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Opinion

A Long Battle Ahead for Media Freedom

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Vagraj Badarayan

The storm generated by the ouster of three high-ranking journalists from ABP News got a further boost with the explosive claims made by PunyaPrasunBajpai, one of the three journalists who were forced out.
Bajpayi has claimed that the ABP News management had asked him not to name the prime minister on his programme Master Stroke, while giving him a free hand to name other ministers.
It is increasingly clear now that the three journalists from ABP News were forced to quit because they had taken a stringent anti-Modi stance in their reporting and programmes.
The trigger for the chain of events was the Master Stroke episode in which Bajpai exposed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dubious claim, made on his monthly radio broadcast Mann Ki Baat, regarding the doubling of income of a woman from Chhattisgarh.
At first, the television reception of Master Stroke started getting disrupted. It is understood that the management at ABP News itself engaged in this, to prevent people from watching the programme.
Milind Khandekar, the channel’s editor-in-chief, was forced to resign as the management was unhappy with him for allowing the programme to be telecast. ABP News reporter Abhisar Sharma, who took on the prime minister for his claim that law and order had improved in Uttar Pradesh, has been sent on forced leave.
Indeed this comes as no surprise. The Modi government’s deep antipathy for the media has been evident from the day it assumed office. The ABP episode comes in the long wake of similar instances where inconvenient and critical journalists were forced to quit, as soon as they had done a hard-hitting story or allowed their publications to criticise the government.
In 2016, Outlook magazine sacked its editor-in-chief, Krishna Prasad, upon the publication of an article exposing the involvement of people linked to the RSS in the trafficking of young girls in Assam. Bobby Ghosh had to quit as editor of the Hindustan Times last year after it ran a series of articles tracking incidents of lynching in the country.
Harish Khare, editor-in-chief of the Tribune, had to leave a few months before tenure’s end after the paper published an expose on the easy availability of Aadhar data, for sale for as little as Rs 500 through private operators.
In a similar manner, trustees of the Economic & Political Weekly asked its editor ParanjoyGuhaThakurta to resign because of the criminal defamation suit filed by industrialist Gautam Adani against an article published in the journal. Nitin Sethi had to resign from Scroll earlier this year, after he wrote a damning piece against Adani’s Mundhra port dealings.
Nikhil Wagle quit TV9 in 2017 after the channel’s management suddenly cancelled his show Sadetod which had taken a critical stance against the Maharashtra government on issues like farmers’ distress. The programme was highly popular but was dropped under pressure from the government, alleged Wagle, who had anchored it. He resigned in protest.
The list is indeed long.
The vindictiveness of PM Narendra Modi has also been brought out sharply by Karan Thapar in his latest book, where he claims that BJP functionaries were personally told by the prime minister not to appear on his programmes or give him interviews.
On the extreme side of the spectrum we see cases of murder and physical intimidation against journalists, Right to Information (RTI) activists, NGOs working among Dalits and Adivasis, and activists fighting against the destruction of the environment.
LankeshPatrike editor Gauri Lankesh was murdered; violence was threatened against authors such as PerumalMurugan in Tamil Nadu and more recently S. Hareesh in Kerala. In March this year, activist NanjibhaiSondavara was killed in Rajkot district after he filed an RTI request to know the details of a road being constructed in his village.
Similar incidents have occurred in Bihar, Meghalaya and other states. Thousands of NGOs have been shut down, many for political reasons as they were seen to be opposing the government on various fronts: such as nuclear power, or the setting up of industrial plants in tribal areas without regard to the environment, and without negotiations or discussions with the people living in those areas.
Overall a grim situation prevails so far as media independence and a democratic space for protest is concerned.
The deterioration in the status of the media profession as seen in murder, assault, threat of physical harm or job loss of journalists is also reflected in the World Press Freedom Index Report. According to the 2018 report India was ranked at 138 out of 180 countries, having slipped two places.
Looking at these issues as an outcome of the illiberal and authoritarian ideological moorings of the current ruling dispensation alone provides only a partial explanation for what we see happening today. It is true that the sheer magnitude and pervasiveness of the BJP government’s intolerant attitude towards the media, which dares criticise it, is astonishing. But it is also true that in the past the Congress and other political parties ruling in the states displayed a similar tendency or urge to control the media, by intimidation or allurement, whichever proved effective. This is why the issue needs a deeper, dispassionate analysis to pinpoint the trends reflected in such behaviour by the present government.
It would be a mistake to think that only threats and intimidation are responsible for the loss of freedom in the media industry. Perhaps the number of media houses willingly prostrating themselves before the government today raises far more difficult questions than the ones raised by the case of ABP News. After all, it is understandable that governments sit in a somewhat conflictual role in relation to the media, insofar as it is the job of the media to bring out their weaknesses and turn the searchlight towards them.
But the growing media corporatisation in India has changed the understanding about the role and position of media in the country. In 2014, Vineet Jain, managing director of the Times of India Group of publications said that their newspaper was in the business of advertising. This candid admission captures the unmistakable direction the Indian media is taking. Media is now seen essentially as a business. Quite naturally, the pursuit of profit becomes its prime objective, and no business house would be willing to lose out on the media business, or the other businesses in which it is involved, just to ‘speak truth to power’.
The growing corporatisation of the media has progressed hand in hand with a decline in editorial ethos, and the subservience of journalistic values to business imperatives.
We are witnessing a link between corporatisation and the media’s turning away from its role as the watchdog of democracy, to being a promoter of the government’s agenda no matter how reactionary and regressive it is. (Remember the Cobrapost sting earlier this year, where top bosses of media houses were shown to be willing and eager to promote the agenda of communal polarisation for financial gain.) However, the link between the two processes is neither one-to-one nor direct, and needs closer examination.
Two outlets of the same media group, for instance, may take very different, even opposite views on the same issue.
While ABP News may drive away journalists who oppose Modi, the Telegraph of the same group comes up with some of the most daring and hard-hitting headlines and reports. One can see Times Now engaged, day in day out, in pushing the ‘nationalistic’, government agenda while its sister organisation Mirror Now takes a fairly progressive and balanced view on issues.
A large proportion of NDTV shares are owned by Reliance through VSP Ltd, by some carefully crafted financial arrangement, and yet NDTV continues to maintain an editorial position critical of the government. The hedging of risks across channels and media is a strategy employed by the corporate media house in its long-term pursuit of profit, protecting the interests of the larger business group which is promoting the media outlet.
Another worrying dimension of the corporatisation of the media landscape is the growing concentration of ownership witnessed in India. According to a recent study published in EPW titled ‘Mapping the Power of Major Media Companies in India’, in 2011 the share of the top four companies in the total revenue of each sector — called the C4 share — was 75% for television, 96% for radio, 84% for Direct-to-Home, 77% for news websites, and 48% for the newspaper industry. With fewer firms controlling the media, it becomes far easier for the government to armtwist and manipulate them to push its own agenda.
The issue of media houses’ freedom from government power and corporate control is deeply linked with the work conditions of those involved in creating the content. Over a period of time, the majority of media houses have opted for the retrenchment of employees at various levels, replacing regular employees with contract workers with no job security. It is obvious that the threat of losing one’s job works as a big deterrent for anyone thinking to oppose management diktats. It has also become a common practice for media houses to pay a paltry sum to reporters and other professionals working in smaller cities and on the ground.
Journalists are given the duty to generate advertising revenue and improve subscription along with their journalistic work. It is tragic that the recommendations of the Majithia Wage Board (2011), which was constituted to decide the basic wage and working conditions of the journalists, have been implemented by only a handful of media houses despite the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the recommendations.
In tandem with this, we see a trend where big names in the media are offered huge salaries, and sometimes become shareholders in the channel.
The impact of the entire process is that the media becomes weak and prone being manipulated by the management or the government.
Challenges to media freedom come from many quarters and involve both short- and longterm issues. In the immediate context, a government which is blatant in its pursuit to use all the powers at its command to gag the press and force it to follow its line needs to be held accountable by all those who value democracy and free expression.
It is dangerous when the work of journalists starts being benchmarked against its political desirability or the commercial imperatives of the media organisation. Indeed, in the longer run, the overall context of media ownership, journalists’ working conditions, institutional safeguards for free and fair reporting, and other such issues also need to be taken up for discussion within the media community.
As the Modi government enters its fifth year, the situation looks grim and intimidating not only for the media industry but for the democratic future of the country as a whole. When senior officials in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting call up media houses to threaten them, and the chief of the ruling party is reported to have echoed the threat to journalists for doing their job, it is time to sit up and take stock, and prepare for the long battle ahead.
(thecitizen.in)


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Opinion

Silence and mayhem go together in India

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Anand K Sahay

There is perhaps nothing more striking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s present tenure — which ends in a few months — than its silence on matters where the clear choice of right and wrong, moral versus immoral, ethics or the want of it, and adherence to the Constitution or its negation, has presented itself.

Since a clear endorsement of what society considers bad, wrong, undesirable or lacking in constitutional propriety or probity cannot be a public good, and may cost at election time, remaining quiet is designed as a clever tactic. Its purpose is to offer comfort to wrongdoers (sometimes evildoers) and suspected criminals, thus causing injury to the notion of what’s right, valid and appropriate conduct for an elected government.

That, in turn, amounts to a violation of the compact between the government and the country’s citizens, and causes visible injury to the oath every minister of the government takes at the time of being sworn in.

In the process the state and the government lose their authority. The emperor begins to be seen as being denuded. There may be murmurs of rebellion but the people do not rise in revolt because too much force is ranged on the other side. They would rather bide their time.

Two recent instances come to mind — though several more can be cited — of the regime’s sly silence. Consider first the case of M.J. Akbar in relation to the vigorous #MeToo campaign and the stunning allegations of sexual predation made against him by more than 20 women.

The minister of state for external affairs was eventually forced to resign under the weight of his omissions and commissions in the course of dealing with young women over whom he had authority. But the point here is the reaction of the BJP, the ruling party; the RSS, which holds that party’s moral compass and is its moral arbiter; and more importantly the government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made Mr Akbar minister, and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj under whom he served.

It would be understandable if all the above had remained circumspect and quiet when the minister was overseas on assignment. But BJP and RSS spokesmen, speaking on television, were anything but discreet. They in fact went out of their way to attack the women who had accused Mr Akbar — asking for proof of allegations of sexual misconduct as if these can ever exist (by the very nature of the alleged crime) — and the RSS representatives, in particular, maintaining that India “is not a banana republic and the rule of law exists here”.

In effect, the victims of the minister’s alleged predatory conduct were sought to be demonised and traduced. Those engaging in this sport gave no evidence of appreciating that moral uprightness is a requirement in governance, not legal proof, when confronted with allegations of wrongdoing.

They had obviously not heard of a former Prime Minister, a man called Lal Bahadur Shastri (who had resigned as railway minister in the Nehru Cabinet, accepting constructive responsibility when a train accident occurred).

This may be the RSS’ idea of morality, but the Narendra Modi government should have had its own mind on the matter since, unlike the RSS, the government is a creature of the Constitution.

The Prime Minister was morally duty-bound to give the minister marching orders upon his return to India if only to make the point that a sustained record of alleged crimes against women cannot be tolerated as it robs the government as well as the society of its dignity, and the entire class of women of their very being and soul. But Mr Modi maintained a sphinx-like silence as is his wont, and this encouraged

Mr Akbar to file a case of criminal defamation — pointedly not civil defamation — against the first woman to have raised her finger.

The government’s ear-splitting silence was consistent with its lack of any communication with the public whenever serious crimes against women rocked the country, signifying that the Union government had no sympathy for the females whose bodily integrity had been criminally encroached upon.

Two shameful episodes illustrate this — the Kathua gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old child near Jammu and the subsequent open public defence of the criminals by ministers of the J&K government to the shock of the entire country, with the government at the Centre remaining stoical. The second numbing episode is that of a BJP MLA in Uttar Pradesh, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, raping a minor girl and having her father tortured and murdered at a police station when he went there to lodge a complaint.

The second recent instance of governmental encouragement through the use of silence as tactic concerns RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat. During his recent three-day outreach programme in New Delhi, the RSS leader declared, in effect, that while the Supreme Court may be adjudicating the Ayodhya title dispute, in reality it was the Temple Construction Committee (of the Hindutva outfits) that would decide the construction of the Ram temple (at the site where the Babri mosque was felled in 1992) — irrespective of the outcome of the court’s labours.

This was nothing if not heaping humiliation on the highest court of the land. But the government just stood and watched in a neutral stance. Perhaps the regime’s thinking is in harmony with the outrageous proposition outlined by the top boss of a dangerous outfit whose mention comes up in “riot after riot” (to recall the title of a book authored by Mr Akbar in his pre-BJP days).

This is not the only serious infraction the RSS leader is guilty of. Just weeks afterward, delivering his Vijayadashami address on October 18, Mr Bhagwat referred to the permitting of the entry of women to the Sabarimala temple (by a recent order of the Supreme Court) in inflammatory and prejudicial terms, choosing to renew his assault on the top court with an emotional pitch to the target audience, doubtless with a view to rabble-rousing.

In the context of the Sabarimala judgment, the man actually said that “repeated and brazen onslaughts” happened to “Hindu society alone”. In a Hindu-majority country, this is a call to arms for the Hindus on a false and hypocritical premise. The call to arms is not against the Supreme Court, not even only against the traditionally targeted minorities, but on the Constitution itself. Once again, the government answered the challenge with silence.

It is time to ponder if the leader of the RSS would have thought it prudent to speak in this manner and idiom if he didn’t have under his command a trained paramilitary-style volunteer force, which receives the benign attention of the government. It’s also worth wondering what’s left of the sheen of the government and the majesty of the law. Big trouble lies ahead. We may as well brace for it.

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Opinion

The truth of BJP victory in Kashmir

The Kashmir Monitor

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By Rahiba R. Parveen

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed victory in the urban local body elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the “stupendous effort” of the party.

“I salute the entire team of @BJP4JnK for their stupendous efforts in the local body elections. I am glad that they reached out to every section of society and explained the Party’s development agenda,” he tweeted.

Both are factually correct. After all, the BJP did win 100 of the 624 wards in the Kashmir region — its best performance ever — and will head six municipal bodies.

It won over 212 of the 520 wards in Jammu, a notable feat in view of the anti-incumbency of the last four years.
However, there’s a subtext to the BJP’s big achievement.

No contest

Of the 100 seats that it won in Kashmir, the party had no opponent in 76. In at least two seats, even the party’s own candidate stayed away from the polling booth.

That’s not all.

Of the 157 wards won by the Congress, 78 were uncontested. Independents won 178 wards, of which 75 witnessed no contest.

Of the 624 wards in Kashmir, as many as 185 wards still remain vacant in the absence of any candidate willing to contest. A significant 231 saw a single candidate, while just 208 witnessed a contest.

In Nawakadal, for example, BJP’s Arif Majeed Pampoori got 27 of the 45 votes polled, while the total number of voters registered for this ward are 5,372.

In Karan Nagar, Ashok Kabul (BJP) won by 73 votes of 144 polled. All 73 votes were cast by migrants.

Another victory for BJP was in Bagh-e-Mehtab, where Bashir Ahmed Mir secured eight votes of the nine polled. This ward has 5,118 electors.

Nazir Ahmed Gilkar from Basant Bagh won 77 votes of 133 polled; there are 13,748 electors in this ward.

Farooq Ahmad Khan alias Saifullah (BJP) lost to Nakul Matto in Tankipora (ward 33). A former militant, Khan could only get four votes. Of the four votes, three were cast by migrants.

In four militancy-hit districts of south Kashmir, BJP won 58 wards. Around 34 winners in these wards are non-Muslims. In the Anantnag municipal committee, the BJP secured 29 of 132 wards. In Shopian, of the 17 wards, it won 12. In Kulgam, of the 47 wards, the party won eight. In the Pulwama municipal committee, of the 69 wards, the BJP won nine.

The Congress won 50 seats in Anantnag against the BJP’s 29. The grand old party won 16 wards in the Srinagar Municipal Corporation, while independents, including former National Conference spokesperson Junaid Azim Mattu, won 49 of the 66 wards.

In its stronghold Jammu, the BJP fared on expected lines. It won 13 urban local bodies, including the Jammu Municipal Corporation, and emerged as the single-largest party in eight others. The Congress managed to win just three committees.

Of the 37 urban local bodies, the BJP won in 212 wards while Congress won just 110 wards, with the number two spot going to independents — 185 wards.

For the opposition Congress, the loss of face in Jammu, what with the BJP facing huge anti-incumbency, would be worrisome, observers said.

The saving grace for the Congress was that it won all 13 seats of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Leh and five of 13 seats in Kargil. The BJP won the Ladakh Lok Sabha seat in 2014.

With the worst-ever polling percentage in the Kashmir Valley, the elections were always going to attract questions.
Adding to the controversy was the claim by governor Satya Pal Malik that a foreign-educated person would be the next mayor of Srinagar. That person, it now seems clear, will be Junaid Mattu. Immediately after the results were announced, separatist-turned-politician and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone nominated Mattu as his party’s mayoral candidate.

“Congratulations to PC Mayoral Candidate @Junaid_Mattu and the victorious candidates from PC for heralding a new change in Srinagar and thanks to Irfan Ansari and all my senior colleagues for his successful campaign management during the ULB elections,” Lone tweeted.

Governor Malik, who’s currently in charge of the state’s administration, said his government had managed to conduct “successful” elections under immense pressure.

“A biased person will count the percentage. My assessment of the election is everyone — both the mainstream parties, small parties, Hurriyat and terrorists — all of them opposed this election, but people still came (to vote),” Malik told ThePrint.

“In 2002 as well, the percentage was as low as it was (this time). So that way, I see no reason to feel very good or exalted. But yes, the basic thing which we should take note of is that entire election was violence-free. Not even a bird was harmed. In other elections — parliamentary and assembly — nine people died.

“We held these elections successfully. We could thwart the threats we (the administration) and the voters were given, and fight it out.”

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Opinion

TRANQUILITY OF PRESENT GENERATION: LOST LOVE AND CARE

The Kashmir Monitor

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By SEHRISH SHAFI

Tranquility is a state of physical ease that has several dimensions. In this digital world every work is carried out by artificial machines like robots, mixers, washing machines etc. Our life is has been made very easy with these artificial machines and our lives have become dependent on these machines. Before a decade people were served by the food that was cooked on firepot, (Daan in Kashmiri) and it was having the best taste. Nowadays, we cook food in rice cookers and on electric heaters that has some dangerous aspects associated with these electronic gadgets and some of the diseases and risks have been related with the use of these gadgets.

In olden days people were busy in their work which they were doing manually, like washing clothes by hands, cooking food on fire pots, going one place to another by foot etc., thereby consuming less resources, that was having double benefits like keeping environment free from pollutants and those who were doing manual labor remained always fit and healthy. Their minds were also busy with their work with limited wants. They always feel themselves in a relaxed and comfort zone. Currently, humans are full of desires and wishes. They make themselves busy with different types of modern electronic gadgets. People want to do things with more and more comfort.

Those muddy and wooden houses with joint families, listening the folklores of our ancestors were full of love and affection. The joint meals, the sharing of happy and sad moments, the visit of neighbors and relatives, the harmony of villages, the celebrations of festivals all are missing from the present generation, and the credit goes to mobile phones. The irony is that if a daughter or a son wants to share something with their parents they can’t as their parents are either busy in offices or in parties or with mobile phones. This has made life of present generation very strained, full of anger, disloyalty etc. We have left that comfort or placidity in the houses of mud, where all family members lived together with love and reminding us the culture that was prevalent in valley before few decades.

Everyone in this digital world wants the comfort zone and in every nook and corner people searches the calmness and peace. The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our life. No doubt present generation is having unlimited facilities still they are lacking the love and care. The artificial technologies will not provide them the care and love which they are of basic need. If we want to build a house, it must have a strong base and if the base is weak the house may fall at any time. So, is the case of present generation our base is so weak that we can fall at any level where it is difficult to recover and in teenage we need proper guidance and care from our parents or our elders that will have direct impact on our bright future and improper guidance or no guidance may make our future bleak.

Therefore, parents and elders have a role in shaping our future towards a better and happy life. They have to think, they have to ponder.

(The author is B. Sc I year student at Govt degree college Bijbehara)

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