death and the community which in turn unleashes collateral damage against Sikhs. That is unacceptable marginalization of a community already facing increasing hate and discrimination in this country.
It is no secret that the Sikh community has a deep dislike and distrust of Milewski, and he has been repeatedly challenged for maligning the community, including by notable Sikh scholars that panned his laughable report on Khalistan with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in 2020.
To platform folks that have long been discredited as a credible voice on the Sikh community is baffling. Especially so when you consider what was lacking from a lot of yesterday’s coverage were actual Sikhs. We have seen this before, as I wrote for Canadaland four years ago when bankrupt commentary about the Sikh community during Trudeau’s 2018 trip to India was largely driven on major media outlets by uninformed non-Sikhs.
Which gets to the one thing that was missing in a lot of yesterday’s coverage - what does the Sikh community think about Malik? The answer to that question is that it is complicated. He has had his detractors over the years, especially after he put out a letter praising Modi, but no one can deny the fact that Malik was a notable figure in the community in B.C. and across Canada.
His Khalsa Credit Union was a very important financial institution for the community, and he did a lot of philanthropic work supporting various Sikh causes. He also established successful Khalsa Schools, helping to connect generations of young students to Sikhi. For Sikhs, none of this can be ignored, and you cannot tell the story of his life and death without reference to it.
Some outlets did better than others. Global News for example actually spoke to Malik’s family, making sure to include their perspective and how they wish the world to remember him. It is a reminder that Malik’s life is worth discussing with patience and thoughtfulness.
We are often defined by the biggest event of our life, but that is at times an incomplete portrayal of the complex lives we live. Malik was no exception to that. But, contrary to what some may say, like Dosanjh or Milewski, Malik’s death was not expected. It was shocking and caught much of the community by surprise.
There are a lot of theories on motives. It is a strong possibility that we may never truly figure out who was behind this or why it happened. With that in mind, the mainstream media should be more careful about how they speculate on incidents like this, and the ways in which the average Canadian takes in that coverage, considering viewers and readers lack nuance and outlets fail to provide any either.
Jaskaran Sandhu hails from Brampton, Canada, and is the co-founder of Baaz. He is a Strategist at the public affairs and relations agency State Strategy. Jaskaran also previously served as Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada and as a Senior Advisor to Brampton’s Office of the Mayor. You can find Jaskaran on Twitter at @JaskaranSandhu_
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