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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 30, New Delhi, July 11, 2020

Devoid of morality Indian media crawling before rulers | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 11 July 2020

by Arun Srivastava

Integrity and credibility of the media has degenerated to such an extent that now the police, not the judiciary, will issue its firman (diktat) whether it has the right and enjoys the privilege guaranteed by the constitution to criticise the government and question its action.

Gone are the days when media was revered and taken seriously by the people of the country. Even the ruling elite would find it difficult to ignore its comments and observations in the matter of national importance. Earlier the editorials of the leading newspapers were supposed to be the guiding principles for the government of the day. Now it is no more. Now media has ceased to be a serious observer, instead it loves to perform the task of a court jester. Naturally a king or his police would not like him to scrutiny their actions.

The situation has denigrated to such an extent that any journalist mustering courage to assert his fundamental right and tell the police on its face “It’s my right. I’m not obliged to answer you” invites the charges of sedition. What is really shocking is the helplessness of the judiciary to act decisively and show the police its right place.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday told Vinod Dua not to answer a second questionnaire sent to him by Himachal Pradesh police in a sedition case linked to comments on Modi and made it clear that it would quash the FIR if there was merit in Dua’s contention that he was being harassed. Obviously it implied that there is no substance in the police charges against Dua. But still then the matter has been lingering putting Dua under stress.

A closer look at the development would make it clear that the purpose of police has been served. It has succeeded in sending a message to the journalist fraternity to refrain from asking questions and criticising the ruler. Lest it would have to same nature of treatment what Dua has been facing.

It is not a tough proposition to find out that a journalist is not a terrorist. What he writes and speaks, he does in the national interest. In fact a journalist is more nationalist by his conviction and commitment than a politician. The politicians swear by the Constitution but they seldom adhere to its tenets and the ethics. We have seen how the top politicians of the country speak blatant lies to protect their images and prestige. It hurts when the judiciary even after aware of the designs of the politicians, police and their cohorts aimed at penalising a journalist shuts its eyes to the reality.

Nevertheless the journalists are to be blamed for creation of this situation. Their lust for power and material gains conjures them to rub shoulders with the politicians or become their sycophants. Media is said to be the fourth pillar of democracy but in India it has ceased to perform that virtuous task. In the present time its prime task has been to behave like a subservient to the powers that be, carry out the diktats of the political system and take care of the vested interest of the politicians.

Media has always remained vulnerable to the political manoeuvrings and abide by the desires of the politicians, but during last six years it has lost the penchant to stretch its spine and ask questions. Indian media by nature has been centrist and always worked to protect the centrist ethos of the system.

I remember when we joined the profession in 1974, the task of the media then was to protect the centrist character of the society and preserve the social equilibrium. It seldom touched the sensitive topics which involved class. Almost all the clashes which had class orientation were described as clashes between the anti-social gangs. During those days the priority of the journalists was to protect the social harmony and ensure that class or communal violence do not flare.

The 1977 bloody clash of Belchi in Bihar was portrayed as a clash between two groups of .criminals After Indira Gandhi visited the village in July that year that the world came to know that it was a class war. It completely changed the political contour of the country. This expose brought back Indira Gandhi to power. Before her visit media was persistently describing the gruesome incident as merely a gang war between two criminal gangs. Her visit changed the people’s perception about the political institution of the country.

During those days the newsmen who wrote about the class clashes and deviated from the centrist social line were described as harijan premis (lovers of harijans). I vividly remember that whenever our group of five journalists was seen on the Fraser Road of Patna, journalists having fame and close proximity to the ruling elite would call us as harijan premis. Nevertheless this brought about a major attitudinal change in the journalist fraternity and resulted in exposure of the Naxalite movement in Bihar which was initiated a couple of years back. While the movement was spreading and new experiments in the agrarian violence were taking place.

Now in modern times the media has completely undergone change. It has however not come as a surprise. The globalisation and economic reforms obviously had its impact on the character of the media. This was the time when the TV journalism was emerging in the country. The profession of journalism was getting commercialised. Massive amount of capital was being pumped in the media. It was acquiring the character of a capitalist enterprise. Newspaper was perceived as product.

It was during this phase a concerted effort was being made by the owners to bring about complete transformation in the content of the newspapers. While the move was being made to dilute the content, the owners nevertheless for obvious purposes tried to maintain the façade of being the people’s voice. The market decided the priorities. The old mode of serious stories and reports were being replaced by the advertorials on consumer products. This period witnessed the emergence of culture of page three.

However once the Narendra Modi government came to power in 2014 the media brazenly abandoned its role of provider of information. The change has been quite swift; from conscience keeper of the country, media became a product and with the ushering in of Modi government it changed its character to promoter of the personal and political interest of its masters; protector of crony capital. It was no more a conscience keeper nor provider of information.

There is a general perception that the coronavirus pandemic marks the end of romance with market economy and individualism. But this is wrong. Since early nineties the market forces have been dictating and defining the character and ethics of the journalism, but it has acquired the worst silhouette during the period of the corona. The media has become the instrument of perpetrating jingoism and turn the society towards authoritarianism. This also exposed the crooked approach of the media towards the poor people, especially the daily wage earners.

No doubt the blacks, the underprivileged people had to suffer huge loss of life across the world, the contempt of the media was visible in most naked form in India. The mainstream Indian media exploited their plight to unleash the politics of hatred.

The bestial character of TV channels got exposed in the wake of outbreak of corona. The Tabligi jamat had held a congregation at Nizamuddin mosque in Delhi. A large number of participants had come from the Muslim countries. Unfortunately some of them got infected by corona. This created massive hue and cry. The meet was to be ear;ier held in Mumbai. But the government there did not permit. After that they approached Delhi government and got the permission. After some participants tested positive, the TV channels accused the participants of conspiring to spread corona in India. This was the most ridiculous accusations. A competition ensued amongst the TV anchors to use nasty languages against the Muslims. It has come to such a state that even the gatherings of the migrant labourers fleeing Delhi were described as assemble of Muslims. These TV channels completely vitiated the social harmony. But what was most shocking was neither Modi nor Amit Shah or even the information minister pulled up these TV channels.

The role performed by the media during Delhi riots has been the black spot on its face. Never in the past media had played such a dirty role. At the instigation of their god fathers and masters they launched the denigrating campaign against the Muslims. They were made to believe that they were not the citizens of this country. They were the intruders.

The dimension of the media crawling could be understood from the simple fact that India ranks 142 out of 180 countries covered in 2020 according to the World Press Freedom Index report put out by Reporters without Borders. In 2019 it was ranked 140. The report points out that it has gone down by two points during the last several months. The report observes that globally there is a “crisis caused by growing hostility and even hatred towards journalists”. But in the case of India it is not the hostility and hatred that worked against the media. Instead it is the subservient character of the media personnel and the owners that has been basically responsible for this ignominy.

Prostrating before the rulers for some material gain has been the motivating factor. Freedom of the press has usually been perceived as the freedom of the owner, and the news men have usually followed in the footsteps of the owners. The journalists of the media houses or the newspapers which dare to challenge the anti-people stand of the rulers and the government are by and large have been fearlessly performing their professional responsibilities.

The media has been a hazardous occupation only for those newsmen who dared to put question to the rulers and opposed their anti-people actions and policies. These people have to face physical attacks, threats and trolling in the foulest language, mental torture and lack of adequate legal relief, what is usually described as the professional hazards.

It is bunch of the dedicated and committed journalists who face the ire of the rulers. They stand up and speak when and what they are expected to. But unfortunately their number is not so big. In sharp contrast a large number of journalists indulge in sycophancy for getting favours from the politicians and rulers. These people are the neouvou elites and have the skill to influence the decision making process even if they are basically idiots and crooked. They have all the material gains at their command.

They are the persons who decide the destiny of India and the nature of democracy that India practice. The most significant proficiency they possess is they can twist any development, even a frivolous incident into a high decibel Hindu –Muslim conflict. They have mastered the art of engineering and spreading hatred. According to them the Muslims are not the citizens of India and deserve a second class treatment. They ought to be denied the basic human rights.

With the active connivance of the ruling elite these people have been indulging in distorting the fundamental narratives and ethics of journalism. The worst have been the Television channels. The anchors have become the slogan shouters for their political masters; in present case the BJP leaders. Their prime task is to shout down dissenting voices and not to allow raising of questions that concern the country and its people.

It is really painful to witness media abandoning its moral task of safeguarding democracy. Everything undemocratic and which is against the spirit of federalism gets the priority in the TV channels. The panellists are simply summoned to be debased and insulted. Media has come to realise that anything which is basically democratic in nature is detrimental to the interest of their masters.

Democracy is not just about ‘being’ a system and how a nation is organized. It is much more about it ‘becoming’ inclusive and accountable to those who constitute the nation. Theoretically one of the important indicators of the vibrancy of a democracy is the freedom of the media in it. The fact of matter is democracy has lost its relevance. Media has been preparing a new class of market product which has simply financial value and nothing else.

TV channels have dispensed with basic journalistic rules and ethics, as seasoned reporters declared unequivocal allegiances and experienced editors parroted exaggerated claims. Their main task is to create an atmosphere of hate and jingoism. Gone are the days when accuracy, corroboration, and neutrality used to be the key words. It cannot be denied that Indian media under the Narendra Modi regime has been completely ruined and shattered; its mission zeal to chase stories of consequence has greatly diminished.

In addition to PoTA, UAPA. Sedition law and the century-old Official Secrets Act, other regulations too are being used to target inconvenient media houses and journalists. Law, which is meant to defend the independence of journalism, is being used to silence it. What is really a matter of concern is the subservient journalists, who are called as “Godi Media” have ganged together to force the government to punish independent and up right journalists.

Modi who has given the “Mauni PM” (silent PM) jibes to the former prime minister Manmohan Singh during the 2014 general election, has himself been averse to interact with the media. This simply underlines his deep averseness and hatred for media. He knows that the media men are worthless and lack morality. This impression has in fact been created by the reporters and editors. True enough Modi hated media so much that he cut off all communication with the media after coming to power in 2014. His hatred mainly owed to media exposing is role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. With Modi keeping media away from him, it was the responsibility of the media to sing praise of Modi.

A sting operation by Cobrapost showed that around 25 of India’s leading media organisations, including giants like The Times of India, The New Indian Express, and the India Today Group were willing to participate in propaganda for the BJP. It is really sad that except NDTV or The Hindu no other media hoiuse could resist the machination of the rulers and upheld the spirit of the freedom of the media.

Over the past few years several small, but fiercely independent, online portals, fact-checking websites, and investigative outlets have emerged in the country: The Wire, Scroll, BOOM Live, The News Minute, and Alt News to name a few. Despite facing defamation suits and court cases, they have been responsible for some of the most important news breaks that have kept this government in check—and India’s democracy alive.

India’s free press has played a crucial role in protecting this country’s democracy since its independence from Britain in 1947. But journalists have now turned sycophants and subservient. Modi has shrewdly cultivated the media to build a cult of personality that portrays him as the nation’s selfless saviour.

Right before he announced the world’s largest coronavirus lockdown, on 1.3 billion people, Modi summoned top news executives, editors to his office and directed them to publish “inspiring and positive stories” about the government’s efforts.

It is an open secret that it was his wrong handling of the crisis that resulted in extreme sufferings by the daily wage labourers and migrant workers. The sudden declaration of lockdown left more than 1 crore such labourers to lurch on the footpaths of the Indian cities. They were remain stranded for nearly a month on the pavements. They were provided with the trains to go back to their native places, but the hunger stricken labourers had to pay for that. The ill treatment meted out to them is now the part of the history.

But what is really the matter of shame is the media behaved like an ostrich. Baring a couple of the media houses, almost all the TV channels and newspapers were singing praise for the government. The plight of the workers could be judged from the fact that nearly 400 labourers died while fleeing to their native places.

With no support to sustain in the cities, these hapless people were desperate to go back to their native places. But the media in the most shameless manner derided and abused them. They were treated in a manner as if they were not the sons and daughters of India. Baring NDTV and a few web portals no media house especially the mainstream media protested the brutal torture perpetrated to them by the police. They even did not pressurise the government to open its wallet and help them. During their flight to the villages nearly 300 labourers lost their lives in accidents or due to hunger, but the journalists attached to these TV channels and newspapers did not carry exhaustive stories on their miseries.

Though Narendra Modi has been primarily responsible for creation of the panic flight, these media people did not question him for creating this situation. On the contrary they were holding responsible the opposition parties for creation of this situation.

No TV channel has come under more pressure from Modi’s government than NDTV. The effort to brand NDTV as unpatriotic has been devastatingly effective. In one November 2016 email, the luxury automaker Daimler told NDTV that it would not proceed with a marketing campaign because “there are people associated with the channel that are linked to anti-India stuff, by the public at large.”

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