Why was it only all about NDTV and the Roys?

BY SEETHA| IN Opinion | 12/06/2017
Should it not have moved beyond that? To other attacks on the freedom of the press in the states, even those ruled by non-BJP governments?
The selective outrage is hypocritical, says SEETHA

 

“I want to see such a huge gathering at the #PressClubofIndia when a journalist gets killed in police firing in Manipur or arrested in Bastar,” says a Facebook post by a young journalist, Sonia Sarkar.

What a succinct and utterly damning statement on the hypocrisy displayed by the media fraternity over the past week.

I went to the Press Club on Friday evening, for what I thought was a m eeting on press freedom. Instead I found it was all about NDTV and Prannoy Roy.

Sure, the raids on the residential and other premises of NDTV founders Prannoy and Radhika Roy were the trigger for the protest meet, but should it not have moved beyond that? To other attacks on the freedom of the press in states, even those ruled by non-BJP governments?

What was particularly disturbing was eminent jurist Fali Nariman saying he came “not just because I believe in our constitutionally guaranteed press and media freedom, but more importantly and significantly (emphasis mine) because I believe in the independence, integrity and honesty of Prannoy Roy.” Surely, surely, it should have been the other way round? Would Nariman not have taken this stand in favour of press freedom if he did not believe in Roy’s integrity or if someone else whom Nariman was not friends with “for more than 30 years” was in Roy’s place?

The our-Prannoy-can’t-do-this line was a running theme, even as speakers said media houses are not above the law. Om Thanvi was distressed because an editor friend bitterly opposed to this government also did not want to be part of this meeting because he felt there must be some substance in the CBI action. Shekhar Gupta said “don’t get distracted by merits of the case” line (though he and Nariman went into the merits of the case to show the CBI was being plain stupid). But isn’t it merits of the case that decide whether government action on the proprietor of a media house for financial transactions is warranted or a thinly-disguised attack on press freedom?

"The our-Prannoy-can’t-do-this line was a running theme, even as speakers said media houses are not above the law."

 

Why, after all, didn’t the rest of the media buy the argument of attack on press freedom which Bennet Coleman tried to deploy during the Enforcement Directorate action against the late Ashok Jain? Wasn’t it merits of the case that proved decisive there? Then why shouldn’t merits of the case be relevant now?

The editors spoke about the huge turnout on Friday being heart warming. But what has been happening after that should make them sit up and think. Journalists – from those with close to 30 years experience to those with less than 15 years experience – have been questioning their stance, in online articles and social media posts which they allow to be shared widely. Selective silence, cosying up to the government of the day, editors being on the payroll of intelligence agencies, serving as media advisors to governments, crossing the limits of professionalism have all been questioned. Editors were once revered among the community of journalists; such public questioning shows journalists do not hold them in awe any more.

Many have pointed out the lack of such mobilisation at the time of the CBI raids on Outlook proprietor Rajan Raheja during the Atal Behari Vajpayee government and over the sustained harassment of Ramoji Rao of Eenadu during the United Progressive Alliance government.

"Why is NDTV the trigger for ending silence? Why not Rajasthan Patrika?"

 

But, more importantly, these names were not even mentioned by the editors who spoke on Friday. All of them only invoked memories of the Emergency, the Defamation Bill and the harassment of Ramnath Goenka. There was no reference to what was happening in states, barring Arun Shourie mentioning Rajasthan Patrika being brought to the edge of financial ruin because of the state government. He too admitted that he had learnt about it by accident. Rajdeep Sardesai, in his video message, said silence is not an option any more. But why is NDTV the trigger for ending silence? Why not Rajasthan Patrika?

And why not the curbs on actual journalistic work as against business operations of media houses? In all the fulmination about press freedom coming under attack, there was no mention at all about journalists being prevented from or being attacked for doing their job. No mention of the beating up of journalists by the West Bengal police under the Mamata Banerjee government, the harassment the Jayalalithaa regime used to hand out to journalists ands media houses who did not toe her line, the  journalist in Shahjahanpur in Uttar Pradesh being set on fire during Akhilesh Yadav’s tenure, the journalist for whose murder Shahabuddin is in jail. 

"Editors who take a public stand on issues concerning their profession are not random individuals who can say `I will decide what to get outraged about’."

 

Asking these questions is not indulging in whataboutery. Editors who take a public stand on issues concerning their profession are not random individuals who can say `I will decide what to get outraged about’. They cannot put themselves above questioning when their stance on a public platform gives the impression that they are speaking out only against intimidation by one government or one party. I use the term `gives the impression’ because I know that some of them taken strong editorial stands against earlier governments on issues related to media freedom.

Nor does the asking of these questions represent a breaking of the ranks of the media fraternity. What applies to editors applies to the rank and file of journalists as well. They have to call out all attempts to intimidate the media, regardless of the government/party in power. Unfortunately, even in the present case, there is an us-versus-them atmosphere developing, with journalists questioning the editors who spoke on Friday being labelled – and dismissed - as pro-government/BJP/Modi ones (even though some of them are virulently anti-BJP/Modi).

The NDTV case is not just a watershed moment for a media-versus-government equation. It is also a watershed moment for how the journalists define and defend media freedom. It cannot be about issuing character certificates to one organisation; it also has to be about what Sonia Sarkar said in her Facebook post.

 

Seetha is an indepedent journalist and author.

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