Defending differences

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2016 was ‘post-truth’, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. Earlier, I could not grasp the full import of this hyphenated word. But last week, a couple of missives from sceptical readers brought out the full meaning of the word for me and helped me understand the world in which it operates.

For the sake of brevity, I am paraphrasing the questions posed to me: Where were the votaries of the liberal media and the warriors of the freedom of expression when the Maharashtra government launched its punitive action against Republic TV chief Arnab Goswami? Is the concern restricted only to liberals? What is the justification for the silence surrounding the difficulties faced by conservatives?

Coming together as one

I was astonished to receive such complaints. Most journalists, editors and publishers have been consistent in their demand for a free press and have never used an ideological lens to condone the excesses of the government. I became a journalist in 1984 and have been a witness to the consistent stand taken by professional journalists since then. I remember how the Anti-Defamation Bill of 1988, which was introduced by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and passed by the Lok Sabha, was later withdrawn due to sustained protests by the journalistic community. Journalists came together irrespective of the differences among them. In Tamil Nadu, where I have spent most of my journalistic days, I saw how the fraternity rose as one to defend S. Balasubramanian, editor and publisher of Ananda Vikatan, when Speaker P. H. Pandian invoked a breach of privilege motion against the magazine for carrying a cartoon in 1987. This defence continued when the breach of privilege issue was invoked against K.P. Sunil of the Illustrated Weekly of India in 1992 and journalists of The Hindu in 2003. In defamation cases filed by governments against various media outlets, there was a unified call demanding that critical and adversarial voices should not be stifled.

Let us examine The Hindu’s coverage of Mr. Goswami’s brush with the powers that be in Maharashtra. The newspaper has constantly tracked the story since the breach of privilege motion was moved against him. The last story on this subject appeared on November 7 on the front page (“SC relief for Arnab in privilege case”). The story continued on page 14 under the extended headline, “SC relief for Arnab in breach of privilege case”.

Mr. Goswami is also battling an abetment to suicide case. He was arrested on November 4. On November 5, the newspaper carried many reports. There was a page 1 report (“Arnab Goswami held in 2018 suicide case”), which continued on page 8. There were two reports on the political fallout of his arrest, published on page 9: “Arnab’s arrest triggers verbal clash between BJP and Sena” and “Law will take its own course: Congress”. In a fair journalistic tradition, the newspaper also reported the views of the victim’s family (“Arnab, others threatened victim, say kin”, page 9). The coverage on November 6 consisted of two reports on page 11 — “Court rejects request for Arnab’s police custody” and “Plea before Bombay HC challenges arrest” — as well as an editorial titled “Arresting Arnab”. The editorial explained not only the newspaper’s stand on the issue but also the high-handedness of the Maharashtra government. On November 7, the newspaper reported the happenings before the Bombay High Court in a report headlined “No relief for Arnab, hearing continues today” (page 15). The November 8th issue carried two reports: “Arnab fails to get relief from Bombay HC” (page 1) and “Bombay HC seeks police response in Naik case” (page 11).

Vindictive actions against journalists

I am also reminded of the many examples of vindictive actions that have been taken against journalists over the last three decades and the impunity with which the perpetrators have gone scot-free while journalists and media organisations pay a huge price because the ‘process is the punishment’ in these cases. I hope that courts act as swiftly in the case of other Indian journalists as they did in Mr. Goswami’s case — journalists who figure in various indices compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, including the impunity index that documents the number of journalists killed.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 10:55:55 PM |

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