Media in India has turned into a beast: Varadarajan

Prominent journalist Siddharth Varadarajan on Thursday said the media in India has turned into a “beast”, and urged journalists to emerge strong enough to overcome “external pulls and pressures” and not succumb to self-censorship.
Media in India has turned into a beast: Varadarajan
GK Photo

Prominent journalist Siddharth Varadarajan on Thursday said the media in India has turned into a "beast", and urged journalists to emerge strong enough to overcome "external pulls and pressures" and not succumb to self-censorship. 

He also said that "communalisation" of editorial content in a section of media, which was non-existent a few years ago, was rampant now.

"I am not targeting the entire media but I am talking about a major section of media in India. Today we have a beast, an animal that bears little resemblance to what professional journalism should be like," Varadarajan said at a function where the 12th volume of "Aina Numa" by renowned journalist and parliamentarian Shamim Ahmad Shamim was released. 

"Twenty to thirty years ago it was difficult to find blatant communal reporting. But today news anchors and channels do it day in and day out. Today media channels and journalists are putting drops of poison in people's mind as the agenda is to polarise the country along Hindu versus Muslim lines," said Varadarajan.

The senior journalist said "state actors, non-state actors and corporate houses" are pressuring media houses in various ways, adding that several national media television networks themselves are to be blamed for openly toeing the line of "right-wing communal forces".

"It is a ridiculous spectacle that a day has come when the police are defining journalism. This is intolerable but it is also unfortunate that doors for dialogue and discussion are getting shut in television media. What can one say when a news channel embraces agenda of the Sangh Parivar and an anchor has the audacity to push a panellist into making inflammatory statements," said Varadarajan.

Condemning beating of local journalists by government forces at the encounter site in Fateh Kadal on Wednesday, Varadarajan said the media fraternity across India is neglecting Kashmiri journalists.

"Today my colleagues in Delhi have issued a very strong statement against journalists being attacked in the heart of city by police and assault of women journalists by rightwing activists in Sabarimala in Kerala. But what has happened in the Valley is an ongoing threat to the ability of mediapersons to discharge their duties. The pressure on Kashmiri journalists has gone off the radar. The way internet is snapped here causing trouble to media persons is a form of a huge communication gag," said Varadarajan.  

Recounting his deep association with Shujaat Bukari, who was assassinated in June this year, he said "vilification and labelling" of journalists on social media is a latest threatening trend.

"We have the tragic example of the assassination of Shujaat Bukhari who was my colleague while he was bureau chief of The Hindu here for a long time. We don't know who killed him but with his forthrightness, there were many people who would have wanted to target him. It also does not help that both in India and Pakistan sections of the media and social media targeted, vilified and painted him as a traitor. In India, news channels tagged him anti-national and in Pakistan as a result of the conference he had organised in Dubai, he was called anti-Kashmiri. This propaganda created such an atmosphere that in the game that is being played it became difficult to say who had done it and who has not," Varadarajan said.

The senior journalist, who also has been the editor of The Hindu, pointed out that media houses with strong financial background can somewhat afford to take a liberty of adopting a "strong" stand against the government, while smaller newspapers are unable to do so as they are dependent on government advertisements.

"When I was in The Hindu I had encouraged little bit more aggressive reporting on the state government. For smaller Kashmir-based newspapers, where market is modest in size and there is a limit to charging a reader, there is more misuse of law and media houses are financially strangulated. Certain papers in J&K have been without government advertisements for a long time because they took a strong stand," said Varadarajan. 

He said Kashmiri photojournalist Kamran Yousuf's arrest and detention by the National Investigation Agency in September last year was based on "flimsy grounds". He said the media scene in rest of the country was also grim as "contractors such as sand mafia threaten journalists for exposes". 

"It was a ridiculous spectacle of a government police agency telling the court in an affidavit that it did not find any photographs pertaining to a blood donation drive, or roadshows or any developmental works of government in the laptop of Kamran and so they arrested him and he is not a real journalist," said Varadarajan. 

"There are other examples of journalists being dragged away which is a direct assault on freedom of speech and this is unacceptable. Either you come up with  specific charges…. but this kind of general charge and when you impose Public Safety Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act where you can't get a bail is a huge assault on media which is hampering their journalism and needs to be condemned," said Varadarajan. 

Commenting on recent incidents of "MeToo" movement, where female journalists have alleged sexual harassment by journalists including senior editors, Varadarajan said: "It becomes the duty of senior editors to ensure a safe and healthy environment for women journalists to work."

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