Media

Why India’s world ranking on press freedom is falling?

September 07, 2017 06:54 PM
Homage to journalist Gauri Lankesh

Why India’s world ranking on press freedom is falling?

Shailaja Bajpai 

The best way to remember journalist Gauri Lankesh — and many others like her — is to recall what she stood for. It does not lie in showing her dead and bloodied body, her face thinly veiled by a computer mosaic, as India Today did on Wednesday morning. Nor in creating a comic book out of her murder with illustrations giving a blow-by-blow — or in this case, bullet-by-bullet — account of her killing, that too in technicolour with the assailants looking like they went straight from The Gangs of New York to the streets of Bengaluru. Or in giving us the minutest details of how she was killed, “shot 7 times, once on the forehead” (NDTV 24×7).

It does not lie in simply providing blanket, continuous coverage as the English news channels did on Wednesday morning and afternoon and, as is their wont, whenever there is an “audacious” (Times Now), “brutal” (Republic) crime/murder/incident — especially when news of Lankesh’s murder barely made the headlines on most channels till close to midnight on Tuesday.

TV news, English news channels anchors, especially on Times Now and Republic, but others too, violate the right to disagreement, dissent and free speech every day. The “patriot games” played out on these channels, almost daily (Gaurav Sawant on India Today’s India First), see them shout down their guests, abuse them and refuse to let them even complete their sentences let alone their thoughts.

Remembering Lankesh does not lie in turning this into another whodunnit: “#whokilledGauri” (CNN News 18), with minute to minute updates on the police investigation which can be misleading. Mirror Now flashed a photograph of a young man saying he had been detained as a suspect. Soon after, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah denied that anyone had been detained.

Nor will it suffice to turn this into another political “thriller” as seen on Times Now on Wednesday morning. Journalist Sanjeev Srivastava spoke about how he saw “a pattern” in the “murder of an independent voice” and, he was careful to add, “irrespective of ideology”. The anchor then, gratuitously, brought in Congress leader P. Chidambaram’s tweet on Lankesh which set off the other journalist on the panel, R. Rajgopalan on a tirade against the Congress, Chidambaram and the UPA for the deaths of journalists during their time in office. What had they done about it? Rajgopalan screamed uncontrollably.

This is what the TV news anchors increasingly do on Times Now and Republic, in particular: They find a way to u-turn the story and take potshots at past misdemeanors rather than focus on the present or immediate. So Bofors guns have been smoking on Republic, this week, and AgustaWestland was flagged on Times Now — which is fine as long as you look at, say, the RBI’s figures on demonetisation, too?

So, will remembering Lankesh take the form of prime-time debates that “demand” answers from the Karnataka government on the law and order situation in the state or on how and why journalists also died under the UPA’s watch? Let us hope not. Let us also hope it will not become just another BJP vs Congress blame-game jousts as in, “BJP blames Congress for murder” — Politics over Gauri’s death’ (News X). (Although the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Samriti Irani tweeted, shouldn’t she have appeared on TV to condemn the murder of a journalist?)

Shailaja Bajpai writer of this article

Lankesh, “an outspoken free thinker” (Srivastava, Times Now), a “BJP virodhi” (ABP) and unremitting critic of right-wing politics, who “took on people” (NDTV 24×7) represented “dissent” (Soumya Saxena, News X), the right to disagree. Senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury said that Lankesh’s death pointed to a wider worrying trend: “Something has died in us, our democracy” (News X) if and when ideological differences are settled by violence. Why Lankesh was murdered remains to be solved but Chowdhury’s words are a red alert.

TV news, English news channels anchors, especially on Times Now and Republic, but others too, violate the right to disagreement, dissent and free speech every day. The “patriot games” played out on these channels, almost daily (Gaurav Sawant on India Today’s India First), see them shout down their guests, abuse them and refuse to let them even complete their sentences let alone their thoughts.

This social media sickness is also the “Viral Sach”— as ABP calls one of its programmes — of many TV news channels and their shows. It has so infected the airwaves that there is no fresh, open space for genuine debates and discussions — instead it has encouraged an intolerance of other points of view — haven’t you noticed how the anchors will brook no argument other than their own?

No wonder CNN News 18 thought it fit to repeatedly remind us that India ranks 138 in the world on press freedom and has fallen several notches in recent years.

 

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