Rss

  • stumble
  • youtube
  • linkedin

#GovtVsNGO- The Plunder of Reason in a Times Now TV Studio

Zehn ki Loot –: Kavita Krishnan

Guest Post by Kavita Krishnan

“Phool shaakhon pe khilne lagey” tum kaho,
“Jaam rindon ko milne lagey” tum kaho,
“Chaak seenon kay silne lagey” tum kaho,
Iss khule jhooth ko,
Zehn ki loot ko,
Main nahin maanta,
Main nahin jaanta 

“Branches are abloom with flowers” you say!

“The thirsty have got to drink” you say!

“Wounds of the heart are being sewn” you say!

This open lie…

A plunder of reason…

I shall not accept!

I shall not recognise!

(Habeeb Jalib, translated by Ghazala Jamil)

In Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Petrucchio declares the noontime sun to be the moon: “I say it is the moon,” to test his wife’s loyalty and obedience. As long as she stands by her reason and asserts “I know it is the sun”, she continues to be a ‘shrew’. Only when she consents to ‘zehn ki loot’ (plunder of reason), when she agrees to subordinate her own reason to the whim and diktat of her husband, and deny the self-evident truth, does she achieve approval as a suitable wife.

We, the people of India, are being similarly tamed of our ‘shrewish’ behaviour, with propaganda and public shaming in TV studios accomplishing the ‘zehn ki loot’. It is a process that seeks to bully us into declaring that the sun is the moon, that night is day, that ‘khula jhooth’ (open lie) is in fact the only truth. Refuse to part with your reason, and you are chastised for ‘bad behaviour’.

I would like to revisit the #GovtVsNGO News Hour show on Times Now, on 17th February, as a particularly glaring instance (Activism or Anti-nationalism, Parts 1 and 2 )

The topic of the show was the Government of India’s decision to deplane a Greenpeace activist Priya Pillai from a London-bound flight, because she was planning to depose before British MPs about the violation of India’s forest rights laws by a British mining company, Essar, in Mahan in Madhya Pradesh.

Echoing the Government of India (GoI) affidavit, the anchor Arnab Goswami repeated, ad nauseam, his allegation that it was ‘anti-national’ for Priya Pillai, as an Indian citizen, to depose before a foreign government’s parliamentary committee. The issue was not one of free speech or the right to dissent from Government opinion, he declared, but one of patriotism and national interest. The GoI affidavit claims that allowing Priya to depose before UK Parliamentarians would put India at risk of sanctions.

If this is indeed true, then the GoI should similarly put every Indian who has deposed before foreign parliaments, especially every Indian who has specifically advised anti-India sanctions, on a No-Fly list. Has it? 

Arvind Subramanian had, in March 2013, given testimony to the US Congress, advising the US to initiate WTO disputes against India, unless India agreed to rewrite its patent law. India is the world’s top supplier of affordable generic versions of drugs (for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, etc) under patent. Subramanian’s prescriptions will inevitably put these drugs out of reach for crores of poor Indian patients. In March 2014, Subramanian submitted his testimony to the US Congress in writing: “If India does not address the problems created by Section 3(d) of the patent legislation or by compulsory licensing for nonworking, the United States should consider initiating WTO disputes against India.”

Did the Modi Government put Subramanian on a No-Fly list? No. They appointed him as Chief Economic Adviser.

Why one rule for Arvind Subramanian, and another for Priya Pillai? Surely these double standards prove that the issue is indeed one of free speech and right to disagree with one’s Government?

Any professional anchor would have conceded that this question is valid, and would at least have taken the trouble to put this question to the BJP spokesperson and other pro-Government and pro-IB voices on the panel.   

But Arnab Goswami instead heckled and tried to drown out this question from the get go. And he refused to concede, even once, that this question was worth asking and deserved an answer. He even failed to admit that the Times of India, print counterpart of his own channel, had carried this story titled ‘Modi’s chief economic adviser Arvind Subramanian had opposed India on IPR till recently

Corporate Interest =Government Interest = National Interest? 

What does the contrast between the Government’s attitude towards Arvind Subramanian and Priya Pillai tell us, then?

Subramanian is an Indian who deposed before US Congress, egging the US to take action against India, unless India stops safeguarding the access of poor Indian citizens to affordable medicines, and agrees instead to sacrifice crores of Indian lives to the greed of US Big Pharma. Why is he the Modi Government’s favoured choice to frame India’s economic policies?

The same Modi Government claims that Priya Pillai is a ‘threat to national security’ and an ‘anti-national’ because she wants to tell UK MPs that a UK mining company is violating India’s Forest Rights laws to grab adivasi land and rob more than 50,000 adivasis in Mahan, Madhya Pradesh, of their forest, land and livelihood!

To any reasonable Indian, shouldn’t national interest lie in defending India’s own laws (on Forest Rights or Patents)? Doesn’t it lie in defending laws enacted to protect the right of India’s poor adivasis to land and forests, and the rights of poor patients to affordable medicines? Isn’t this what Priya Pillai and other activists are doing? 

Or does national interest lie in allowing MNCs like Vedanta and Essar to break laws, and loot Indian adivasis’ land, forests and livelihood? Does it lie in helping US drug corporations to raise drug prices steeply, thus leaving crores of Indians to die of curable diseases for lack of affordable drugs? For this is what the Government of India, aided by the likes of Arvind Subramanian, is doing. The Land Grab ordinance promulgated by the Modi Government proves this, as does the fact that the Modi Government has revoked National Pharmaceuticals Pricing Authority (NPPA) guidelines, effectively preventing it from capping prices of patented drugs in the future.

Clearly, in the light of our ‘zehn’, our reason, it is the activists like Pillai who are defending the rights of Indians – rights that the Government of India is trampling on in order to appease foreign corporations, foreign funding agencies like the IMF and World Bank, and imperialist Governments.   

But no, there was no room even for this opinion to be given a decent hearing on News Hour. In the show, the ‘NGOs’ and ‘activists’ were ‘anti-nationals’ and the Government as protecting national interest by preventing them from speaking to ‘foreign’ parliamentary committees. Reason must be turned on its head – and anyone who dared voice a reasonable argument, must be shouted down, heckled, turned into a verbal punching bag. If you, as anchor, shout ‘anti-national’ or its variants enough times and enact derision and mockery with enough authority, anyone daring to argue with you is already always going to look and sound ‘guilty’. And if your guests surprise you by putting up a fight and giving punches as good as they get, you can declare them guilty of ‘bad behaviour’!

If you, as anchor, can effectively ensure that reasonable arguments are drowned in the cacophony of castigation, you can hope to achieve ‘zehn ki loot’ – you can hope to bully your guests and viewers into feeling that the sun is actually the moon.

‘Patriotic’ = Parties Take Blood Money from Killer Corporations? 

The BJP and Congress units of Madhya Pradesh had both accepted money from Vedanta and Dow corporations in violation of FCRA. Again, here is the TOI report on this fact

Again, the Delhi HC found BJP and Congress in violation of FCRA for accepting funds from Vedanta and other foreign corporations

You would imagine that anyone anchoring a ‘debate’ on foreign funding trumping national interest, would mention this fact. Or at least allow others to mention it.

Especially since MP is the state where the Mahan struggle is taking place, given that the Bhopal disaster happened in MP. Should it not be asked why MP’s ruling and Opposition parties are accepting funds from killer foreign MNCs instead of standing by tribals and victims of those corporations?

You would expect at least one single question to the BJP spokesperson on why it’s ‘patriotic’ to get funded by Dow (a company that has the blood of the Bhopal Gas Disaster victims on its hands) and Vedanta (a company that, facilitated by Indian Governments, tried to grab adivasi forest land at Niyamgiri). Instead, Satinath Sarangi, who has long battled for justice for the Bhopal victims was branded as unpatriotic and anti-national on the show, by the anchor!

History Lessons in Colonialism 

But the ultimate ‘zehn ki loot’ was when the anchor chose to lecture the activists on the history of British colonialism and anti-colonial resistance in India. To summarise his rant: ‘You activists have no self respect, because you seek justice from Britain that once colonised us. You need a history lesson in our freedom struggle. Have you heard of Birsa Munda?’ etc…

This is truly mystifying, and would be almost funny, except that this isn’t some troll on Twitter saying it, it is an anchor with a leading TV channel who enjoys the power to (try to) shape and remould public memory and history.

Who are the modern-day counterparts of the East India Company and colonial Raj? Vedanta and Essar that are grabbing adivasi land in Niyamgiri and Mahan, and the Governments that facilitate this grab? Or the activists who protest such land grab?

Let’s consider.

During the British Raj, the East India Company, and later, other entities were allowed to plunder resources on Indian soil and to exploit the labour of the people. To protect British trade, Indian peasants were forced to grow indigo, adivasis were slaughtered for defending their proprietary right over forests and land.

Tilka Majhi, Sidhu Kanhu, Birsa Munda, Kana Bhagat led valiant struggles that forced the British to enact historic acts such as Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act (1908) and Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (1912), to protect the land rights of adivasis. When, today, these laws and other laws such as PESA and the Forest Rights Act are violated freely by Indian and foreign corporations; when adivasis protesting such violations are gunned down by police and paramilitary as their historic heroes were, the adivasis themselves say that colonial plunder is being re-enacted. Speak to adivasis anywhere in the country, and they will call state and central Governments that facilitate their eviction from ‘jal jangal zameen’ as the ‘Company Raj’ – i.e a re-enactment of the British East India Company.  

Peasants all over India are protesting the Land Grab Ordinance promulgated by the Modi Sarkar, whom they too freely dub as ‘Company Sarkar’ – the Government that, like the British Government, is an agent of the ‘Company’; that protects corporations. Modi should know this, even voters in Delhi have used the term ‘Company Sarkar’ to describe their unease with Modi’s pro-big business image.

This sense of history, of the linkages between anti-colonial resistance against the British and struggles of adivasis and peasants against corporate land grab today is obvious to any peasant in India, any adivasi in India. But according to Goswami’s history lesson, it is those who represent those struggles that are a throwback to the ‘Company Raj’, not the Governments that are funded by, and act as agents of, Indian and foreign corporations!

Just days ago, the Times Now reported on a protest by adivasis in Bastar that, again, brought back spectres of the colonial Raj. Adivasis had surrounded the police station in Tongpal, demanding the release of 10 villagers who had been picked up by the police. The Chhattisgarh police has a long history of custodial torture of villagers – no wonder the villagers feared for the safety of the 10 people. To justify arbitrary arrests, torture and killing, the Chhattisgarh police routinely accuse the villagers as ‘Maoists’. Times Now, that was teaching us the history of Birsa Munda, described the 1000 villagers gathered there as an mob ‘armed with bows and arrows’ that was demanding ‘release of Maoist cadres’ – i.e the channel echoed the police version. The channel made no effort to speak to a single one of those adivasi protesters, to ask them for their version of events. We wonder if the historian-anchor-editor remembers that Birsa and his warriors too were described by the British as a bunch of bloodthirsty rebels armed with bows and arrows? That then, as in now, bows and arrows are no match for police fire-power? Adivasis protesting at a thana or gathered to protect a field or forest – this is a familiar precursor to a long saga of police massacres. Adivasis killed in police firing at Koel Karo, Kalinganagar, Narayanpatna, Muthanga were all branded as Maoists, ‘Naxals’ and so on. When news channels brand adivasis as ‘Maoists’ without even bothering to speak to them, they are setting up the scene for more such massacres.

A Ridiculous and Sinister Government Affidavit 

The Government affidavit and arguments in court to justify imposing conditions on Priya Pillai’s travel outside India range are both ridiculous and sinister. The affidavit claims that if Priya Pillai were to depose before a UK Parliamentary panel, this would lead to a “false depiction” of “India’s effort” to “protect” the rights of the tribal community. This could send wrong signals when the central government “is inviting foreign businesses to invest in India”, and it could even lead to sanctions against India.

The Indian Government, with the might and authority of the State on its side, is free to speak to the British Government. British, American and other Governments send their leaders to India, accompanied by a posse of corporations from those countries, trying to get India to weaken its labour, environment and land acquisition laws so that those corporates can ‘make in India’ on the cheap. Why fear a single activist speaking to a handful of British MPs?

The Additional Solicitor General Sanjay Jain explained to the High Court that this was because of the “doodh mein makkhi” theory – a single fly in the milk might be insignificant on its own, but it can make the whole bowl of milk undrinkable. So, if we allow our activists to speak of human rights violations in an international forum, it may have a “global cascading effect” and allow developed countries to cripple development in India.

What’s the truth?

Our Governments, including the Modi Government, the UPA Government, and most state Governments, have gone out of the way to assure these Governments and their corporations (and our own) that India can provide ‘low cost man power’ (Modi’s words at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit   – a euphemism for cheap, ill-paid, bonded labour and cheap lives. The interests of the Governments of India and those of the UK or US, mesh perfectly well with those of US, UK and Indian corporations – they are all agreed on the need to allow corporations to violate laws protecting workers, peasants and safety and health of Indian citizens. Bhopal is a stark example of this cosy coalescing of the interests of Carbide-Dow, the US and Indian Governments, and Indian corporations. Leading Indian corporations have helped to organise secret meetings of politicians with Carbide-Dow, to facilitate Dow’s ‘rehabilitation’ and re-entry into India.

But yes, when activists and people’s movements seek to hold the corporations accountable to Indian laws and international human rights standards, raising their voice in India as well as the host country of the corporations, they do become ‘doodh mein makkhi’ for the Governments and corporations that would like all the ‘malai’ to themselves. Hence, the attempts to harass and witch-hunt activists, so as to throw these inconveniently buzzing, noisy ‘flies’ out of the corporate cream bowl! 

 This report  in ‘First Post’ argues that the Government’s affidavit and arguments is “the stuff of political satire – the kind spoofing a tinpot dictatorship a la Woody Allen’s Bananas” and pointing out that “the jokes begin to wear thin when we recognise why the words ‘mad’ and ‘dictator’ go so well together. The arbitrary and unpredictable use of power is the essence of dictatorship. That our government can so willfully and ludicrously wield power is no laughing matter, after all.”

The worst ‘joke’ is that the Government knows full well that Priya can and has deposed in the UK by Skype. All this effort is not really to prevent her from deposing. It is to harass, victimise, intimidate, malign. The purpose is propaganda, to turn common sense on its head and brand the committed activists as anti-nationals and the anti-national Government as patriotic. And that’s where the role of the TV-show comes in.

Goswami acted as a loudspeaker for the Government affidavit, failing to raise – or allow anyone else to raise – a single question about this affidavit or the Government’s preposterous arguments. 

Among the questions that could not be asked:

  • How can the Government claim that Priya will give UK MPs a “false depiction” of “India’s effort” to “protect” the rights of the tribal community? What is the “true depiction”? Is it not true that a High Level Committee on the Status of Tribals has submitted a scathing and well-documented report, pointing out that the policies of liberalisation and land grab have increased the yawning gulf between adivasis and India’s privileged citizens? Read a summary of the report here
  • The Government affidavit argues that patriotic activists would highlight the violations of adivasis’ rights only in Indian institutions – an argument the anchor also made aggressively. Well, when Indian activists and experts prepared this painstaking report on adivasis and submitted it to the Indian Government, why did the Government suppress the report? According to the story linked above, “Several of the report’s recommendations go against some of the changes the government is undertaking or contemplating to push for faster and easier industrialisation. The report, a comprehensive review of the socio-economic status of the 700-odd tribal communities of the country, has been kept under wraps since May 2014 when it was submitted to the government.” 
  • The Report states what Priya, and indeed any genuine activist, would argue in every possible forum: that “Laws and rules that provide protection to tribes are being routinely manipulated and subverted to accommodate corporate interests. Tribal protests are being met with violence by the State’s paramilitary forces and the private security staff of corporations involved.” 
  • The Government affidavit claims that Priya’s action of deposing before UK MPs would be anti-national, whereas it approvingly names a series of activists who have raised issues and protested nationally but not compromised national interest by speaking on international forums. This is especially hilarious, given that among the “good” activists cited are Medha Patkar and Nandini Sundar. The BJP and its Chhattisgarh Government has claimed that Nandini Sundar is a ‘Maoist’ because she raised human rights violations of Bastar adivasis in the Supreme Court. The IB report that was the pretext for targeting Greenpeace in the first place, also named Medha Patkar as an evil foreign-funded NGO that posed a threat to national security. Forget activists who approach Courts; even parties (including mine) that contest elections and give the BJP a tough time electorally, are jeered at as ‘Naxals’ and advised to go to jungles. So, which forum is truly patriotic? If you tell British MPs that a British corporation is violating Indian laws, you’ll be told that’s anti-national, raise the matter in Courts. If you raise it in Courts, you’ll be taunted as anti-national too, because, they say, patriotism lies in keeping police and security forces above courts. The PM will advise adivasis from the ramparts of the Red Fort to contest elections and give up the bullet for the ballot. But if you contest elections, the same man will ask you to go to the jungles and be a Naxal!
  • Goswami kept taunting Greenpeace for calling ‘foreign protest experts’ to advise them. Well, most of us – including Satinath, John and myself certainly – are well known ‘protest experts’, 100% made in India! But the question is, if the Government can appoint US-based men who have spoken for the USA, lobbying against India to ‘advise’ them, what’s wrong with ‘foreign’ members of an international organization (Greenpeace) advising their Indian unit? If the foreign corporations are welcome in India, why on earth should ‘foreign’ activists be taboo?

Misogyny Much? 

 Women are shamed daily for raising ‘family matters’ (such as domestic violence or rape) outside the family, in courts; they are accused of lacking a proper sense of izzat (honour). The Government (and Goswami) say that human rights activists who raise issues of violations of the rights of tribals, Dalits or minorities in international forums, should be ‘ashamed’ and should have more ‘self-respect’. In other words, they seek to imply that activists ‘ne duniya ke saamne hamaari naak kaat di’ (they have shamed India internationally).

Goswami conducted a McCarthy-like interrogation of John Dayal, asking him if he deposed ‘against India’ at a US Congress sub-committee. John said ‘No’. When Goswami then asked if he had not deposed before a US Congress sub-committee on religious freedom in 2000, he said ‘Yes’. ‘Gotcha’ claimed Goswami, asking why he had said ‘No’ a minute ago. John stated the obvious – that to speak and fight against religious discrimination in India is an act of deep love for India; that to criticise Indian Governments for 1984 or 1992 is not to ‘speak against India’; that it is the perpetrators of the massacres that are ‘against India’! For instance, American activists and whistleblowers who have spoken out internationally and in the US against racism and US-sponsored wars and occupation have done their country proud – unlike their Presidents and their armies who have instead shamed the US.

Goswami displayed his utter ignorance of John Dayal, the man and the activist, when he accused John of being an apologist for racism or religious discrimination in the US. He also kept saying that the US, would not ‘allow’ their citizen to thus ‘speak against the US’ internationally.

The interesting thing is, just half an hour before this show, Goswami anchored a show on racism and attacks on religious freedom in the US. On that show, his chosen ‘American’ voices mostly defended the US establishment. Had he called any of the thousands of ‘Black Lives Matter’ protesters – all American citizens who would have excoriated the racism of the US establishment – he would have held them to be ‘unpatriotic’ Americans! But Goswami preferred to call only the cardboard cut-out figures who are ‘patriotic’ to the US establishment. The ex-Army man Bakshi also referred to the Arab Spring as unpatriotic and foreign-funded. Clearly, these men hold any anti-establishment people’s movement anywhere in the world, that topple dictators and assert people’s rights, to be ‘unpatriotic’ whether raised in foreign parliaments or on their own native soil!   

Dalits who took the issue of caste-based discrimination to a United Nations-organised conference on racism at Durban, were also accused of breaking faith with the country by raising an ‘internal matter’ on an international forum. Should India be proud of oppressing Dalits, or of the activists who challenge and expose such oppression?

Has the Indian Government and Times Now never heard of international human rights laws? There is no contradiction whatsoever between pursuing the cause of justice in the country’s own institutions as well as in international forums. It is possible, indeed necessary to ask the Indian Supreme Court to uphold human rights; to ask Indian parliamentarians to enact and implement laws that are accountable to international standards of human rights; to ask parliaments of other countries to hold their own corporations accountable to international standards of human rights; and to raise human rights violations issues on international forums – all at the same time.

According to Goswami, patriotic Indians must not seek justice in institutions of other countries – not even against foreign corporations. Well, is it not strange that Obama and the US Nuke companies also agree with Goswami? India has secretly assured the US that they will ‘read down’ India’s civil nuke liability law, to ensure that Indian victims of a nuclear accident cannot sue US nuke suppliers in US courts. Is it because Goswami too believes such an action to be unpatriotic, that he decided that the Nation (or at least the News Hour) did not really need to seek to know about these details of the Nuke Deal?

The language used by the pro-Government panelists as well as Goswami to harangue activists were also very much in the patriarchal framework of ‘honour’. An ex-RAW officer RSN Singh told the two women on the panel ‘madam, ladies should behave themselves’. Goswami accused me of ‘bad behaviour on television’ and repeatedly asked me to ‘have some self-respect’. He told me repeatedly to ‘calm down’, ‘drink water’ and ‘behave myself’ – all phrases very often by people to put women down by suggesting that they are irrational and hysterical. But, even as Major General Bakshi and RSN Singh both literally frothed at the mouth, and bared their teeth, (an observer describes this here), Goswami never told them to ‘calm down’. They are macho, militaristic men, yes, with a divine right to testosterone-powered righteous rants?

Combative male anchors are admired for their machismo, for being judgemental, for interrupting and heckling their guests constantly, for telling the nation what (according to them) it wants to know.

Women (or non-macho, truly ‘gentle’ men like John Dayal) who suggest that perhaps they too have something to say that the nation might want to know, are shamed and silenced for being ill-behaved. There is no similar attempt, though, to discipline or put a leash on (male) guests who rabidly shout ‘free sex’ and ‘naxalite’ at female guests! Those words don’t ring any alarm bells for the macho anchors – but John Dayal is attacked for muttering ‘filthy’ in reaction to allegations of being ‘anti-national’. Is it not indeed filthy to allow one of India’s leading human rights campaigners to be branded as ‘anti-national’ on prime time TV?

That said, assertive women throughout history have been accused of ‘bad behaviour’. They do say, don’t they, that well-behaved women seldom make history? I could add, that ‘good behaviour’ makes women more vulnerable to abuse, to violence, to loss of freedom, health, even life.

We women, we activists, are ‘badly behaved’ indeed, and proud of it. We are indeed the ‘makkhis’ in the corporate malai that the BJP and Congress would like to relish in peace. We are proud of this. And we are proud too, of the fact that we build international networks of solidarity. We count ourselves among the Edward Snowdens, the Chelsea Mannings – all those activists who make their people proud, however much their own Governments might try to brand them as ‘unpatriotic’.

I should mention that the News Hour is not the only news show where the ‘zehn ki loot’ is played out. I attended one debate on News X recently on the witch-hunt of Teesta Setalvad, which followed the same format of discourteous, stentorian heckling of any voice that differed with the anchor’s opinion. I have written briefly about that ‘zehn ki loot’ here.

The anchor on News X too chose to accuse me of bad behaviour, of ‘not allowing the anchor to do his job’.

Free Speech and An Accountable Media  

Many friends and well-wishers, horrified by the News Hour show, have asked why we didn’t get up and leave. That’s easily answered. We would not give the bully the satisfaction of being able to claim he had ousted us or shamed us into leaving – and this is how he would have construed a walk-out.

On 18th February again, the News Hour conducted a repeat of the same theme, with Kavita Srivastava this time at the receiving end of the completely undemocratic heckling. Why, knowing this is likely to happen, did activists go on the show? We go, to challenge the ‘zehn ki loot’, to speak truth to power, on this occasion stand up for our fellow activists. Because the channels in question do enjoy immense power – power to distort, to misrepresent, to establish and reinforce a ‘common sense’ that is entirely at odds with reality.

Also, the problem is a larger one. As a women’s rights activist, for instance, I have gone on shows I know to be hostile to my ideas, to be able to say ‘not in my name’ to shrill cries for the death penalty. In 2013 when the rape law amendments were being battled over, all channels and print media almost without exception achieved a spectacular ‘zehn ki loot’ – they all conducted debates on the supposed ‘lowering’ of the age of consent, effectively erasing the truth in the public mind – which was that the age of consent was being raised, thereby criminalising consensual sexual relations among teenagers! To try to talk sense on those shows was exhausting, and one was struck more than once by a sense of futility and defeat, as the media successfully turned fiction into fact. On more than one channel, I have been subjected to sexist abuse by a fellow panelist, with no reaction from the anchor.

Even if activists decide in future to steer clear of those shows that do not even allow one to voice one’s opinions, some questions will remain. TV channels are not the private homes of anchors. Channels do have a public role and an accountability to the public. How to hold them to it? How to prevent them from getting away with the abuse of their power? How can we hold media power accountable?

Even the fairly tame and modest National Broadcasting Authority norms lay down the following principles for electronic media (I quote the relevant norms in contrast with what takes place on News Hour and many other channels too):

 “News shall not be selected or designed to promote any particular belief, opinion or desires of any interest group.”

Can a TV news show then, design its show to promote the opinions of a Government affidavit – as that 17th February News Hour show did?

 “Broadcasters shall ensure a full and fair presentation of news as the same is the fundamental responsibility of each news channel. Realizing the importance of presenting all points of view in a democracy, the broadcasters should, therefore, take responsibility in ensuring that controversial subjects are fairly presented, with time being allotted fairly to each point of view….”

and…

“TV News channels must provide for neutrality by offering equality for all affected parties, players and actors in any dispute or conflict to present their point of view. Though neutrality does not always come down to giving equal space to all sides (news channels shall strive to give main view points of the main parties) news channels must strive to ensure that allegations are not portrayed as fact and charges are not conveyed as an act of guilt.”

When an anchor chooses to shout down all opinions but the ones he agrees with, when he heckles dissenting/differing voices rather than moderator of a fair debate, when he mutes the mikes of guests whose arguments he doesn’t agree with, when he allows only those he agrees with to make their point uninterrupted, is it in keeping with the obligation to allot time fairly and allow all sides to be heard? When the anchor and his tag-team of frothing-at-the-mouth men repeatedly brand activists as ‘anti-national’, is he not presenting allegations as facts and charges as an act of guilt?

When channels and newspapers brand terror accused as ‘terrorists’, or rape-accused as ‘rapists’ and orchestrate the chant for the death penalty for them; when they act as stenos or loudspeakers for the police or investigative agencies in terror cases; are they not doing grievous harm and endangering people’s lives and safety? Are they not conveying allegations as guilt?

The NBA code of ethics also enjoins channels to

“… avoid… broadcasting content that is malicious, biased, regressive, knowingly inaccurate, hurtful, misleading, or aimed at willfully concealing a conflict of interest.

On the show in question, Goswami asked the Greenpeace representative to explain why her organisation had brought in a foreign ‘cyber expert’. The Greenpeace representative explained that they needed a cyber expert to safeguard sensitive data and privacy of Indian contributors of funds, Goswami chose to construe this as a ‘revelation’ of ‘hacking’ and insinuate repeatedly that the cyber expert was a ‘hacker’ employed to violate the sensitive data of companies! Is this not an obvious instance of “malicious, biased, knowingly inaccurate, misleading” presentation of news?

The outcome of the News Hour type of show is to create a cacophonous spectacle, where more often than not the anchor is shouting when his hapless guests are speaking. Often, guests are talking simultaneously, sometimes unaware, in the confusion and cacophony, that this is happening. What is achieved by such cacophony, such a gladiatorial spectacle? The drowning out of reason, which can be replaced by a simple, uni-dimensional moral message that will be articulated and repeated by the anchor himself.

What gives me some hope, though, is that viewers do refuse to consent to the ‘zehn ka loot’. John and I applauded one of the callers-in on that night’s show – a schoolteacher named Mr. Haldane, who homed in on the central question – Why did the Government of MP and the Centre fail to defend the rights of adivasis, which was done instead by Priya Pillai and other activists? 

Thank you again Mr Haldane, for reaffirming our faith in the stubborn resistance that Indian citizens put up to the assault on their reason. 

PS: On 18th February, I got several calls from Times Now studios, claiming that the Delhi HC had declared that Priya could not be allowed to fly unless she agreed to censor herself, and asking for my ‘reaction’ or ‘soundbite’. I took the precaution of verifying with other journalists and activists, and learnt that the HC was yet to pronounce its judgement, and that in fact the presiding Judge had asked some tough questions of the Government. I then called the Times Now employees back to ask them, with some heat, why the channel was misreporting the matter? Flustered, they said they would check. When I called again, they said that they were not carrying that story for the moment. So eager was the channel to see the Government victorious in Court, and with such scant concern for the factual accuracy of their account of what happened in the courtroom, it seems, that it was preparing prematurely to celebrate the victory! The developments in the ongoing court hearing have been reported in a very different light here . The Court will give its ruling next week.

Kavita Krishnan is secretary, All India Progressive Women’s Association and a member of the CPI (ML – Liberation)

Related posts

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: