Freedom at peril: Stand up now or you’ll be next after NDTV

The NDTV raids aren’t just aimed at silencing Pranoy Roy and his TV channels but to scare the living daylights out of the entire journalist fraternity so that they fall in line—if they haven’t already

Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images
Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint via Getty Images

Zafar Agha

Dissent is a crime in Modi raj. If you dare to disagree, you will be crushed. The message is becoming louder and clearer by the day with the number of victims of the CBI and other government agencies raids just going up and up. The latest one, of course, is that of the NDTV.

As this column is being written, the CBI and other agencies had let loose a reign of terror upon Pranoy Roy, the pioneer of English TV news journalism in India and the proud owner of NDTV channel. The government alleges Roy had indulged in a ‘financial fraud’, which it wants to probe. The NDTV, in its official statement, though rebutted the charge and said that it was an attempt to “silence” the news channel.

Well, we have no reason not to believe Roy and NDTV. This is because NDTV is the lone voice of dissent among the crowded TV news networks, who seem to be competing with each other to sing praises of the government. And, NDTV India anchor Ravish Kumar is quite a popular news anchor among Modi critics. According to NDTV insiders, enough hints were given to the NDTV management to get rid of Ravish Kumar. The channel, however, refused to succumb.

The channel has been under the scanner since then. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry had even served a notice last year to NDTV to review its licence. Imagine that. It, of course, led to a hue and cry within the journalist fraternity, including protests, which forced the then I&B Minister to drop the notice. Media circles have been abuzz for some time now about the impending raids on Pranoy Roy and his channel.

The proverbial straw happened last week. One of NDTV’s leading anchors, Nidhi Razdan, was hosting a show on the beef controversy. One of the guests on the show was BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra. As is the wont of journalists, Nidhi asked some embarrassing questions and an irked Patra charged the channel of “running an agenda”. It apparently meant that NDTV was biased against the government and the BJP.

This kind of a blatant charge provoked Razdan too. She just lost her cool and told Patra to either “apologise” or “leave the show”.

That was the limit. How dare a journo ask, that too, a BJP spokesperson to “leave” in the middle of the show. That’s a right reserved only for those who purportedly run the government’s agenda such as loudmouth Republic TV anchor Arnab Gowasmi, who could call names and tell anyone to shut up or get lost. So, barely 24 hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from his European tour, the CBI and other official agencies were knocking at the doors of Pranoy Roy early in the morning.

Well, it clearly is a case of vendetta. The purpose is not to just silence NDTV but also convey the larger message to the entire journalist fraternity: fall in line, else. This, however, is not happening for the first time or only with NDTV. It, in fact, has been the standard practice with the BJP for a long time. Whenever the BJP is in power, embarrassing media voices are silenced.

Remember The bold and daring news portal that excelled in investigative journalism had exposed then BJP President Bangaru Laxman accepting money from a supposed arm dealer in a sting operation. Oh, my God, hell was let loose upon offices. I was at that time the political editor of the portal and distinctly remember how its editor Tarun Tejpal and its financer Shankar Sharma were hounded. Policemen even hounded me for a flimsy charge Ultimately, the portal was muzzled because of government-imposed financial crunch as all its bank accounts were seized.

Outlook, the famous news magazine edited by upright and outspoken editor late Vinod Mehta, met the same fate during the Vajpayee raj. Its owner Rahejas were raided to put pressure upon them to ease out Vinod, who was known for his free and frank views. However, the Rahejas stood their ground and, not surprisingly, the harassment continued for years.

Now, the same story is being repeated with NDTV. The message being sent isn’t just to NDTV but to the entire journalist fraternity that “you are marked”. If you dare to speak against the government, you will be silenced.

It is time for the journalists to take a call.

Unfortunately, many mega media houses, both electronic and print, are eating out of the government’s hands. As a result, the very profession of journalism is becoming a joke. Both TV viewers and print readers have started grumbling about journalists turning into government spokespersons rather than fearless critics.

Well, enough is enough. It is high time that journalists stand up against all such silencing tactics. There is no need to “bend” or “crawl” before the powers that be. Journalists are conscience-keepers of the society. If they are not free and fearless, it means something is seriously wrong with the entire society. The raids on NDTV is a blatant attempt to silence conscience-keepers. If we, the journalists, accept it meekly, the future generations will curse us.

Take a lesson from American journalists who have stood up to the most powerful man on the planet. If NDTV is silenced, there will be no dissent left at all. It will also mean the end of a truly democratic society. So, stand up now because freedom is at peril and democracy is in danger. If you don’t stand up now, you’ll be next.

Zafar Agha is the Editor-in-chief of Qaumi Awaaz, a sister publication of National Herald

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Published: 05 Jun 2017, 8:13 PM