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Whither Indian Journalism?

-- By Dr Ramesh N. Rao

It was reported recently that the Indian Express had refused to publish an article by Francois Gautier who writes a regular column for the newspaper. Mr. Gautier wrote to other journalists in India and some of us here in the US about the kind of censorship that the Indian Express was practising and wondered who was in charge of the newspaper. He asked Mr. Shekhar Gupta, the editor-in-chief of Indian Express, who was really in-charge of the newspaper. Here is a short excerpt from his letter:

Dear Shekhar,

Once more one of my columns has not been published (“Bamyan statues, Hindu Kush and Hindu genocide”), probably because it did not fit with the opinions of Mr. Philip, or whoever was in-charge on Saturday. But what is wrong in writing on the Hindu Kush, when the Taliban perpetuates in Kashmir the tradition of Hindu genocide and show, by breaking down the Bamyan statues, that the fifteen centuries old mania of razing down the statues and temples of the Infidels, is still alive? This is the fourth time that one of my columns is dumped because Philip, or Pamela Philipose disagrees with it. It is intolerable that I am censored in a column where I am supposed to express freely my opinions…. Unless it is published in its entirety this week and I get a guarantee from you that my columns will not be censored henceforth, I am hereby stopping the Ferengi’s column”.

I don’t know if Mr. Gupta replied to Mr. Gautier, but he did so in an indirect way by writing an editorial himself in which he criticises people for characterising Muslims as a homogeneous group and then goes ahead and gives a thrashing to the favourite whipping boy of Indian pseudo-secularists, the RSS! Here is what he says.

“Throughout the history of mankind, religious monotheism has never implied monolithic politics. Christian states have fought more wars against fellow Christian states than with others. The same is even truer for Islam. The notion of the cast-iron unity of the Islamic world is a reality only in the minds of the lunatics in Nagpur and others of the tribe. It is a hopeless myth and its perpetuation in our national mindset is extremely dangerous”.

At first glance, this may seem the usual secular gibberish and even a logical one at that, followed of course by a gratuitous swipe at the RSS. But let us take a closer look and see if Mr. Gupta says anything really intelligible.

He says that Christians have fought Christians more and Muslims have fought Muslims more than they fought others. The simple explanation is that there are Muslim and Christian countries in the world than there are Hindu or Buddhist countries! Many of the Hindu, Buddhist, tribal states have now become Muslim or Christian countries because of the incessant and brutal wars that the two largest religions have carried out against the rest of the world.

Second, he does not mention how many Christian states have waged war against Muslim states and vice versa. And more importantly, he does not give one piece of evidence to show that the RSS claims or believes that there is “cast-iron” unity among Muslims. What the RSS has pointed out and what we all know to be true is that India and Hindus have been subject to wars waged by Muslims since 900 C. E. and that at present the most serious threat to Indian unity and nationhood comes from Muslim nations (especially Pakistan) neighbouring India and that many of the Muslim groups who are waging the murderous battle against India are funded almost completely by some rich Muslim countries. Mr. Gupta fails to point this out, constructs a straw man and then goes ahead and burns it! If this is the intelligence that Mr. Gupta exhibits and if these are the journalistic ethics he practices, then Indian media is in serious trouble.

As one friend pointed out, “It just struck me that Mr. Gupta must have breached some sort of journalism ethics and certainly moral ones, in the way he wrote a response to Mr. Gautier without first publishing his article. I believe that this latter act is one that we must strongly denounce”. It is not just the deviousness of Mr. Gupta’s tactics that one should be concerned about, but the larger issue of the freedom of expression, of allowing the columnists one has hired to write what they want within the legal parameters and allow the readers to express their support or opposition to the columnist, or allow another columnist to challenge the views. Instead, what we have is a revolting exhibition of editorial power mixed with a large dose of slimy political strategy.

Why do journalists and editors like Shekhar Gupta exercise their editorial “privilege” to encourage self-serving views and suppress dissenting voices? In India, it is peak season now to brand anyone supporting any Hindu cause as some kind of a “Hindu nationalist” and at the same time allow the most crude and clever campaigns of vilification carried out by the Left/Muslim/Christian brigade against Hindus. Case in point: John Dayal, the mischief-maker par excellence, who dons at once the garb of Church spokesman and editor of an English language daily and who constantly commutes to the US to complain to US Congressmen about the “harassment” of Christians in India by Hindus.

He says in an op-ed piece in the Indian Express that when the RSS mouthpiece published a rebuttal to one of A.J. Philip’s articles it constituted a threat to freedom of speech! For Dayal, freedom of speech means that Philip can write whatever he wishes to and that the Organiser should quietly grin and bear it without challenging his views! Dayal says, “In seven pages of the official organ of the RSS, the Parivar has sought to coerce and trash Philip. If the Indian Express management were to be less strong, it could even be said that the attacks on Philip are designed to put pressure on the owners and editors of his newspaper for some action against the journalist. In tone and content, the articles go far beyond the demands of rebuttal or the theory of right to reply. A lesser management could take a hint that they were being urged to put pressure on Philip to choose simpler topics for future articles. Worse, the articles in the Parivar journals can lead some misguided and fanatic reader to take on himself the responsibility to teach a lesson to the ‘erring’ journalist”.

Dayal does not provide a shred of evidence to show that the Organiser said or did anything that was outside the norms of daily journalism. What Dayal does not like is not just the tone of the rebuttal but that the RSS newspaper thought it fit to challenge Mr. Philip at all. With this kind of pressure from the many Christian journalists in India (and they are there in newspaper offices in large numbers and in influential positions) someone like Mr. Gupta has to show that he is indeed in the “secular” camp. This timidity and bending-over-backwards to please the “minorities” in India is exploited to the hilt by the clever minority lobbyists like John Dayal.

Such pressures from people, both inside and outside the media, has led to the suppressing of dissenting voices. For instance, Sandhya Jain was shunted off the Indian Express by the same two Christian journalists, A. J. Philip and Pamela Philipose. Sandhya Jain’s sister, Meenakshi Jain, who is a historian at Delhi University (Sandhya and Meenakshi are both daughters of the late Girilal Jain, editor of the Times of India), has also been thwarted by the Marxist/liberal/secular coterie who have no qualms about suppressing the views of people who don’t toe the politically correct line drawn exclusively by them and diligently policed by their graduate students and their supporters in the media.

Some other examples of journalists who were hounded out because they dared to express sympathies for the Sangh Parivar at one point or the other include Prasun Sonawalkar of the Times of India, who was harassed and browbeaten after writing a sympathetic account of Advani’s rath yatra. It is believed that Manoj Raghuvamshi was also sidelined for similar reasons and the maverick Varsha Bhosle (daughter of the inimitable Asha Bhosle) was unceremoniously dumped by Vinod Mehta ofSunday Observer.

What do we, ordinary readers, then think about these matters and what are we concerned about? In Mr. Gautier’s case, we are supporting.

The right of journalists to express their views;

Mr. Gautier’s writing in Le Figaro and the Indian Express;

The right of others to join him in debate;

The novelty of having a foreigner respect the indigenous culture of India (historically foreigners have worked to undermine indigenous cultures);

The independence of Mr. Gautier as a journalist;

Freedom of the press within the bounds of law in India; and

The campaign against censorship of journalists, even if they be by fellow journalists.

What can you do? Here is what a group of us in the United States did. We drafted a petition, signed it and are forwarding it to a variety of Indian newspapers, Indian-American newspapers, U.S. Press associations and to the Press Council of India. Our petition reads as follows (and you can re-write or alter it and send it to your own local newspaper):

“Mr. Francois Gautier, a highly respected and widely read journalist, is the India correspondent for the French newspaper Le Figaro. He also writes a regular column for the Indian Express, an English language daily.

Mr. Gautier has complained in a letter that some of his commentaries have been rejected without reason by a coterie of editors, who happen to be Christian (A.J. Philip, Pamela Philipose). Mr. Gautier says that these op-ed page editors are the ones "actually controlling the Indian Express" and not its Chief Editor, Mr. Shekar Gupta.

It is common knowledge in India that Indian English language newspapers rarely provide the opportunity to columnists and writers who are considered to have pro-Hindu views. These newspapers also do not publish articles written by scholars and academics who may similarly have a positive perspective on the contributions of Hindus to India and who wish to present the correct versions of history as recorded by contemporary observers or historians.

Francois Gautier was somewhat of an exception because of his credentials, that of being a long time correspondent of a well-known French daily. It is interesting that this Western, European, Christian correspondent is being censored by Indian-Christians because he has positive things to say about Hindus and points out to some of the horrors of Muslim invasion of South Asia!

Censorship of ideas is extremely dangerous to the functioning of a democracy. The censorship practised by Indian editors and abetted by the publishers and the chief editor of the newspaper is appalling and marks a decline in journalistic ethics in India and reminds one of the government censors at work during the Emergency in 1975-77.

It further confirms that the elite, English language media demands "freedom of press" only for the expression of views that they subscribe to and have no qualms in suppressing dissent and difference. This threat to the freedom of expression by journalists is indicative of the warped nature of secularism and the freedom of press in India.

We, the undersigned who believe in the freedom of the press, request that Indian Express be censured for these acts of censorship”.

Go ahead, be a responsible citizen and challenge the power and the influence of the elite English language media in India.

 
     
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