The last few years have seen an increase in verbal attacks on journalists directly by the ruling dispensation and more than directly by its Bhakt Brigade. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has clearly articulated his disdain for a large section of national media on more than one occasion.
If Modi called journalists news traders, his motor mouth minister General VK Singh called them ‘presstitutes’. On social media, we often watch with shock and dismay, the way journalists, women in particular, are hounded by the Bhakt Brigade. Some of them fight back, most of them ignore, while there are some who simply break down.
The Fourth Estate Has Crumbled
Media houses have been raided. Some very well known journalists have also been hounded out of work, and top ministers in the government (and one would like to believe they are very busy) have personally intervened to ensure these journalists stay out of work.
Journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh got killed by right-wing elements. Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a journalist in Manipur, has been put behind bars under the National Security Act, for criticising the chief minister and the central government. He has been in jail since 27 November. Barring the exception of the gruesome killing of Lankesh, we have not seen collective outrage over attacks on the media.
And yet, in one voice, we saw our media unpliably outraging over the use of the word ‘pliable’ by Rahul Gandhi for a journalist.
It is astounding to watch the media selectively behave like Mimosa Pudica, also known as the Lajwanti plant.
This is an era where in the name of news, we get half-boiled views of journalists – some of whom would do well in going back to journalism schools.
And if they do not get admission, they can do better by using that time to watch the face-off between US President Donald Trump and CNN. See how claims made by Trump are fact-checked by The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Too busy to read? Listen to this instead.
To expect the Modi regime to adhere to the old value system was naïveté. Narendra Modi broke that rule and started treating journalists with utter disdain, even before he became the prime minister.
Not letting them accompany him on his state visits, not interacting with them, letting his army of smart phone warriors loose on them were some of the known methods adopted by the Modi regime to ‘manage’ media. In fact, the passion with which this regime has created a parallel unmediated arm of its own to disseminate information, rumours and misinformation, organised media, the way we understand it and the way the world understands it, will soon be a thing of the past.
In the last five years, our fourth estate has crumbled before our very eyes. Anchors are either helpless before or complicit with the management in becoming willing mouthpieces of the narrative of the ruling regime.
With the number of questions that are hurled at Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party, it would appear it is the Congress party that is in power at the Centre and in all the states and UTs of India and even some of the neighbouring countries.
It is a few brave and bold websites and a couple of television anchors who are still keeping the flag of free media flying.
Spineless Media & a Ruthless Regime
As politicians, it is natural to squirm when we find ourselves at the receiving end of investigative stories in the media. We also get uncomfortable when we get cornered by ruthless questions. The fact remains, it is the duty and the right of free media to question governments.
But what happens when the same media not only stops questioning the government, it also attacks those in the Opposition for questioning the government? Who will question the journalist when he or she becomes His Master’s Voice? A spineless media is as dangerous to a democracy as a ruthless regime – for the former ends up helping the latter.
Democracy needs a media that speaks truth to power, not one that bows to the powerful. For the sake of democracy, our media needs to either get back into the role it is meant to perform or be prepared to get questioned. Or please tell the nation what should be done and by whom when the messenger becomes the regime’s sharpshooter.
(Pawan Khera is the national spokesperson of the Indian National Congress. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for them.)
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