Ranjona Banerji: Journos of Khabar Lahariya need our support. Despicable harassment must stop

15 Sep,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


This is a horrifying story from the editor of Khabar Lahariya, an independent journalism effort from Uttar Pradesh, which has done commendable work. The reporters in Khabar Lahariya are all women. Since the beginning of the year they have consistently and frighteningly been harassed on their mobile phones by a man who calls himself “Nishu”. Neither the police nor the phone company, Vodafone, have been able to help. As the editor’s article shows, pasted below, the reactions of the police are reprehensible. The horror is not just about journalists not being able to work. It is also about how you can be harassed to such an extent that you cannot work.


As journalists, this is one case where we need to put our collective heads together and pull out all the stops to help Khabar Lahariya. Sexual harassment is one part of this story but more than that, it is an effort to push you into utter helplessness. It must not be allowed to succeed.


Both these clips caused a lot of laughter on social media, but… to have panellists on televised debates slapping each other? You might argue that this was inevitable. News channels push for “debates” on controversial subjects and allow (encourage?) participants to get as vicious as possible with each other. Usually though this animosity is verbal.


On a discussion on Radhe Maa, a Mumbai-based “guru” who has got into a little trouble for dowry collection and her predilection for dancing to Bollywood songs in miniskirts, two contestants – also “holy” types – decided that hitting each other was the only way out. IBN7, the channel on which this happened, has this stern, terse comment on its website, IBNLive: “We didn’t expect this kind of behaviour from our guests and we strictly condemn this.”
One is sure they didn’t but you have to wonder about the direction which these “debates” are going in general.


The second such incident was on a discussion on India News when an Aam Aadmi Party spokesperson was slapped by a former Aam Aadmi Party member. The anchor tried to be very strict and headmistress-ish but the guests were beyond taking a ticking off seriously. Violence went very quickly from verbal to physical.


We go on and on about the greatness of Indian culture but clearly we have very different notions of what culture means. Where does hitting people during a televised debate fit in? I have only seen this before on the Jerry Springer type of show where it is actively encouraged of course. Perhaps news channels need to put some of their studio guests in cages so that they do not attack each other?



Why do we still have an Information and Broadcasting ministry? Is the Government of India so weak that it needs a whole ministry to protect it from the media exercising its rights? Surely trolls on social media are enough?


But jokes aside, they’re all the same. The UPA went after cartoonists and people who criticised Sonia Gandhi. And the current government has been using show-cause notices to new channel either for someone to prove their loyalty or because someone genuinely believes that free speech is a hindrance.


GSTV, run by the mammoth Gujarat newspaper Gujarat Samachar, has received a show-cause notice from the I&B ministry for a programme it carried on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in which the motive behind an unnamed politician’s “Clean India” or Swachh Bharat initiative was questioned. The charge sounds ludicrous almost, but here we are. Of course, Gujarat Samachar has an intriguing relationship with the powers-that-be and this could be an old grouse coming to the fore.


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