On Thursday, 6 October, NDTV 24/7 telecast excerpts of an "exclusive" interview of former Home Minister P. Chidambaram with their senior anchor Barkha Dutt on their news bulletins throughout the day. It was scheduled for the 8pm slot. Mr Chidambaram's interview was in the context of the army's surgical strikes in Pakistan that had gripped the nation and he was also seen speaking on the controversial statements of the Defence minister in the excerpts.
But as I switched on the Television at 8pm, NDTV was telecasting a recycled report of their Kashmir Diaries which was shown in the preceding days of the same week. I immediately enquired with a friend who works at NDTV as to what happened to the sheduled interview. I was told that it could probably be slotted at 8.30. But at around 8.30, a short interview of Anupam Kher was telecast. This was followed by the following graphic shown at 9pm.
As i contacted another employee later, I came to know that this was preceded by an email sent to all the thousand odd journalists of the twenty bureaus the same day by the NDTV editorial director, Sonia Singh. The email specifies that NDTV has decided to not give any space to political bickering that broke out in the aftermath of the surgical strikes. It also contained four bullet points that were to be included in a graphic that had to be put up. The fourth one, that said "Our Army cannot be doubted or questioned or used for political gains" did not make it to the graphic that was eventually shown every 30 minutes.
The censorship of news did not actually stop at this. The controversial statement of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi about Modi trading with the blood of Indian soldiers wasn't shown either.
Strangely enough, the following day, on October 7, the press conference of Amit Shah where he attacked Rahul Gandhi for his controversial remark and spelt out the BJP's stance on the surgical strikes and its politicisation, was shown live on the channel.
What is yet not clear is what prompted this change in editorial policy. As a long-time viewer of the channel, I also found that the coverage of the surgical strikes across the Line of Control on the channel on 29 September was rather over the top going by NDTV's standards.
Even as most of the national channels had come to parrot the establishment line in recent times, NDTV had managed to somehow retain a sense of neutrality. But this latest episode raises huge question marks.
This is also on the lines of many other developments in the country of late. Pseudo-nationalism seems to have become a weapon for many to target all kinds of dissent. While this trend gained momentum with the growing popularity of social media, even the mainstream media has been feeling the heat. Instead of asking hard questions of the government, many present day anchors are experts in whipping up hysteria in the name of patriotism.
At the 9pm show hosted by Barkha Dutt barely a week back on September 30, senior diplomat G.Parthasarathi had heckled Sudheendra Kulkarni for using wrong phraseology with regard to Kashmir. Mr Kulkarni had said "Kashmir dispute" instead of "Kashmir issue". Parthasarathi went on to thunder that Sudheendra Kulkarni had no right to be on the show if he did not know the difference in terminology. This would not have been so out of place on other channels where heckling of panelists has become routine. But on a mature platform like NDTV, it was very odd. It was a clear sign that the space for dissent and liberal voices was shrinking even as we watch.
What is going on in the country in the name of nationalism today is also undermining the essence of our constitution and the hard-earned values of democracy, civil rights and equality gained through our fight for Independence. The absence of nuance and subtlety in the public discourse is a really worrying proposition if it persists. It remains to be seen if this is a temporary blip or if things are going to get worse in the coming days.
NDTV is yet to respond to Chidambaram's question about why his interview was dropped.