Not surprisingly, the parting year was not promising for the media in India. Eight journalists were killed or died on the job. Twenty seven cases of attacks on journalists and 15 threat cases were recorded. Several cases of media censorship were also reported. The latest one is the concerted campaign against the New Delhi Television Limited or NDTV.
Indeed, the free speech and freedom of press are on the edge. The heat and dust of intolerance have not yet subsided. The saffron forces who took the cudgel against the dissenting voices have the potential even to silence any popular media. The message is clear. However secular or impartial you are, the integrity of the ruling party is a sacred cow. Once you dare to point out the failures of the government, be prepared to face the swarming outcry of the sycophants either to be keep mum or to be exiled.
But apart from the question of intolerance, the role of the media in India is still debatable. We have got a strong secular, democratic polity and the media are supposed to be free and independent. Nevertheless, the dividing line between meaningful journalism and media activism is very narrow. The contents may sound compelling and promising. But it is very difficult to demarcate the real interests of the so called national and seemingly impartial media. The reason is simple. It acts both as a neutral communicator as well as a facilitator. That is what happened in the latest events with the NDTV. The think tanks of the governments have been using this media as a megaphone to trumpet them has now turned belligerent simply because their professional failure was exposed. Now that the cat is out of bag.
NDTV, one of the popular news channels with the track record of 27 years of quality journalism, is once again in the hot bed for its coverage of terrorist attack of Indian air force base at Pathankott. Now it is the turn of the right wing Hindu nationalists, many of them are the supporters of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, are flooded with the campaign calling for banning NDTV and deporting its consulting editor, Burkha Dutt, to Pakistan. The hashtag #banNDTV is trending across India.
Burkha Dutt exposed the intelligence failure that led to the attack of the heavily fortified Pathankott air force base. Not surprisingly, the journalist and NDTV online portal came under heavy fire from the so called nationalists. Because, it dared to challenge their credentials and ability to deal with a surprise attack from the enemy. It is too much for a community and a government who act as the champions of nationalism.
What is interesting is that the same NDTV has broken out the classified documents regarding INS Arihant nuclear submarine in August 20, 2014. There was no public outcry to ban NDTV then. Nobody had thrown down the gauntlet to prove their mettle of nationality. Of course, it was related with the national security. Hence, it is well construed that the media had a nexus with the officials in National security agency. In other words, we can assume that the high officials use the media as the stepping stone to popularity. When NDTV outlined the failure of the officials, it became hostile to them.
The irony is that a letter written by Ajith Doval to the cabinet secretary demanding action against NDTV is also leaked and appeared in the media. How does it happen? It gives us clear indication that the media dances to the tune of certain influential officers.
It is also a fact that there are hired supporters and antagonists in the social media. One can call them as sponsored or embedded commentators. They can build virtual blockade or hyped fame with millions of tweets and posts, thanks to the social media.
(The views expressed are personal)