Skip to main content

Clampdown on media: Why even well-meaning people fail to see news as news

By Rajiv Shah 
Are journalists being misunderstood even by well-meaning people? I was to kickstart by quoting an article published in theprint.in titled “ED (Enforcement Directorate) says NewsClick used Rs 30 cr ‘mystery remittances’ to ‘pay Navlakha, CPM IT cell member’.” This article has invited a wild comment from a person who is known to be editing a well-known left-leaning blog. 
An old time friend since my college days in Delhi University, referring to this article, said on his Facebook timeline: “An absolutely unethical hatchet job by The Print against NewsClick that descends to unprecedented lows in ass-licking. But am I surprised? Yes, at those who still thought Shekhar Gupta is a journalist with integrity. This is him in his true colours. #StandbyNewsClick.”
I am referring to the FB post as an example of where do activists, particularly Leftists, go out of the way while referred to “media”. When they refer to media, they mean corporate media, but they forget a major factor: That media is not something homogeneous. To quote dictionary.com, it is “a plural of medium”, it is used as a plural verb for “the means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, that reach or influence people widely.” Even films, work of art on display, books often referred to as “media”.
But first about the theprint.in article which my friend wants to use as a reference point for criticism of Gupta’s integrity as a journalist. First of all, Gupta doesn’t need anyone’s certificate; he may have earned well, has been known for his “closeness” with powerful political and corporate persons, but that doesn’t mean one should doubt his intention in publishing the article. While he acquired fame for his still widely-remembered report on the 1983 Nellie massacre in Assam, I have personally seen him operate as an excellent newsperson.
It was August 1991. Soon after the three-day coup which sought to dislodge Mikhail Gorbachev, a galaxy of journalists from India came down flying to Moscow. Some of them came up to my residence, owned by the pro-Soviet “Patriot” daily for which I was working. They were about half-a-dozen of them. Most of them would sit in my drawing room, watch the Russian language channels to find out what was happening in Russia. As they didn’t know Russian, I tried to translate for them. More often, however, they would watch CNN, in order to report back to India!
One exception was Gupta. While he would file stories from the telex machine at my residence-office, on getting a tip, he took me to along to an old building in the central Moscow area, where he had heard Garry Kasparov, the famous chess champion, was staying put. First he was not allowed in. Kasparov had run away from the war torn Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, which was at loggerheads with the neighbouring Armenia then. The guards wouldn’t allow Gupta in, but he pushed his way inside taking me along, reached up to Kasparov’s huge room.
First Kasparov refused to meet Gupta, but finally said, “Okay, but no political questions.” Stopped at the door, Gupta began by asking the Chess Grandmaster whether he had played with India’s Vishwanath Anand, another world champion, and how he played. Then, as the photographer who accompanied Gupta, continued clicking photos, Gupta slowly shifted to the coup, and what it meant to him. Standing at the door at a distance of about 30 feet for five minutes, he got all the answers he wanted. The interview was published in India Today along with the lead story on the coup.
I haven’t interacted with Gupta since then, nor do I know whether he remembers all this. Be that as it may, I was left wondering what makes one to question the article in question Gupta, who edits theprint.in about ED raids on offices and homes of NewsClick directors for three days, quoting ED sources. The article quotes ED sources who say that the money received from some companies was used to make payments for “petty maintenance work”, to a NewsClick stakeholder who “maintains the social media accounts of the CPI(M)”, and to give “salary” to activist Gautam Navlakha, who is currently in jail for his alleged involvement in the two year old Bhima Koregaon violence. Why should quoting ED sources raise eyebrows?
Let me be a little presumptuous: Frankly, I found nothing wrong for Republic TV editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami knowing three days in advance that the Government of India was going to conduct air raids on Pakistan’s Balakot. But what is his failure? Refusing to make know this fact on his channel immediately thereafter quoting government sources. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that such “classified” information is not leaked; not of the journalist. The latter’s failure is not reporting what he or she had found out, even quoting unidentified sources. This is not to defend Goswami’s political agenda. Journalists of his ilk are known to refuse reporting things which may embarrass the powers-that-be. They confine themselves to report only that which “pleases” the ruling politicians. They do not see news in octogenarian activists denied basic things like a sipper or timely medical treatment after being imprisoned for what are clearly trumped up sedition charges.

Sedition against journalists: Following Gujarat model?

Clearly, as we see things today, seditious charges have extended their arms. If till now it was activists, now journalists are also being targeted. But first I first came to know about sedition against journalists way back in 2008 in Gujarat. Two “Times of India” journalists – crime reporter Prashant Dayal and editor Bharat Desai – were charged with sedition for a series of three articles soon after the appointment of a new Ahmedabad police commissioner about for his alleged underworld links. There were journalists’ rallies in front of the commissionner’s office in Ahmedabad as well as at the DGP’s office in Gandhinagar, which I also attended. I was among other half-a-dozen journalists who were summoned by the police to find out why and how the article appeared in the Times of India. We gave our statements. The Gujarat high court quashed the sedition charges in 2012.
No doubt, Gujarat has not seen seen any clampdown ever since, except the arrest of in May 2020, when Dhaval Patel of a little known news portal “Face of Nation” was charged with sedition for a very mundane report suggesting that the state’s chief minister may be changed. While Dhaval was granted bail, the state government view on who should be charged with sedition is worth noting. Opposing the plea to quash sedition charges against Dhaval, the state government told the court, “Disaffection, contempt or hatred towards the government in a speech constitutes the offence of sedition”!
Is this the “model” which appears to have become operational across India? The government’s clampdown on journalists has taken a sharp spike this year. Enough facts are by now available on this. Journalists, including editors, against whom criminal charges only for “misreporting” include NewsClick editor Prabir Purkayastha (whose house and office were searched for 113-hours), India Today TV’s Rajdeep Sardesai, National Herald’s Zafar Agha and Mrinal Pande, Caravan’s Paresh Nath, Ananth Nath and Vinod K Jose, The Wire editor Siddharth Varadarajan and journalist Ismat Ara.
Others who faced either arrest or police complaints included Mandeep Punia, a freelance journalist who has contributed for “The Caravan” and “Junputh”; Kanpur TV journalists Mohit Kashyap, Amit Singh and Yasin Ali; Manipur journalists Dhiren Sadokpam, Paojel Chaoba and M Joy Luwang; Kerala journalst Siddique Kappan when he was on his way to report the Hathras rape case in Uttar Pradesh; TV journalist Pongi Naganna in Vishakapatnam for his “links; with Maoists; criminal proceedings against Patricia Mukhim, editor of “Shillong Times” for a Facebook post. As for Kashmir all know how tens of journalists have faced intimidation and how “The Kashmir Times” was locked.
Things have gone so far recently that the Government of India has been found clamping down on social media. Thus, on February 1, more than 250 Twitter handles were blocked at the behest of the Ministry of Home Affairs for the use of a hashtag on farmers’ genocide. Although Twitter lifted the blockage after a few hours, the government put pressure, and Twitter later blocked about 500 handles and issued a statement saying that it had not blocked journalists’ accounts and would work in accordance with Indian law. By February 12, Twitter succumbed to pressure of the Government of India; the strong arm pressure of the government eventually culminated in Twitter blocking 1,398 accounts of the 1,435 flagged accounts. It is not known how many of these are that of journalists and social media bloggers.
All this happened even as the Human Freedom Index 2020, by the American think tank Cato Institute (which once praised Modi for his economic reforms) and Fraser Institute in Canada, released in December last year placed India at the 111th spot out of 162 countries. India ranked 94 on the index in 2019. Earlier in April, India dropped to rank 142, two points below its 2019 rank, in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index list, produced by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which surveys the state of the media in 180 countries and territories. A study by senior journalist Geeta Seshu, showed that more than 150 journalists have been arrested, detained and interrogated between 2010 and 2020. Of these cases, 40% were reported in 2020 alone. Things have only got worse in January-February this year.

News as business

No doubt, we are living in perilous times. However, there is a need to understand that media is reflection of society, and journalists or for that matter any other persons who handle any medium do not come from any another planet. To expect moon from them, therefore, is foolish. At a time of clampdown, it is but natural that a big section of the journalists, like people in general, would toe the line of the establishment. Those working for corporate media have to, willy nilly, follow their corporate media owners, for whom news is business. Till the point the news do not go against their corporate interests, the media owners will allow them to appear. However, any news that goes against the corporate interests will not be allowed.
At the time of Vibrant Gujarat summit, I would be asked to stop negative reports, because that would hit the advertisement of the paper. Soon thereafter, I would be allowed to report. Only, I had to be very careful not to cross the line of news and be commentative. We published Tata Nano stories in large numbers, the reason being the Tatas had stopped advertisements for some story that was anti-Tata in the paper. However, all this did not stop us from writing essentially news stories that would embarrass Gujarat powers-that-be – something Gujarat’s top men never liked. They complained not only to the editor but to the owner sof the paper as well, but without any success.
So what is the way out? First of all, those seeking to get news published should remember that advocacy efforts with journalists, who are simple reporters having little knowledge of the world around, should be stepped up. Most journalists think they know a lot; actually, their overall worldview is very limited. They are not even jack of all, not to talk of master of any particular subject. Secondly, effort should be made to provide them with something absolutely new, newsworthy, instead of being unnecessarily commentative. That would impress journalists and they would surely publish the news.
And finally – and this the most important factor – the world has changed. There was a time when, though alternative media did exist, it was not widely used. Currently, there is a possibility of using and promoting alternative media. It does not require big investment, one reason why journalists with little resources are plunging into alternative media. Counterview is just one small example. In fact, internet and social media should be used to the fullest possible extent for spreading the word.

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i