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'Government does not want independent journalism'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
Last updated on: February 05, 2021 19:21 IST
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'They are deliberately targeting journalists who are not succumbing to government pressure and therefore these journalists are paying a price.'

IMAGE: Journalists take selfies with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi at the Bharatiya Janata Party's Diwali Mangal Milan Samaroh in New Delhi, November 3, 2016. Photograph: Shahbaz Khan/PTI Photo
 

Police in two Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states have filed cases against senior journalists for tweeting on the farmers rally and subsequent violence in Delhi on January 26, even invoking extreme charges like sedition against them.

The senior journalists against whom cases are filed are India Today journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Qaumi Awaz Editor Zafar Agha, National Herald Senior Consulting Editor Mirnal Pande, Caravan Editors Paresh Nath, Anant Nath and Vinod K Jose -- besides Congress member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor.

The Editors Guild says this move is meant to harass and stifle the media.

"The government is deliberately targeting those who believe in independent journalism, which is very dangerous for press freedom in our country," Ashutosh, journalist and political observer, tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.

The Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh governments have filed cases against senior journalists.

It is very unfortunate that top editors of the country who are known for their impeccable integrity have been targeted. And for what?

Now, they are being charged that riots and anarchy in Delhi happened because of them. Who can believe this theory!

No one will believe that Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, all eminent journalists, that they will indulge in something like this or that they are part of any conspiracy.

This shows that the government does not want any independent journalism in India. They are deliberately targeting journalists who are not succumbing to government pressure and therefore these journalists are paying a price.

Otherwise, there is no reason why an FIR has to be filed against them, not only in Uttar Pradesh but also in Madhya Pradesh. This is the pattern.

Was it not wrong on Mr Sardesai's part to tweet that a farmer had died in police firing, which was not reportedly true?
As a journalist you are supposed to cross check and only then tweet/report, but he didn't do so.

I completely agree with you that it was wrong on the part of Rajdeep Sardesai, he should not have tweeted or aired something on his channel without verifying facts. But that is a journalistic mistake which has been made.

But to say it was done with some malafide intention or some conspiratorial mind to create chaos and mayhem in Delhi is something I am not convinced about.

Journalists do make mistakes and when Rajdeep realised his mistake he retweeted the new facts. And that is how it happens even in print media or on TV channels.

Whenever a newspaper or TV channel makes a mistake there is always a provision for a corrigendum and that is what was done (in Rajdeep Sardesai's case).

But to convert a journalistic mistake into a conspiracy theory shows the malintent of the government.

The government says by tweeting such false news and airing false news, journalists are seeding discord in society.

I have worked with Mrinal Pande, she was the one who gave me a break in journalism way back in 1990. She is such an eminent journalist and broadcaster. Now the government assumes that she is a part of the conspiracy.

And why does this happen? Because she does not subscribe to the ideology of the government.

It is okay not to subscribe to the ideology of the government, but that does not mean that s/he will do something to dislodge the government. This is ridiculous. I have never heard something like this.

Paresh Nath and two other editors of Caravan magazine are being penalised for creating a 'riot kind of situation in Delhi'. Who can believe this theory?

They are being targeted because they are doing consistent reporting on the Delhi riots.

Instead of the government taking the Caravan reports seriously and investigating why the police and administration are (not) acting as they should, on the contrary the government has lodged an FIR against these three editors.

The government is deliberately targeting those who believe in independent journalism, which is very dangerous for press freedom in our country.

If you read posts on social media you realise how people believe the theory that Rajdeep Sardesai and others want to instigate riots to discredit the Modi government.

That is a dangerous trend. What normal people say is a different matter altogether, but if the government also believes in this, then this is more dangerous.

The government is supposed to be objective and run the government according to the rule of law and the Constitution. The government should realise the the press is the fourth estate and if you frame them, then it is more dangerous.

Social media is something you have to live with. You have people who support the government and you have people who do not support the government.

But within those who support the government (on social media), there is a paid syndicate of people to discredit independent journalists and independent people who do not subscribe to the government's ideology.

So, a lot of the campaign against Rajdeep is also a part of it.

It seems there is no communication between the government and the media. What can the media do, or rather what can the government do to bridge this gap?

Does our PM believe in communication? He believes only in one-way communication. He will go down in history as the only PM who never held a press conference in his tenure.

Even Dr Manmohan Singh, who was known not to speak, he too held press conferences.

Yes, there is a communication gap between the media and the government, but then it is the responsibility of the government to reach out to the media.

The press has an adversarial role in democracy and it is the responsibility of the press to keep a watch on the government and the entire State apparatus including Opposition parties.

The press is doing what it is supposed to do, but there are people in the press who blindly support the government's propaganda and narrative.

And those journalists who do not support the government blindly, you cannot call them as being antagonistic to the government. I do not support such views.

Another phrase that is coined today is 'Godi Media' (lapdog of the government). In the last six years many well-known journalists are being called out as 'Godi Media'.
How did this happen where journalists are openly pro-government?

This is a global phenomenon. There has been left of centre media and then centrist media. Right of centre media was never powerful earlier, but now across the world they (the Right)have become strong and the extreme right media too has become powerful. They have their own agenda and have perceptions about different issues.

My problem is that this right of centre media, they play with facts. The left of centre media do not play with facts. They do not manipulate.

They (right of centre media) play fake news as news and that is where the problem is.

'Godi Media' is not only dangerous because it serves the interests of the government and its propaganda, but is also divisive and creates communal hatred in society against a particular community. That is where the problem lies.

I have no problem if the rightist media talks about Kashmir from a different perspective, that is okay, but to manipulate facts and create hatred in society is not journalism.

If you are doing that, then you are not doing journalism, but something else.

How can you be objective in journalism in these times?

What I have devised for myself is that I am not active on social media like Facebook.

On Twitter, I am active, but I don't look at notifications -- how people are reacting and what are they commenting.

Earlier, I used to see what people were commenting after my tweet and immediately after that I used to go into depression because a lot of people used to discredit me.

One day, I realised how can these people dictate my life? Therefore, I stopped seeing notifications and since then I am keeping sane.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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