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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2039

Channel Blackout is Ominous, But…

By Tukoji R. Pandit - Syndicate Features

The government’s decision to order the Hindi channel of the NDTV to shut down for a day on November 9, the day the US elects its next President, has been decried across the spectrum. It is certainly an ominous sign. But let us also take notice of the hypocrisy shown by the media itself, not to speak of politicians of different hues who have rushed with condemnation. The biggest farce that the media has played is talking about ‘self-censorship’ whenever facing public outcry.

The government’s wrath against the NDTV should not have surprised anyone, least of all NDTV itself. Only days ago, this channel allegedly the only ‘sober’ news channel which is accused of being the voice of the ‘liberal Left’, had decided at the last hour to take an interview with the former finance minister and a prominent Congress leader, P. Chidambaram, off air. The reason given by the NDTV was lamentable if not laughable: The channel did not believe in airing ‘drivel’!

You don’t have to hold a brief for Chidambaram to say that he cannot be accused of talking ‘drivel’ even if he shares many common frailties of human beings. The NDTV bosses would have certainly decided against interviewing Chidambaram if they thought he was capable of dishing out nothing but ‘drivel’. What NDTV suddenly realized after airing a ‘trailer’ of the Chidambaram interview throughout the day was that his questioning of the government’s claim to have conducted ‘surgical attacks’ across the line of control in Kashmir would not go down well with the chest-thumping government.

As a ‘sober’ and ‘impartial’ news channel NDTV itself was expected to question the government claims. If an Opposition leader does so, it is neither surprising nor unexpected. An ‘independent’ channel airs such views without any fear and unmindful of the government trying to twist its arm by using a powerful institution like the ED.

Media institutions and organisations which raised their voice against the ban order on NDTV have performed a per forma ‘duty’. Denouncing or condemning a government act is no better than the tall talk of politicians. It is all about words, not action. But it is action, or rather reaction, that matters when you are hit. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, used the Newton formula of every action inviting an equal reaction to justify some of the most horrible crimes in Gujarat when he was the chief minister of the state.

During the long Congress rule, there were frequent instances of the government trying to pressurize the media to do or not to do something—culminating in the imposition of censorship during the Emergency in June 1975. But imposing Emergency is not the only way to browbeat the press. Behind the scene threats and blackmail, coupled with the allurement of advertisement revenue, have worked to bend the press.

The transformation in the tone of the media from the period before May 2014 and the period since then has been puzzling. In the earlier period, it was rare to find a section of the media which was not unequivocally critical of Modi’s political philosophy and what happened under his watch in Gujarat in 2002. Modi retaliated by treating the media as outcastes. After he came to power, the critical sections of the media—the ones who earned a name for being unsparing in the criticism of what Modi purportedly stood for--became very stingy in his criticism.

A leading English daily became the first major newspaper to interview Modi as the prime minister. Led by the Editor of the paper, a top team interviewed Modi at length. The end result could not have been improved upon by a PR firms. The queries put to him were clearly designed not to question his ‘controversial’ decisions but to provide him an opportunity to indulge in self-praise.

Subsequently, Modi granted interviews to some more publications--selectively. No one knows if he was really ‘grilled’ in any interview, as would be expected of a journalistic interview of a prime minister. Indeed, many in the profession believe that the questions put to Modi are vetted in advance. He is also said to encourage submission of questions before the actual interview. That may not be ‘bad’ in journalism, but a doctored interview undermines the primary role of the media as the watchdog of democracy and the society.

A channel that boasts of the largest viewership among all the news channels and has an anchor before whom the interviewee supposedly trembles continued the genuflection trend by putting out an interview with Modi that will always standout as an example of unalloyed puff. Phrases and words praising the prime minister flowed out of the mouth of the ‘dreaded’ interviewer at astonishing speed.

It is, of course, not true that the media does not criticize the government or the prime minister. Anyone who ‘dares’ to criticize the government or the prime minister is sure to face carpet bombing by the army of tweeting ‘Bhakts’ (admirers); some are threatened with physical harm. Journalists and social activists are being jailed for dubbed ‘anti-national’ which has become a synonym for critics of Modi and his party. The collective voice of journalists has failed to stop harassment of some of their colleagues by the government. Is it because their cases are taken up half-heatedly?

Recently a Pakistani journalist was in the news for writing a story unpalatable to the military. As a punishment for his ‘indiscretion’, he was put on the ‘exit control list’, which meant he could not leave the country without permission from the government. The exit order was rescinded because it could have defamed a virtual pariah country.
Journalists in India rallied behind the Pakistani journalist. But do they show the same eagerness when their colleagues within the country are harassed or placed in a similar situation?

The criticism of the government policies and leaders seems to lack the ‘bite’. For instance, the country’s drift towards the dangerous polarizing path has continued unhindered despite ‘stern’ warnings from editorial writers. Terror attacks have gone up and so has the civilian casualty despite the ‘surgical attacks’, hailed almost unanimously by the media which now underplays the spate of terror attacks in the aftermath of the ‘surgical attacks’. A number of ministers have been criticized by the media for their loose talk but that has not prevented them from repeating it because they know that the media lacks the ‘bite’; it can only bark.

These examples show that the powers that be no longer care about opinions expressed in the media because they know or feel confident that the media will not write or do anything that can actually shake the bottom of their throne. Whether the ban on NDTV remains or is lifted has become immaterial.

- Asian Tribune -

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