Remember LK Advani's famous assertion about the media on their passive obedience to the Indira Gandhi regime during emergency? "You (journalists) were asked to bend, but you began to crawl!"
I was not born then, but I hear from my seniors in the profession that most mainstream journalists embarrassed their fraternity by displaying their unflinching loyalty to Indira Gandhi for fear of being arraigned by her. In 2017 there is no emergency — at least there has been no declaration to the effect — but many from my profession have chosen to prostrate before the powers before being asked to bend.
This Sunday, the independent news website The Wire published an investigative report by journalist Rohini Singh on the changing fortune of Jay Amit Shah, the son of BJP President Amit Shah. The report created ripples on social media within minutes of being published. Singh made damning allegations against the son of the president of a party that came to power in 2014 claiming to be the panacea to a ten-year-old corrupt Congress regime.
Before I proceed I must add that there have been similar allegations of corruption against Amit Shah made by officials in the Gujarat dispensation that had been reported by various publications. In fact in 2010 among many other publications, The Hindu carried a report titled 'Gujarat government buried CID report on Amit Shah'.
The BJP claimed these reports were politically motivated just like his arrest in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case in Gujarat in 2010. Shah was the first serving home minister of a state in India to face this ignominy. All was forgotten in 2014 as Modi rose to prominence as the man who wanted to rid the country of the malaise of corruption.
'Na Khaaonga, na khaane doonga', he roared in his speeches and the Indian voter accepted with great relief his war against graft. The ten-year-old Congress regime with its corruption-tainted ministers had exhausted the average Indian. It needed a change. The PM continued with his barbs against ex-PM Manmohan Singh stating that "Manmohan Singh knew the art of bathing with a raincoat on" — a reference to Singh's alleged silence over the corruption of his ministers.
But for a party which considered transparency on corruption and financial impropriety as sacrosanct, similar allegations made by The Wire on Sunday based on paperwork stung the BJP rank and file to such an extent that it got one of its most media-friendly political heavyweight Piyush Goyal to address a press conference not just to defend a non-political entity but also to proudly proclaim that Jay Amit Shah would slap a 100 crore defamation suit against the organization and its reporter.
The BJP, of all parties, should know this best as it has followed a similar protocol in the past not just with allegations against Robert Vadra.
This press conference was preceded by a similar one addressed by Congress leader Kapil Sibal seeking accountability from the BJP over the allegations. This was normal political outcome of an investigation.
The BJP, of all parties, should know this best as it has followed a similar protocol in the past not just with allegations against Robert Vadra, but post various other media investigations including the Coal scam and the 2G scam which led to the downfall of the UPA. But if you are a consumer of mainstream Indian television news, you were made to believe this Sunday that only one such presser took place, that in which the BJP lashed out at a leftist website for defaming its leader.
There was an eerie silence on news channels, some focused on karva chauth, others on Muslim appeasement, the rest on pressing issues such as the Hrithik Roshan-Kangana Ranaut spat. With a few exceptions — yes those very exceptions which rescue the media each time — others made you believe that the last time you witnessed a big investigative story was the appearance of Honeypreet Insaan on their television channels.
Jay Amit Shah should not have bothered writing those words of caution because the present day media understands even the unsaid.
Some of the media houses, conspicuous in their silence, were last seen talking of the need to protect free speech post the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
In the concluding statement of his claim of defamation, Jay Amit Shah said, "If anyone else republishes/re-broadcasts the imputations made in the said article, whether directly or indirectly, such person or entity will also be guilty of the very same criminal and/or civil liability."
In an ideal world this intimidation should have led to an outrage in the media.
In an ideal world this intimidation should have led to an outrage in the media. An investigative report like any other report should have been the subject of discussion, criticism, arguments, debate — these being the fundamentals of journalism. Silence by intimidation being the last on the charter of a journalistic organization. But Jay Amit Shah should not have bothered writing those words of caution because the present day media understands even the unsaid. The media did not need a threat, it had already obliged, it had long memorized those unsaid rules of being in circulation in the present day dispensation.
Yes, there were a few journalists who stuck their neck out, for on them rests the onus of protecting free speech each time it is under threat. Those handful of journalists with a public voice defend the ethics of the profession and risk losing their job each day. These journalists have become the shoulders that bear the pretense of free speech in India while their colleagues read from the nationalist scripts dictated by the government.
And no, these journalists are doing no favour to us. This is basic, ethical journalism where a reporter needs to worry about the facts in her story and not the consequences of it, not the smear campaign, nor the character assassination.
I remember a senior editor telling me last year at my book event that I can afford to be critical of the government and publish a book because I speak from a position of privilege.
I remember a senior editor telling me last year at my book event that I can afford to be critical of the government and publish a book because I speak from a position of privilege. I do not have any loans to re-pay, no kids to look after, no family to run, unlike him who has to bear these responsibilities. I was quite stunned and I still am. Since when did journalism become a profession to fulfill our financial and social obligations. I have more respect for my journalist friends who have crossed over to corporate communications and public relations to feed their needs and ambition.
At least they do not shape the opinion of a generation that looks up to them.
Do not hold The Wire and its reportage as the ultimate truth and the last word on the story. Question it, criticize it, debate it, hold its journalists accountable, laud them for their work if you so believe. But your silence on this story and on other such investigations in the past is only proving right what the cynical common man on the street believes 'ye media bika huva hai' (the media is sold).