Ranjona Banerji: Intimidation, again!

11 Jun,2019

By Ranjona Banerji


The arrests of Prashant Kanojia, Ishita Singh and Anuj Shukla by the Uttar Pradesh police have been roundly condemned by media associations across India. The Network of Women in Media had these strong words in its statement issued on June 9:

“The above arrests are a serious clampdown on not just their fundamental rights but also the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression. They are also an indicator that the UP government is intolerant of dissent and selective in addressing crimes.

“The arrests of the three journalists once again raise major concerns over the blatant subversion of the system of law enforcement and selective use of laws despite the fact that press freedom has been recognised as part of freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution. In India, journalists are increasingly becoming victims of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions, and harassment.

“These arrests also demonstrate the lack of political will to create a climate for free expression and tolerance of dissenting views. This is a blatant attempt to promote self-censorship, as it could act as a deterrent to journalists from speaking truth to power.”

For those who came in late, Kanojia, an independent journalist, shared a video on social media where a woman made some claims about her relationship with the chief minister of UP. His tweets were also critical of UP CM Yogi Adityanath aka Ajay Singh Bisht. Singh and Shukla own and work for the Nation Live TV channel which aired the video.

That is the extent of the “crime” for which these three were arrested. The attempts at intimidation are clear. The brazenness about the arrests, with their questionable legality, also intends to send a message to the media: toe the line or else.

Media associations like the Editors Guild and the Mumbai Press Club have been careful to mention an FIR filed by a member of the ruling JD(S) party in Karnataka against the newspaper Vishwavani and its editor Vishweshwar Bhat for a story carried in the paper about a battle within the Gowda family. While the Karnataka case is definitely a case of media intimidation, there is a vital difference with the arrests of these three journalists in UP. It starts with the difference between an arrest and an FIR and the fact that the UP Police felt the need to save the UP chief minister from criticism.

If anything demonstrates the atmosphere of fear which rules the Indian media today, it is this need to draw an equivalence between a non-BJP state or some historical precedence whenever a BJP government or functionary must be criticised. Do the Editors Guild and the Mumbai Press Club fear the heat?

The NWMi thankfully shows more courage and context.

Regardless of what did and did not happen during the Emergency (and let’s forgive for now the irony of those who scream about the Emergency day and night while using the same tactics), today’s media has to deal with what’s happening today.

And evidently, a few days into the BJP’s resounding return to the Lok Sabha, we have the intentions of the party and its governments made clear to us. Don’t criticise. Lie down and stay there. The inroads into India’s institutions have already been made. For the media to survive, we need democracy. Or is that too tough for our colleagues in powerful places to comprehend?



Meanwhile, here’s some courage from Dutch journalists (I have not made any puns, if you infer them, that’s on you). Freelancers want more money for their work. As any who works freelance knows, we are at the bottom of the barrel and we are lucky if we get our meagre scrapings in time. So all power to these brave souls and the laws which allow them to do this!



Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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