Emergency Is Back

Silencing Vocal Journalists

Bharat Dogra

It is hard to believe that so many frontline journalists have been implicated recently in serious charges and cases. They would all be at the top of any guide on distinguished media personalities of India. Is this just a bad dream? Or has the emergency been clamped again? No, it is neither.

It is painful to recall memories of those so implicated. Mrinal Pande, the former Chairperson of Prasar Bharati, the official apex body of Indian broadcast media. Also former editor-in-chief of Hindustan, one of the most important and highly circulated newspapers in Hindi. A distinguished author who has contributed to several genres of Hindi literature (incidentally also the daughter of a very prominent Hindi writer Shivani who has millions of admiring readers). A feminist in her own right. A distinguished contributor also to English media. As much at home in print media as on TV. A gentle, kind senior citizen always willing to help a good cause. Involved in several relevant and useful social activities. In recent times she has been involved with Navjivan/National Herald. Chief Editor of this group's Quami Awaz and another distinguished media personality, Zafar Agha, too has been similarly implicated.

Rajdeep Sardesai, long regarded as one of the brightest journalists of India, with contributions in print as well as TV journalism. Served in senior-most positions in leading media organisations including India Today TV and Global Broadcast News.

Siddharth Varadarajan, a top award-winning journalist of India. Having distinguished himself in very senior positions in the biggest and the most prestigious newspapers like The Times of India and The Hindu, he then played a leading role in the establishment and progress of the Involved in several highly relevant social activities.

Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, Jose Verghese-distinguished personalities of the profession who reworked the Caravan as a leading narrative magazine of Asia which has been praised by many distinguished persons from several walks of life.

Now all these are persons with strong views and one may agree or disagree with them, but what one cannot deny is that they have done enough in professional life to establish themselves as leaders of profession, in the way that P. Sainted, Sumit Chakravartty ,G.G.Parikh, Binu Mathew , Sheetla Singh, Seema Mustafa, Ravish, etc. who have established themselves as leaders of profession, due to their long-time contributions to media, following the distinguished example set earlier by Nikhil Chakravartty, Ajit Bhattacharjea, Kuldip Nayyar, Krishna Raj, Romesh Thapar, Prem Bhatia, Rajendra Mathur, Prabhash Joshi, Samar Sen etc.

Of course this list of distinguished media personalities can be easily extended, but what is important is that when some journalists distinguish themselves by the sheer amount and quality of the professional work done by them, then they must get due recognition as leaders of their profession, and this recognition must be accepted by those who do not necessarily agree with their views.

Then there are journalists facing intimidation and cases, not so much from the leading authorities as from billionaires. Take the case of Paranjoy Guha Thakurta who is being singled out relentlessly. Why should a leading journalist, who has done work of high standard in TV, print and documentary film making, be singled out for relentless pursuit? Earlier he was one of the most admired TV personalities for his highly regarded programmes on Lok Sabha TV. Today he is being relentlessly pursued. Why? It is bad for a democracy if professional achievements of journalists are disregarded and they are hounded for their views.

Even someone like Shashi Tharoor, who was once in line for the top job in the United Nations and is now a Member of Parliament has not been spared. What may happen to less influential writers or commentators who make an important contribution to media with their diverse expertise and talents is anybody's guess.

For one thing the list of such victimized journalists is much longer. Dhaval Patel, Rahul Kulkarni, Kishore Chandra Wangkhem, Siddique Kappan, Mandeep Punia-these are only a few of the journalists whose names this writer encounters in search for those journalists who have been badly victimized in recent times, and there are several more.

Various journalists are only too likely to have different views. They may have very different perception about how a government is performing, and the good or bad role of some very powerful and rich persons. Despite this, there is a clear and strong need for solidarity among journalists cutting across various narrow dividing lines. During the emergency very good resistance was offered by Nikhil Chakravartty, Kuldip Nayyar, Romesh Thapar and Ajit Bhattacharjea, who did not agree on many issues but were united in their defense of press freedom.

What is important is that those who are facing arrest, victimization and intimidation should not feel that they are alone, the country's journalists and others committed to press freedom and democracy stand with them. Working journalists should create solidarity and support at international level to expose the authoritarian face of Modi government.

[Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author, having contributed well over 9000 articles/reports and over 400 books/ booklets in English and Hindi, including collections of poems, short stories and novellas.]

Vol. 53, No. 33, Feb 14 - 20, 2021