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10 Jun 2017

Thank you, Mr Modi - Chorus for media freedom

(From left) Arun Shourie, Fali Nariman, Prannoy Roy,  H.K. Dua, Nihal Singh and Kuldip Nayar at the Press Club meet on Friday. Picture by Prem Singh
Pheroze L. Vincent, New Delhi, June 9: An array of veterans who have fought many a bruising battle to uphold the freedom of expression today lent their voice to a chorus from journalists against attacks on the media.
The backdrop for the event at the Press Club of India in the capital was the CBI raid on the founders of NDTV, Prannoy Roy and Radhika Roy. Those who spoke included journalists Kuldip Nayar, Nihal Singh, Arun Shourie, H.K. Dua, T.N. Ninan, Shekhar Gupta and jurist Fali S. Nariman. Prannoy Roy too spoke.
The capital has rarely seen so many senior journalists sharing a platform to protect the right to free expression.
The most hard-hitting was Shourie, the former editor of The Indian Express. The following are excerpts, not in sequence, from Shourie's speech:
I want to begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Narendra Modi. He has brought so many friends together. And as a return favour, I want to read him a couplet.... Tujh se pehle jo yahaan takhtnasheen thha/ Usko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hee yakeen thha (He who occupied this throne before you, also believed, like you, that he was God)....
Minister's prose
Never delude yourself into believing that a little concession will buy you peace. Many of you think that if you give prominence to some of the articles of these ministers or if you give them airtime, they will help you in a crisis.
Venkaiah Naidu is my friend. In our own paper, The Indian Express, he gets three quarters of a page. Kuldipji, nobody would give me that kind of space. That is Venkaiah Naidu's article. Give Venkaiah Naidu that small third-standard notebook, and ask him to fill one page coherently on any random topic. But you keep printing his articles, when you know very well that he cannot write.
Because you think that by giving him that space, that much airtime to these fellows, you are buying peace. No. In fact, when the assault comes on you, none of them will help.
Bonded labourers
Ek toh baat hai yahaan toh koi minister koi hai nahi. Sarkar dhai aadmiyon ki sarkar hai. Yeh bichare toh Swami Agnivesh ke bandhua mazdoor hain. (No one is a minister here. It is a government of two-and-a-half people. These unfortunate people are (anti-slavery campaigner) Swami Agnivesh's bonded labourers. They cannot do anything. In fact, what they will be doing is that if one of them is a friend of Prannoy Roy, he will be fearing that
"Modi will think I am a friend of Prannoy Roy, toh ussey dur raho (stay away from him)."
Boycott
Instead of buying peace with concessions, I would urge non-cooperation - boycott. Dua sahib reminded us of the defamation bill. Sir, one of the most effective things we did at the time was by just telephoning editors across the country. We said, please do one thing. If a minister of Rajiv Gandhi's government comes to your city, in the press conference, first ask him "Are you for or against the defamation bill?"
If he does not answer, or he gives an ambiguous answer or if he says, "Yes", just get up and leave. Publicity is the oxygen of terrorists as it is for these bandhua mazdooron (bonded labourers). They want to show Modi, "I got such good coverage."
Deny them that, just boycott their press conferences. Never call to your meetings, your functions, somebody who you would not call just for the fact that he is a minister. Just do that little non-cooperation and see the effect....
Dog with a bone
The first thing we must do is recognise that a new phase has begun.... There is a Zulu proverb that a dog with a bone in its mouth can't bark. So they are converting the media into a dog with advertisements in its mouth, that cannot bark at them. They were controlling and managing the media by the subterranean spreading of fear.... They have got what they could from those two instruments. Now they are using a third instrument, which is overt pressure and they have made NDTV an example of that.
And this will intensify in the coming months: one, because of the nature of the regime - its genes are totalitarian. What does totalitarian mean? Total domination. The entire geography of India, in every sphere of life. In all fora, they must dominate. They are extending it step by step, if you look at the pattern.
The second is the gap between what the claim, if you look at their advertisements and speeches, and what the people feel on the ground in their lives.
If you are a farmer or person losing his job. That gap is so wide already but that will become wider in the next two years as investment doesn't revive and so on. And for that reason, they will then take to not just managing but suppressing voices of dissent....
This is not the time to sit in judgment on each other.... They will try to divide the press by insinuating such things and they will use the existing media to defame the rest of the media. Please do not become instruments in that.
Three protections
In the end, please remember that we have only three protections. One is our solidarity. Second is the courts.... The third is the protection of our own readers or viewers.... You must go into the depth and facts to real life-and-death issues for the reader so that when the hand is raised against you, the reader feels that the hand is raised against him or her....
When they control the media completely, people will see the great distance between what they are being made to swallow through the media and what is happening in their own lives and this government which worships cows will be left holding dead cows.
Attack on media
Nariman said: "No one is immune from being prosecuted for a criminal offence - not any of you, not I, not Prannoy Roy, not NDTV. But the manner and circumstances and the so called justification of the CBI raids on NDTV do give me reason to believe that all these are definitely an unjustified attack on press freedom."
Signal to all: Roy
Prannoy Roy said in an emotional speech: "This is not just a flimsy case against NDTV. It is a signal to all of us: 'We can suppress you even if you haven't done anything'. The free press is the best thing about India. Their message is: crawl, or we will come and get you. Stand up and they will never come for you."

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