The Editors Guild Doth Protest Too Much

Justice Markandey Katju

 Justice Markandey Katju –

The Editors Guild of India has issued a statement protesting Rahul Gandhi’s remark in a press conference calling Smita Prakash, editor of ANI ‘pliable’ for her interview of Modi.
I am not a supporter of Rahul or his party, ( nor am I of any party ), but what wrong did he say ?
I watched the 95 minute interview very carefully, and came out with the impression that it was a carefully planned PR excercise by Modi, ably assisted by Ms. Prakash, on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections, when the BJP appears on the back foot after its recent reverses in the state assembly polls. Was this not being pliable ? Yes, such words, and terms like ‘presstitute’ and ‘bazaru media’, grate but shouldn’t journalists in India do some serious introspection about the way many of them have conducted themselves in the face of authority?
Modi painted a rosy picture of his ‘achievements’ in the last 4 1/2 years, as if all was hunky dory during this period. But was it not a journalist’s job to seriously question him, the way Jim Acosta of CNN has repeatedly questioned President Trump, or how Anderson Cooper questioned Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s Counselor, or how Farid Zakaria questions people ? No doubt Ms.Prakash did ask some relevant questions, but they were asked very weakly, almost apologetically, and they were not followed up by more searching cross questions when it was obvious Modi was being economical of the truth
 Let me state some points about this interview :
1. Ms. Prakash should have asked Modi about Lt. Gen. ( retd ) Zaheeruddin Shah’s statement that his army units were kept at Ahmedabad airport for the whole day in 2002 when the massacre of Muslims was going on, instead of being allowed to enter the city to stop it. Was Modi not responsible for the killing of 2000 Muslims in Gujarat when he told police officers in a meeting in Ahmedabad in 2002 that they should allow Hindus to vent out their anger at Muslims ( as recounted by the brave police officer Sanjeev Bhatt, who filed an affidavit to that effect in the Supreme Court, and has been hounded ever since )?
2. She should have asked why Jayant Sinha, the Union Minister who garlanded the gorakshaks who had allegedly lynched a Muslim, and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who called Muslims haraamzadas, not sacked?
3. She should have asked why not a single Muslim was given a BJP ticket for the 2014 Lok Sabha and subsequent State assembly elections ?
4. Ms. Prakash no doubt asked about lynching, to which Modi replied that lynching of Muslims was condemnable. But then Ms. Prakash should have followed up the question and  asked why was an atmosphere created in the first place for these horrendous incidents to happen ( by hate speeches ghar wapasi, love jihad etc ) by the Sangh Parivar ( to which Modi belongs ).
5. She should have asked why unemployment has grown under Modi’s rule, when he had promised in his 2014 election campaign that his govt will create 2 crore jobs annually ? In fact it is believed that demonetisation alone destroyed 4 lac medium and small businesses, and 2 crore jobs.
 1.2 crore youth are entering the job market every year, but according to the Govt of India’s own agency, the Labour Bureau, in 2014-2015 only 1.55 lac new jobs were created, and in 2015-2016 only 2.31 lac new jobs were created. The Govt refuses to disclose the figures thereafter, and it is believed that there was negative growth. In the I.T. industry alone 3-6 lac jobs have been lost.
Where will the 1.2 crore youth entering the job market annually go ? Sell samosas and pakoras ? Or become hawkers, street vendors, bouncers, stringers, beggars, criminals or suicides ? This question was never asked.
6. India has one third to one half of the malnourished children in the world. Child malnourishment has increased under Modi’s rule, but Ms. Prakash never touched on this issue.
About 45 percent of our children under 5 years of age are malnourished, 21 percent are ‘wasted’ i.e. their weight is extremely low relative to their height, indicating acute malnourishment ( according to Global Hunger Index ).
Global Hunger Index has pointed out that India’s ranking in child malnourishment has been slipping since Modi came to power. Out of 119 countries studied, India was ranked 97 in 2016, 100 in 2017, and was at 103 in 2018. As compared to this, China was at 25, Srilanka at 67, Myanmar at 68, Nepal 72, Bangladesh 86. Only Pakistan ( at 106 ) and Afghanistan ( at 107 ) are below us.
7. 51 percent Indian women are anaemic. She should have asked what the govt has done about this?
8. Modi said his govt has done a lot for farmers, who had a bumper harvest last year. She should have asked how this bumper harvest ( assuming it took place ) will help farmers when they do not get remunerative prices ? What about his 2014 election promise to double farmers’ income, or implement the Swaminathan Commission Report guaranteeing minimum support price 50 percent above the cost ? She should have asked why farmers are committing suicide, and agitating repeatedly  ?
9. Modi referred to the Supreme Court judgment regarding the Rafale deal. She should have then asked why a wrong statement was given to the Supreme Court that the CAG report had been sent to the PAC of Parliament, why price has been increased, why Anil Ambani who has no experience in making fighter aircraft given the contract, etc ?
10. She should have asked why the BJP govt in Manipur had arrested the journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem under NSA just because he had criticised the govt and its CM ? In a democracy do not people have the right to criticise the govt ?
And finally, she should have asked why Modi never held press conferences, and only gave interviews to some fawning channels ?
Ms. Prakash and the Editors Guild, instead of posing like innocent victims who are being pilloried, should do some serious introspection and ask themselves why the public has such a low opinion of Indian journalists

[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own]

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