Shailesh Kapoor: Selective Freedom Of Press: The New Normal?

03 Aug,2018

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The shocking turnof events at ABP News over the last few days went largely unnoticed by the media at large, till the developments snowballed into a major story with the resignation of the editor-in-chief Milind Khandekar yesterday. This comes on the heels of PunyaPrasoon Bajpai’s resignation and the ‘benching’ of anchor Abhisar Sharma for 15 days.

 

It’s a story that was easy to miss. Not much was covered in the mainstream media, be in television, print or even the Internet, till a day or two ago. This story on The Wire serves as a good crash update for the uninitiated.

 

I looked around for primetime coverage of the topic last night, but there wasn’t any. A corporate house muzzles its editors and senior anchors and other media houses, run by other corporates, look the other way. It’s collusion by exclusion, and it seems everyone has made peace with it too, resigning (no pun intended) to the fact that things will operate in a certain way with the current regime.

 

Freedom of press has been cherished in India over the last 70 years. Its compromise during the Emergency in the 70s is a black mark that’s often been used as a political tool by the current Government itself. In the UPA-2 tenure, when scams were headlines as breaking news day after day, freedom of press was on full display, and the Government at the Centre paid a heavy price for it in the 2014 elections, being reduced to less than 50 seats in the Lok Sabha.

 

But it’s no secret that the current regime has a different way of handling the media.Two tools are deployed. The first is the more innocuous one, whereby the ruling regime begins to ostracise the publication or channel in question, by not giving access to exclusive interviews with ministers (and the Prime Minister at times), by sending the weakest spokespersons on debates, if at all, and by not sending their senior representatives to conclavesorganised by the media houses who run such publications and channels.

 

The second tool, used when the first one doesn’t work, is the more dangerous one. And that’s the one used in the ABP News case. It’s difficult to say what exactly the modus operandi is – who speaks to whom and what kind of soft or hard threats are given. It’s all conjecture, as there’s little on record. But the outcome is for everyone to see.

 

Freedom of press is not a political subject. It is so fundamental to a democratic construct that the idea should transcend political ideologies. But with less than a year (some say six months) to the next General Elections, that’s a bit too much to ask for.

 

Is there a brave mainstream media house, like a national channel or publication, that can take up this story? You know the answer.

 

Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO, Ormax Media. He writes ‘TV Trail’ on MxMIndia every Friday. The views here are personal

 

 

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