Ranjona Banerji: Sedition – a draconian tool used to suppress media…

06 May,2022

Ranjona BanerjiBy Ranjona Banerji

 

Obviously, there’s nothing to be surprised about. The annual Press Freedom Index has put India down 8 points for 2022, from 150 to 142. We had been at that reasonably bad spot for a few years and now we have got considerably worse.

 

The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report reads: “The violence against journalists, the politically partisan media and the concentration of media ownership all demonstrate that press freedom is in crisis in “the world’s largest democracy”, ruled since 2014 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right.”

 

Vijay Shankar Singh, a retired police officer, has written a letter to Mukesh Ambani, owner of the news channel News18, “This open letter is to the owner of News18, Mukesh Ambani. If a survey of the programmes of the channel owned by him for the last 8 years is done, you will find that one of the objectives of this channel is to run a communal agenda in the country and also to do such mental adaptation which will lead the country towards the divisive agenda.”

 

The letter mentions that these discussions go against the nature of the Constitution of India.

https://thenewzindia.com/retired-ips-officer-vijay-shankar-singh-writes-letter-requesting-mukesh-ambani-to-stop-communal-debates-on-his-channel-news18/

 

Aman Chopra of News18 is on the run from the Rajasthan police after two FIRS were filed against him for “promoting enmity between different groups” and “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings”.

 

Here we have a problem. A sedition case has also been filed against Chopra. Sedition is a draconian tool used by governments to suppress the media. Unfortunately, this tool is used by governments of all political persuasions. Chopra is fairly accused of promoting enmity and malicious lies. He presented, on television, the demolition of a temple in Rajasthan (Congress-ruled) as revenge for the bulldozing of a mosque in Jahangirpur, Delhi (AAP ruled but with the municipality and the police under the BJP), which was part of a deliberate BJP attempt to assault Muslims. However, what he omitted to mention is that the temple was demolished on the instructions of the BJP-run municipality in Alwar.

 

Chopra said, “The revenge of Jahangirpur by attacking Mahadev. Please listen to me carefully what I’m about to say (sic).” The use of Mahadev, a term for Lord Shiva, is a clear dogwhistle to Hindus that their gods are under attack.

 

https://www.siasat.com/news18-anchor-slapped-with-2-firs-for-provocative-temple-demolition-coverage-2314803/

 

News18 also carries the infamous “Right Stand” show where anchor Anand Narasimhan incites anti-Muslim feelings every night.

 

If the Rajasthan government dropped the sedition charge, it would show the good faith of the Congress Party in understanding press freedom and the Constitution.

 

The RSF report only emphasises the reality of India under the RSS-BJP. Modi does not exist outside the RSS’s Hindu supremacist ideology.

 

The bulk of the Indian media has now also fallen into that ideologic pit.

 

Excuses galore will be made. About how employees are saints at home but at work have no option but to obey what their bosses dictate. The owners are all evil and so on. Anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows that neither of these are wholly true and that dissent, debate and refusal are all possible.

 

We have to accept that large swathes of the journalistic community as well as TV anchors and producers have reneged on their primary responsibilities and bought into a toxic and divisive agenda.

 

This is our reality, sadly encapsulated by the RSF report:

 

“With an average of three or four journalists killed in connection with their work every year, India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media. Journalists are exposed to all kinds of physical violence, including physical violence, ambushes by political activists, and deadly reprisals by criminal groups or corrupt local officials. Supporters of Hindutva, the ideology that spawned the Hindu far right, wage all-out online attacks on any views that conflict with their thinking. Terrifying coordinated campaigns of hatred and calls for murder are conducted on social media, campaigns that are often even more violent when they target women journalists, whose personal data may be posted online as an additional incitement to violence. The situation is also still very worrisome in Kashmir, where reporters are often harassed by police and paramilitaries, with some being subjected to so-called “provisional” detention for several years.”

 

We know who the destroyers of Indian journalism are and we know they are within us. We know that we have done this to ourselves. Systematically, willingly and gleefully. We might look back to fascist Italy – Benito Mussolini was an editor after all – and Nazi Germany with its hugely successfully propaganda machinery as historical precedents. But we have to concede that we ourselves had done this to our democracy. With our eyes open.

 

Maybe we should be proud that the world acknowledges our “achievement”?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia every Tuesday and Friday. Her views here are personal

 

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