Unlike CNN, the Indian media toes the line

Justice Markandey Katju

 

CNN has filed a suit against President Donald Trump and his aides for cancelling the press pass to the White House of senior CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and there is a big uproar in America, and not just most Americans are supporting CNN but other media organisations, including the normally pro-Trump Fox News, are supporting CNN.

 

But during the fake Emergency in India of 1975-77 when freedom of speech and of the press were suspended by Indira Gandhi, the Indian media crawled when it was only asked to bend, as Advani said, and there was ‘All Quiet on the Indian Front.’

 

In recent times, senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and his wife Sagarika Ghose were thrown out of CNN IBN (now CNN News 18) by its new owner Mukesh Ambani, obviously at the instance of PM Modi ( who was annoyed with Rajdeep for asking embarrassing questions about the Gujrat pogrom of Muslims in 2002 ), but there was not even a whimper.

 

Karan Thapar’s show on India Today TV was stopped by its management since Karan had annoyed Modi while interviewing him, and he was perceived as anti-Modi, and a cartoonist Satish Acharya was told that since his cartoons had anti-BJP content, he was no longer needed by Mail Today. Again, pin drop silence.

 

Punya Prasun Bajpai and Milind Khandekar were dismissed by ABP due to political pressure, and after a brief outcry there was acceptance of the fait accompli.

 

Many people have asked why the Indian media does not act bravely the way CNN has acted, and I would like to hazard my opinion.

  1. Indian public opinion is not strong like that in America or other developed countries. Here most people accept the fait accompli, and would not like to cross swords with the authorities.

To give an example, when Indira Gandhi imposed an Emergency in 1975 ( to save her chair, not because there was any real emergency in India ) and suspended all fundamental rights in the Constitution ( including the right to life ) and imposed a strict censorship on the media,  there was hardly any mass opposition, and most people quietly accepted it ( the only exception being the brave Ramnath Goenka and his Indian Express Group who had to pay a price ).

Had such a thing happened in America or Europe there would have been widespread uproar, agitations and resistance

  1. While both the Western and Indian media are owned by businessmen, Western businessmen do not kowtow before political leaders like most Indian businessmen. Rather, in the West it is politicians who often kowtow before businessmen.

There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, in India if a businessman annoys the political leaders in power the latter often unleash the CBI, income tax and customs authorities, Enforcement Directorate etc against him and that may lead to his ruin or great losses. It is well known that these officials are ‘ caged parrots ‘ (as the Supreme Court called them) and they will do the will of their political masters, often even to the extent of manufacturing fake evidence, while most Indian businessmen have skeletons in their cupboards which they would like to keep hidden.

One may recollect what happened to Tehelka after it exposed corruption of a BJP leader by a sting operation. It was almost hounded out of existence.

In the Western countries, on the other hand, bureaucrats are much more professional. For instance, if Trump orders the FBI or the Internal Revenue Service to hound CNN it is unlikely, they will do his bidding.

Secondly, most Indian media owners also run many other businesses, and their newspaper or TV channel may really be the means to benefit or protect those other businesses, which may be several times bigger in size and income. I know of one owner of a Hindi newspaper who also runs about 50 other businesses, power, coal, steel, telecom, etc. His real income is from these other businesses, and the newspaper is really to protect and benefit them ( by giving favorable publicity to some Minister for getting some favor from him, or to attack his enemy ).

Thirdly, most Indian businessmen still have the colonial mindset, though India became independent in 1947. They often have an inferiority complex before a Minister or I.A.S. officer (unless he is in their pocket). So they rarely have the courage to oppose him ( as CNN has done ).

  1. In America and Europe, most journalists like Anderson Cooper, Bob Woodward, Barbara Walters, Christiane Amanpour, Farid Zakaria etc ,though employees, will not blindly accept the bidding of the owners, and the owners have to treat them with respect. Such journalists are strong personalities, and have their own ethics and professional standards which they insist on maintaining, and even the owner dare not tell them to do something to the contrary.

 

Thus, in the case of CNN, my guess is that the owner Ted Turner must have consulted people like Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour, Farid Zakaria, etc., who would have told him that the whole organization must stand behind Jim Acosta, and must take recourse to legal proceedings for upholding the First Amendment (freedom of the press ) rights, and it will create a very bad precedent if they do not and take Trump’s act lying low.

 

In India no media owner, not even the biggest, would dare to do so. Here, most journalists are not truly independent but are under the thumb of the proprietor, and the proprietor kowtows before the political leaders, and is thus under their thumbs.

 

[Justice Markandey Katju, former Judge, Supreme Court of India. The views expressed are his own]

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