Millennium Post
Opinion

Fight for free and fearless journalism

Although I was aware of the allegations made against Salman Khurshid and the Zakir Hussain Trust and I also knew there was something about forged signatures of top officials of the Uttar Pradesh government, my first reaction had been: this must be mere politics. A colleague then sent me a clip of the press conference where the law minister was clearly warning a journalist that he would take the journalist to court. That prompted me to delve deeper into the issue – and I was horrified. Louise Fernandes Khurshid, the wife of the union law minister and the person who actually runs the Zakir Hussain Trust, has apparently filed a Rs 100 crore civil defamation case against the two channels
Aaj Tak
and Headlines Today.

Nothing surprising about that, for every Indian has the right to file a defamation case if he or she feels aggrieved. But what was horrifying for me was the manner in which the promotor of the group who also publishes India Today, Aroon Purie, was personally targeted.

It was genuinely shocking. We had journalists asking Khurshid whether he would resign from his post till an independent enquiry clears his name. He blithely replied that he would resign if Purie, the promotor of the India Today group, also resigned and if there was an enquiry against Purie and his group. Most horrifying: I found hardly any support in the media fraternity for Purie and his group. Just imagine the rotten and extremely dangerous precedent this is setting: so from now on, if any media house were to publish an exposé against any minister, the minister can now bluster and lavishly demand an enquiry against the publisher and his whole family before any enquiry can be set up against the politician.

But really, my concern is not about Purie and other media owners. I am sure they have the resources and the manpower to look after themselves. My concern is: if our democracy has descended to such a level where those in power can now openly and brazenly threaten media owners, what will happen to the journalists and the profession of journalism? Politicians used to always get behind media houses, and my media house has been a victim of that too, but it was never so blatant and open.

Already, journalism in India seems to be under a kind of siege, and the above mentioned threats can completely destroy whatever independence and guts the Indian media still seems to posses. I have nothing against Khurshid [though as I write this, I am shocked to hear allegations of his latest and open threats to Arvind Kejriwal warning him against coming to his constituency].

But surely, my conscience tells me that he cannot be the union law minister and bully a media house like that.

And it’s really strange: why aren’t all journalists and media management groups coming out openly in support of Purie? I am not asking them to fight legal cases on behalf of Purie and his group. But surely, at least some expression of solidarity is badly required. No journalist or media house disagrees with the statement that – whatever the causes and reasons – this is one of the most corrupt governments that India has seen.

All journalists and media houses also agree that this government tries hard to use fair and foul means to muzzle the media whenever a new scam is exposed. So why not take a stand in support of a person like Purie, who is one of the best representatives of media in this country? Here is a man who started with just one magazine called
India Today
and has by now built one of the most successful media enterprises in the country.

His group is successfully running magazines, newspapers, television channels, radio stations and Internet platforms.

His group has an outstanding track record of success and – more importantly – ethical success. If fellow journalists are hesitant to defend even this kind of track record, surely there is something really rotten in journalism.

These are truly amazing times we are living in and this is a truly sad state of affairs. I have always liked and admired Purie for his kind of journalism and entrepreneurship. His group is not being targeted because of a steamy story on Bollywood heroines, or one on the sex lives of politicians, or for creating ‘communal disharmony’ – whatever that means – or for reporting on anything that is ‘anti-national’ – whatever that means too. Purie is now being hounded for what any media house promotor and owner should be rightfully doing.  And that is, to nurture and encourage genuine journalism where facts are more important than reputations, where commitment to sincerity is more important than fear of power, and where people in powerful positions must accept that journalists and media houses are not allies but potential adversaries.

For all these things, and much more, I openly stand behind Purie and support him. I hope and pray others too will do the same, at least for the sake of their profession and livelihood if nothing else.

Arindam Chaudhuri is a management guru and director of IIPM Think Tank.
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