Is NDTV’s censorship hypocritical?

BY AJAZ ASHRAF| IN Media Practice | 10/10/2016
Is the channel suggesting that the army should not be held accountable?
And is this good for national security, asks AJAZ ASHRAF

The NDTV announcement on October 7.

 

NDTV’s editorial director Sonia Singh missed the irony inherent to her sending the email – rapidly becoming a byword for cringe-journalism –to that TV channel’s staff on 6 October. In it, as thewire.in reported, Singh declared, “Across the NDTV network, we have decided we will not give space to the political bickering that has broken out on the surgical strikes…..no debates, no airtime of my strikes vs yours, give proof etc…whether it is opposition or the govt….only the army…..to explain this.”

Under the title India Above Politics, Singh’s email also laid out the menu for the 9 PM news of 6 October thus – “national security cannot be compromised by politics; our Army cannot be doubted or questioned or used for political gains; the current political debate threatens to do this; NDTV will not air any remarks that risk security for political advantage.” The second point – the Army cannot be doubted – was subsequently deleted from the final advisory sent to the NDTV staff, thewire.in reported – and which NDTV hasn’t denied.

“No debates”-- did we read Sonia Singh right?

The NDTV’s editorial director is married to RPN Singh, a young Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh of some standing. He was a minister in the UPA government. It is his party’s vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, who has been responsible – apart from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal – for triggering, to use Sonia’s words, the “political bickering…on the surgical strikes.”

Therein is the irony: What Sonia will not have NDTV beam, her husband’s party thinks is in the nation’s interest to debate or bicker. Wonder whether Sonia has suggested to RPN Singh that he should dissuade Gandhi from compromising national security!

 

"But also parse Singh and Roy’s instruction to NDTV journalists to fathom its consequences – they have been asked to become complicit in the censorship dressed as national interest."

 

But the irony doesn’t end with Sonia. She is, anyway, an employee hired like all of us to do the employer’s bidding. NDTV’s co-founder and chairperson is Radhika Roy, who is the sister of the feisty CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat. In the all-party meeting convened hours after the surgical strikes were announced, the Left leaders reportedly asked to see evidence of the military operation across the Line of Control.

Has Roy asked sister Karat to tell the CPM not to question the nature of the surgical attacks? Does Roy hush up Karat every time she expresses her views on the attacks in a one-to-one chat?

It is mean of me to raise these questions.

But the point I am making is you can't control debate with your husband and sister, but you do it at the media house only because of the superior power vested in you. It is this power, and the staff's helplessness before it, which prompted them to write the email.*

Parse Singh and Roy’s instruction to NDTV journalists to fathom its consequences – they have been asked to become complicit in the censorship dressed as national interest. It sure must hurt the esteem of at least some in the channel.  And we the audience would have been lulled into believing – had thewire.in not scooped Sonia’s email – that what NDTV dishes out is grounded in political neutrality and journalistic objectivity.

This is plain hypocrisy, besides reeking of benign patriarchy. It is as if the media, in the manner of the Indian state, know what is best for the country's citizens.

The NDTV  email, therefore, is also a commentary on how the media are co-opted into toeing the Establishment line. Media-owners either wish to acquire favours from the Establishment or fear a blowback for defying it. It is not for us to speculate on what factors prompted NDTV to alter its editorial policy. 

The unseemly NDTV episode also turns the spotlight on how national security is defined and consensus built over it. Presumably, a handful in the government decide what is national security – and, therefore, what is national interest – push their line through the segments of the media too eager accept their definition (or spin), and tar as anti-national those bold enough to sing a tune different from the ruling dispensation’s.

For any idea of national security to have credence, it is vital to implicate Pakistan every time the crisis erupts in the Valley. The media is quick to fall in line. No doubt, Pakistan has a role in fanning the three-month-long unrest in Kashmir, where around 90 people have already fallen to pellet bullets thus far. Yet, no less a compelling reason is Delhi’s indifference regarding finding a political solution for ensuring the Valley doesn’t lurch from one crisis to another.

 

"The unseemly NDTV episode also turns the spotlight on how national security is defined and consensus built over it."

 

However, the second aspect remains outside the ambit of debate in the media, which is forever eager to accept the definition of national security that the Centre spins. No wonder, weeks before human rights activist Khurram Parvez was taken into custody, he said in an interview to Scroll.in, “For us (Kashmiris), the Indian media is clearly a part of India’s military industry in Kashmir.”

In the same interview, Parvez said that not a single Army person has been convicted “yet for encounter, rape, custodial killings, disappearance or torture.” This is because over the last 25 years, the state government “hasn’t secured sanction for prosecution whether from the Ministry of Defence in the case of the Army or from the Ministry of Home for paramilitary forces,” Parvez said.

Does this deplorable record serve national security or national interest?

Presumably, it does – both for the government and media. It would have served India’s national security manifold had the media debated the need to withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from Kashmir and the Northeast as ferociously as it is currently discussing the imperative behind insulating the surgical strikes from analyses contrary to the government’s. 

Sonia Singh’s email – and Radhika Roy’s responses to thewire.in – is an intimation of NDTV’s intent to stifle the contrarian note that it would occasionally strike on issues of national security. And it will certainly not question the Army on any count, not even when armed militants slip through military camps, as it happened at the Pathankot Air Base in January this year and in Uri last month.

There have been other instances of military slip-ups elsewhere. In June this year, 250 Chinese soldiers intruded into Arunachal Pradesh and insouciantly hung around for around three hours. The media linked the intrusion to China’s decision to foil India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It was to menace India, to put us in our place, so we were told.

But, really, why does wisdom always dawn on Army commanders after a bruising or esteem-bursting incident?

Following the Uri attack and India’s riposte through the September 29 surgical attacks, Bharat Karnad’s was a stray voice when he noted, “While it is well to criticise the government and the political class for their terminal indecisiveness, it is time the Indian armed services are held accountable for inexcusable lapses in preparedness and security. To continue to treat the armed services as holy cow is to fundamentally undermine national defence.”

 

"But the Army shouldn’t also be treated as holy cow, as NDTV now wants its staff to do so, because of the many scams its senior officers have been involved in."

 

Indeed, the Army’s failings often become an assault on the quick-to-prick pride of Indians, thereby mounting undue pressure on the ruling dispensation to react. But the Army shouldn’t also be treated as holy cow, as NDTV now wants its staff to do so, because of the many scams its senior officers have been involved in. To what degree can an institution no longer insulated from the culture of venality be relied upon to serve national security?

Quite tragically, India soldiers bleed and die. But are their deaths because of the complacency, even indifference, of officers who have become venal? Couldn’t their self-aggrandizement trump the interests of the troops they lead?

You will consider these as legitimate questions in case you consider the following – early this month, a Wing Commander was nabbed for being involved in an international drug racket. In January this year, two major generals, both decorated, were to face a CBI probe for paying bribe to secure promotions.

Now think the Coffin scam, the Navy War Room Leak case, the Adarsh Housing Society Scam, the Frozen Meat Scam of 2007, the Ration Supplies Scam, the Sukna Land deal case, former Army chief and Union Minister VK Singh’s allegation that a retired Army officer tried to bribe him for clearing the purchase of sub-standard vehicles, the 2012 recruitment scam at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Pune… You can go on and on.

This is why it seems such a travesty for Sonia Singh and Radhika Roy to have written, “Our Army cannot be doubted or questioned….” Indeed, the Army invokes national interest to conceal its failings. For what unfathomable reasons have NDTV invoked national interest to toe the government line?

Be sure, this is one question Times Now anchor Arnab Goswami will not think the nation wants to know.

* Editor’s note: The author has added this explanatory para in response to reader criticism about his dragging personal relationships of Singh and Roy into the argument.

 

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.

 

 

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