Watchdogs not lapdogs

strike journlist

By S N Sinha*

If those in power think that by shooting the messenger, ‘All is well’ message
goes to the public, they are mistaken. Suppression of the flow of news to the people
and keep them in dark is not healthy for democracy. What is happening in
Uttar Pradesh, the largest state which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha,
nowadays is a shameful act of suppressing the reality from not only the ruling
establishment but from the people of the state and the nation.

The police foisted criminal cases with false charges on several journalists for
exposing government failures in different districts of UP. The journalists were
doing their duty to inform the people of the shortcomings of administration. In
Mirzapur district a local journalist of Jansandesh Times, Pawan Jaiswal exposed
corrupt officials who were serving only roti-salt in mid-day meal scheme in
Seur government primary school. The news was published in his newspaper
with a photo and later it was picked up by some news agencies and local TV
channels broadcast the video he had taken. In his report, the district officials
took action and suspended the school staff.

After ten days, the district administration filed a case against the journalist
alleging that he conspired to defame the state government, clearly, an
afterthought to protect themselves from the wrath of the higher-ups in the state
capital. In a funny argument, the District Magistrate asked how a print media
journalist could take a video and circulate it. How can an officer sitting in such
an important position make such absurd statements? Does he not know with
the availability of advanced technology, the journalists are working with multiple
media and contributing their news to different media platforms? Interestingly,
in the FIR the officials admitted that on that day only roti was cooked in the
school as there were no vegetables or dal available. The cook also confirmed it.
According to reports, the school has been serving roti-salt or rice-salt on several
days in a month. After the expose`, parents stopped sending their children to the
school to protest the FIR filed against the journalist who exposed corruption and
highlighted the reality in the mid-day meal scheme.

In Bijnor district five journalists working with local dailies and TV news
channels were booked for “false” and “negative” news reports. They reported
that a Valmiki family had put up their house for sale after they were not allowed
to collect water from the village hand pump. Here also the Bijnor
Superintendent of Police admitted that there was a clash between two groups
over the collection of water from the hand pump and police were investigating the
case. The Valmiki woman also confirmed that she was threatened by a police
officer to name the journalist and they were even thinking of leaving the village
if they did not get justice. Similarly in Pilibhit district the DM ordered
registration of an FIR on the complaint of a notorious person against a journalist
who is bed-ridden after an attempt to kill him in an accident. The reason was
that the DM was not happy with the reports published against him in the media.
In Azamgarh, a journalist was arrested after he took photographs of children
mopping the floor in their school. The journalist was charged with extortion and
obstructing public servants from discharging their duty.
In all these cases one shocking thing is that, instead of correcting their own
wrongdoings on the ground, the ruling establishment is filing criminal cases
against the journalists to give a message to the entire journalist community not
to report any wrongdoing of government. Jansandesh Times editor rightly said
that this was an attempt by the administration to shut the voice of those raising
matters related to public welfare. It is not the duty of the journalists to inform
the authorities and correct the wrongdoings but to report the ground realities in
their newspapers/news channels. The UP Police should focus on curtailing
crime, instead of filing FIRs against journalists and harassing them for doing
their duty.
It is nobody’s case that journalists or journalism is above the law. It is also a
fact that some anti-social elements use journalism as a cover for their nefarious
activities. The real practitioners of journalism always want that law should take
care of these elements and protect the dignity of the profession. The duty of the
law enforcing agencies is to protect journalists and journalism from not only
criminal elements but also from the ruling class who want to suppress the
shortcomings of their rule. When police target scribes for factual reporting in
the name of “negative” news, one thing is clear that the present ruling
government wants journalists to be their ‘lapdogs’ instead of ‘watchdogs’ of the
society.

*The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi and former President, Indian
Journalists Union.

Source: Scribes News

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