We need to stand united with NDTV India

As PM Modi warns us against another Emergency, he spearheads what can be rightfully described as an undeclared emergency.

 |  Angiography  |  7-minute read |   04-11-2016
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When on November 2 evening, at the luxurious confines of the ITC Maurya Sheraton, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the media to present India in a better light on world stage to preserve its own credibility, journalists in the backseats, many of them recipients of the Ramnath Goenka award, squirmed silently.

Fortunately for them, the Indian Express’ editor-in-chief Raj Kamal Jha made an intervention during his vote of thanks and told the prime minister: “Criticism from the government is a badge of honour for journalists”.

A day later, the ministry of information and broadcasting issued a notice that ordered that NDTV India, the group’s Hindi news channel led by senior journalist Ravish Kumar, will be taken off the air for 24 hours starting 1pm on November 9, for giving out “strategically sensitive” details on the Panthankot terror attack that took place in the first week of January this year, marking an ominous beginning to an year that has gone from bad to worse.

The manner in which NDTV India has been singled out for its coverage is unnerving.

In the words of the Editors Guild of India:

“The decision to take the channel off the air for a day is a direct violation of the freedom of the media and therefore the citizens of India and amounts to harsh censorship imposed by the government reminiscent of the Emergency. This first-of-its-kind order to impose a blackout has seen the Central government entrust itself with the power to intervene in the functioning of the media and take arbitrary punitive action as and when it does not agree with the coverage. There are various legal remedies available to both a citizen and a state in the Court of Law to have action taken for any irresponsible media coverage. Imposing a ban without resorting to judicial intervention or oversight violates the fundamental principles of freedom and justice. The Editors Guild of India calls for an immediate withdrawal of the ban order.”

It’s barely been a month since NDTV – the English news channel – decided to drop the interview given by former Union home minister P Chidambaram on the Uri attack and surgical strikes conducted by the UPA regime that were kept under the wraps.

NDTV’s executive editor Sonia Singh said it was ostensibly in the interest of not compromising national security. It’s both unfortunate and unfair and extremely ironical that NDTV’s Hindi counterpart – the wonderfully sober and gritty channel shouldered by one of the most respected and intrepid journalists in the field, Ravish Kumar – is being singled out in the name of that very holy cow.

It’s both upsetting and alarming that increasingly journalists are getting busier to merely preserve the rights of doing their jobs, merely asserting their freedom of press and speech and expression, the right to report and criticise the government and hold it to account. Exactly as the prime minister warns us against another Emergency, he, more or less, spearheads the conditions that lead to, and can be rightfully described as, an undeclared emergency, with all the hallmarks of a time of terrible, relentless repression of any dissenting voice.

Is the prime minister tone-deaf to irony?

Yesterday, my fellow journalist friends and colleagues, both in the newsroom and on Twitter, were debating whether Ramnath Goeka awardee Akshaya Mukul was correct in saying no to personally receiving the award from the PM. Some of us said that we should always engage and not boycott the PM and the government, much in the manner that Raj Kamal Jha did, standing up for both the journalism of excellence and courage, as well as demolishing the “selfie journalism” that wraps itself with a national flag every time there’s a crisis or a question to be answered.

Today, NDTV India is being targeted for not wrapping itself enough with the national flag.

The truth is, this business of wrapping ourselves with the tricolour is not only an arbitrary one, it’s the most unscrupulous thing we can do to our profession and to that hallowed word PM Modi mentioned again and again – “credibility”.

NDTV had embraced the black screen and made a powerful statement when it had run a message saying that this was the slot dedicated to broadcasting India’s Daughter – a documentary on the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape incident and its aftermath. NDTV India’s Ravish Kumar too had experimented with a novel form of communicating what is ailing Indian journalism when he presented only texts on a black screen and urged us to really listen to the voices of reason, not the whirr of national security eclipsing every nuance from reportage and opinion.

ndtvbd_110416023610.jpg Ravish Kumar had experimented with a novel form of communicating what is ailing Indian journalism when he presented only texts on a black screen. (Photo: Screenshot/NDTV)

But today, there will be a government-imposed ban on its airing as a punishment for an allegation that is highly dubious in the first place. As TS Sudhir asks in his piece today: "Does the ministry want us to believe that the terrorists did not do their basic homework before choosing such a critical target? Instead, they were tuned into NDTV India to know from its reporter what is inside an airbase and where is what? Does it mean that Pakistan undertook this high-risk operation banking entirely on an Indian channel to tell where the MIGs are parked? It is preposterous that this kind of argument is even finding takers." 

Today, #NDTVBanned is trending on the top on Twitter. But we musk ask why didn’t #KashmirReaderBanned trend at all, when the newspaper was stopped from printing its editions, shut down and its office belongings, papers, computers confiscated? Was it because it was not willing to take dictation from the Indian authorities while reporting on the still ongoing crisis following the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani? Why this discrepancy towards a newspaper based out of a region that most chest-thumping nationalists call an “integral part of India”?

It’s upsetting that we permanently deflect the questions that stare us journalists in the face. What Akshaya Mukul and Anna MM Vetticad did was in their personal capacities. They did not compromise their journalistic integrity by not showing up at an award function; they just made a statement that may or may not find appreciation among the highly divided journalistic factions within India.

However, today, when a premier news channel is facing an arbitrary ban imposed by the government for something that is not even remotely upsetting the grand narrative of national security, we must stand together and speak in one voice. Because this isn’t at all about which brand of journalism is right and which isn’t.

This isn’t about which is noise and which is the voice of reason and sobriety. This is about the very foundations of journalism itself. This is about the survival of the fourth estate, its independence, its very oxygen of will to power up and fire up the truth.

How many more infringements to our freedom of press are we willing to accept? Are we going to become a thousand clones of Arnab Goswami when he called for the channels and journalists that question the government (and therefore endanger national security) to be severely punished, even jailed?

Or, are we going to take tuitions in journalism from Rajeev Chandrasekhar and tweak our editorial policy to be pro-nationalist, pro-Army, no questions asked, even as ex-servicemen take their own lives to wake the government up that’s systematically breaking their spirit?

We need to stand united behind NDTV India. We should have stood united with Kashmir Reader too. Let’s not repeat our old mistakes and find strength in solidarity.

Also read: Why Modi bhakts are making #ShutDownNDTV trend on Twitter


Angshukanta Chakraborty Angshukanta Chakraborty @angshukanta

Former assistant editor, DailyO

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