‘When Indian journalists are muzzled, India is diminished’

02 Sep,2022

 

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Ranjona BanerjiThe Adani Group’s attempt to takeover NDTV has not just roiled media watchers and liberals in India but it has also reached the notice of the international media.

The Guardian and The Economists have reported and commented.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/aug/24/media-freedom-fears-in-india-after-modi-ally-adani-buys-29-stake-in-ndtv

 

https://www.economist.com/asia/2022/08/29/media-freedom-in-india-is-under-threat-again

 

The Economist’s comment is the stronger of the two, laying out in no uncertain terms the enormous threat to Indian journalism under Prime Minister Modi and the BJP:

“But, assuming Mr Adani succeeds in taking over NDTV, the fear is that space for free speech—or simple truth-telling—on India’s most influential news medium will shrink further. If so, it will grow harder for India’s defenders to brag that theirs remains a lively, outspoken and confident place. When Indian journalists are muzzled, India is diminished.”

 

Let’s look at three recent examples of muzzling. It is unclear whether this is by order or by choice.

The torture of a young woman from the Adivasi community by a member of the BJP had been largely ignored and kept below the radar by the mainstream media, until the story exploded.

The fact that the accused, Seema Patra, was part of the BJP was covered up, excuses made by the BJP were presented as fact. The story emerged after her own son released videos of the torture, and the result was Patra admitted her son to a mental institution in Ranchi.

It is only after non-mainstream media pushed the story that it took off. Patra was arrested and suspended from the party.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/jharkhand-suspended-bjp-leader-seema-patras-alleged-move-against-son-who-exposed-helps-torture-3302660

https://www.counterview.net/2022/09/torture-of-adivasi-girl-reflects-caste.html

It is worth nothing that when this story hit the news, the mainstream media preferred to salivate over the possibility of a government collapse in Jharkhand, where this incident took place. The cleverness of the BJP in toppling governments was much lauded.

The second incident is also about a BJP corporator, Vineeta Agarwal and her husband. They were accused of buying a baby from a child trafficker for Rs 1.8 lakh. The child was stolen from its parents at Mathura railway station.

This story was also treated in a lowkey manner. It has all the elements that normal journalists love: a politician, corruption, shady behaviour, criminal activity. Everything that should have made Vineeta Agwarwal a household name but somehow that never happened.

https://thewire.in/politics/bjp-corporator-vineeta-agarwal-child

The third story deals with my state of Uttarakhand.

There are allegations of corruption and favouritism in recruitments for positions in the Uttarakhand assembly by the ruling BJP, as well as the Congress and Uttarakhand Kranti Dal. Relatives and friends were hired against official policy.

The other case is of corruption in police recruitments, and exam papers being leaked, dating from 2015 onwards. Probes have been ordered. Most of the accused appear to be from Uttar Pradesh.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2022/aug/28/uttarakhand-paper-leak-scam-kingpin-arrested-had-rs-111-crore-turnover-2492127.html

Media attention is low.

Corruption matters only sometimes.

Those of us old enough might remember Films Division newsreels which were shown in movie halls before the main feature.

Most of them were interminably boring shots of Prime Ministers and other ministers inaugurating things, waving at things and walking about here and there. Later Doordarshan News took on that role.

If you look at “news” channels today, they are happily fulfilling that same role of a state agency. The Prime Minister walks about, waves a lot, makes weird promises, makes unsubstantiated claims.

And the bulk of the media, now owned by his good friends, follows him around faithfully and unquestioningly.

The Economist might as well have added “leash” to muzzle to complete the analogy.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays. Her views here are personal

 

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