15th August is around the corner, the day we celebrate freedom. From this freedom originated our Constitution that showered upon us the liberty and rights we longed for. From this Constitution came the freedom of speech and expression – the most precious of all the freedoms guaranteed by our constitution. The freedom of press implicit in the freedom of speech and expression and described as the “Ark of Covenant of Democracy” by the Supreme Court enabled the media to act as the fourth pillar of democracy, to be a bridge between the governing and the governed and to be a canvas of truth.
The media acts as a mirror to the government policies and schemes, to evaluate their effectiveness and tests its penetration among the masses. But in recent times, for reasons better known to media houses, many of them are shying away from their basic duty as professional journalists i.e. to present the truth. The truth is silenced in the loud media newsrooms, hailing the powerful, diminishing the weak and giving birth to misleading statement and lies. In this chaos exist few Journalists and media houses who stand firm under pressure, keeping the lamp of our democracy burning.
But they do pay a price. Take the recent incident where three journalists including a managing director and two anchors of ABP News were forced to resign for doing their duty and presenting the truth. Their only fault was that they were airing news critical of the government and party in power. The whole incident has shaken the foundation on which the fourth pillar of our democracy rests.
In July, our Prime Minister did his umpteenth Mann Ki Baat where for a change he was not the only one speaking. He interacted through video with women farmers from Chattisgarh, reportedly the beneficiaries of government schemes aimed at doubling the income of farmers by 2022. Among them was Chandramani who claimed that her income from paddy has doubled. A reporter from ABP went to her village Kanhapuri to discover the truth.
At Kanhapuri, when inquired by ABP, Chandramani told them on video that her income had not actually doubled from farming paddy. On interacting with the village sarpanch, the ABP found out that Chandramani was in fact tutored by the officials from Delhi’s Agricultural Department with the promise that she would be able to speak with the Prime Minister.
Within days, ABP news was labelled fake news by Union Ministers including Information & Technology Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore and even Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. They claimed that what the Prime Minister had infact talked about was income from sitaphal and not paddy that has doubled.
Responding to the government critique, ABP again sent a team to Kanhapuri to investigate whether there were any beneficiaries from sitaphal farming. What they found this time was that Chandramani who had originally claimed that her daily income has increased by Rs 50-60 to a profit of Rs 700, failed to mention that this Rs 700 was shared by twelve women.
What followed in the coming days were blackouts during the airing of the show Masterstroke that presented the report, resignation of the Managing Editor of the ABP news followed by resignation of the anchor of the show Punya Prasun Bajpai. Prasun says soon after the show aired the report, he received a diktat from his boss that he should not name the Prime Minister in his show. This was followed with another diktat that even Prime Minister’s pictures should not be put up in the background.
” But when Prime Minister Modi himself announces every government scheme, involves himself in the work of every ministry; and when every minister utters the name of Prime Minister Modi every time s/he mentions any scheme or government policy, how is it possible for us to not take Modi’s name?”, asks Bajpai.
The Prime Minister is the face of government. Every praise goes to him, so should the criticism but apparently this government thinks otherwise. The channel signals were disturbed and advertisers threatened. Another senior ABP News anchor Abhisar Sharma was sent on leave allegedly for an unfavourable news report on law and order in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh.
Well, the lesson seems pretty clear – say no bad about the government, the Prime Minister or anybody remotely related to it. Let the fundamental rights be curbed, let the people be blinded by false theories and misleading facts, let the Constitution be undermined but say no bad about the Government.
Media is the life line of democracy. With journalists getting murdered (Gauri Lankesh), threatened ( Ravish Kumar and many more) and now pressured to resign or sent on leave, the government is playing with the principles on which our democracy rests. True the press has faced threats and pressure in the past under different governments, but what concerns us is the present. A wrong in the past won’t make another wrong right. The media is a bulwark of freedom of speech, threatening it will suffocate the life out of our democracy.