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A Long Battle Ahead for Media Freedom

The Kashmir Monitor




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.


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Brazen statements on job shortage

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”


The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.


Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.


There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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