Conspiracy of Silence

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The media has developed an ostrich like attitude. It needs to realise that its survival is at stake

Sharad Gupta

Sharad Gupta

Sharad Gupta is a political commentator with over 30 years experience of working with publications like The Times of India, The Indian Express, India Today, Hindustan and Dainik Bhaskar. He is presently Senior Editor with Parliamentarian

A judge dies under mysterious circumstances. His family raises several disturbing questions doubting the police version. A reporter investigates for months and puts together an excellent story. The magazine he works for, sits on the story for over a month before refusing to publish it because its “too sensitive”. The reporter has the gumption to resign his well-paying job and offers the story to other media houses. Only Caravan agrees to publish it. The story goes viral on social media. But, mainstream media - especially Hindi and English newspapers and TV channels - refrain from picking it.

The special CBI judge in Mumbai, BH Loya, was hearing a case in which the main accused was then Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah. He was cajoled by two others of his fellow judges to accompany them to a wedding in Nagpur on November 30, 2014. He spoke to his wife on phone till 11.40 pm. Loya suffered a heart attack shortly after midnight, was rushed to a hospital, then to another hospital where he was pronounced ‘brought dead’. His wife, sister and other relatives were informed at 5 am on December 1 that the body after post-mortem, has been despatched to his father’s village in Latur district. None of the two judges accompanied the body.

Reporter Niranjan Takle’s investigative report had raised many uncomfortable questions on the “natural death”. But the mainstream media did not think the story worthy of some space. Only a beleaguered NDTV - both Hindi and English - had the courage to transmit the story. The Indian Express on the other hand, did a story ‘removing all doubts’ though without talking to Loya’s family. The judiciary, which often takes up suo moto, cases like traffic congestion, illegal construction or pollution, chose to look the other way at the mysterious death of a brother judge. And Justice MB Gosavi, delivered the verdict absolving Amit Shah, within two days of taking over the case.

It is this conspiracy of silence that has come to dog the media lately. It picks and chooses the stories as per its convenience, often flashing trivial incidents on its front pages while relegating important issues to remote spaces or consigning them to dustbins altogether. It acted in a similar fashion when Justice J Chelameswar ordered that a bench of five senior most judges would hear lawyer Kamini Jaiswal’s petition seeking probe into Justice IM Quddusi’s arrest by the CBI.

A retired judge of Odisha High Court, Quddusi was arrested for having promised some private medical colleges a ‘favourable judgement from Supreme Court’. The case on granting recognition to substandard medical colleges was being hear by the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra himself.

Jaiswal had contended that Quddusi’s arrest was an attempt by the CBI to malign the image of highest echelons of judiciary and hence needed to be probed by an special investigating team (SIT) to be formed and supervised by the court. Justice Chelameswar had agreed for the probe and his order mentioned a note sent to him by the CJI asking him not to take up the matter as a similar case was already pending before him. Chelameswar though went ahead as the matter concerned ‘reputation of the judiciary’. His order was rescinded the next day by the CJI himself.

Few media houses reported the incident in entirety, with most of them omitting CJI’s directive to Chelameswar. Similarly, media maintains a studied silence in cases involving media personalities, whether in the Nira Radia tapes or the Zee-Jindal spat.

The media has been latching on to the emotional issues that could contribute to their TRPs rather than taking more substantive ones which concern basic issues like sanitation, livelihood, housing and climate change. That is why we see more of the Padmavati row or Ayodhya or cow-protectionism rather than falling standards of education, which is getting dominated by hugely expensive private sector, over-charging hospitals, unaffordable houses, traffic and civic woes.

Another newly acquired tendency is to be partial towards the ruling class. It has largely overlooked the impact of disruptive economic measures like demonetisation and a rash introduction of GST. It’s the same media which had gone to town with cases like 2G, Coalgate, Commonwealth Scam, August Westland deal, etc., to put the UPA-II regime on the mat. Now, it has suddenly become too sympathetic to NDA-II. Every media house has conveyed to its employees about their holy cows and they invariably include the top names of the present regime.

The media’s job is to report the events and its responsibility is to report them fairly. I have always maintained that governments have hundreds of ways to communicate its point of view and achievements to the masses, but people have only one way of knowing the government’s failures or shortcomings - through the media. If the media too starts acting like one of government agencies, no one but the common man will be at a loss.

A major reason for media’s proclivity to be inclined towards the government and the corporates is its dependency on advertising. Almost all media houses subsidise their products - cover rate of newspapers and magazines is usually far lower than their production cost - and hope to meet the deficit with advertisement revenues.

Corporates and the government being major contributors to ad revenue, hold the oxygen supply of the media. The moment the latter tries to play difficult, advertisements are stopped and it starts gasping. Let us hope media soon stops selling subsidised products, and the Indian public, like elsewhere in the world, pays their market price. Only then will we be able to see a free media.

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