By P. Kharel
In an editorial last fortnight, The New York Times commented on what it called “India’s battered press” in reference to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) naming NDTV co-founder Prannoy Roy and his wife Radhika together with a private company associated with the prominent TV news channel among those held responsible for alleged “losses of $7.45 million to a bank”.
The New York Times, which at times sports jaundiced eyes, did not mention that India is never rated as full-fledged democracy when it comes to the issue of free press. Western-funded Western agencies rank the “largest democracy” 136th in the world press freedom index. The situation is more or less consistent since decades.
CRYING WOLF: No sooner had CBI made the recent move against the NDTV founders and others than those named predictably cried foul. They termed the investigation a “witch-hunt” and appealed to the press “to unite” against “suppression”.
There has always been a high degree of uniformity and perhaps coordination between the Indian press and its government on issues concerning foreign affairs and matters of security. No media dare to cross the line. In the latter half of the 1980s, two of India’s top newspapers, The Statesman and the Indian Express, faced the Rajiv Gandhi government’s wrath and the music that went with it.
The two papers, known for their contents critical of a corrupt and incompetent regime, were slapped with more than 200 cases in the court of law and revenue. Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress was reduced from commanding more than 80 per cent of the parliamentary seats in 1984 to only a third of the 545-member Lok Sabha in November 1989. With the Congress cooling its heels in the opposition benches, the new minority government headed by V.P. Singh withdrew all the cases.
Rajiv Gandhi’s mother Indira had imposed an infamous state of emergency (1975-1977), whose excesses, in comparison, dim to almost oblivion the hardships the media in Nepal experienced during the nine-month emergency state imposed by duly, democratically elected Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and the three-month emergency during King Gyanendra direct rule. It is no coincidence that during the premierships of the two Gandhis, New Delhi had “special special relationship” with the now almost universally condemned but disintegrated Soviet Union.
As if to deflect potential criticism of its own performance, Indian media rarely comment on the press elsewhere, unless it happens to be Nepal or Pakistan. One has to only go through the pages in the back files of the Indian press on Nepal to chronicle and recall the poison-filled news and views they carried. No other country, with the exception of Pakistan, gets such treatment in the Indian press.
The fact is that in India, there is a high degree of sustained coordination between the press and the external affairs and defence agencies. They go out of the way to be “sensitive” about the “sensitivity” of these agencies. Dictatorships in Africa, South America and Asia, particularly West Asia, have been treated with complete silence or indulgence. In Nepal’s case, however, fiction is often made as facts.
With Pakistan, India has been engaged in at least three major wars since their very independence from the much-despised British colonial rule in 1947. The birth pangs were severe and the after-effects have rippled through the past 70 years without any sign of getting alleviated. The situation’s antecedents can be traced back to the various regimes, invaders and occupiers, including more than two centuries of British rule, which led to the shaping of post-independent India and its inherent results.
ON THE PROWL: Hobnobbing with autocrats is as common as the summer rains for the so-called champions of democracy, be it the United States or Britain or other “veto powers” on the United Nations Security Council and their allies in the comity of nations, or, for that matter, neighbouring India. Planting of news items in and offering exclusive briefs to select news media for unsettling governments they want toppled for not subscribing to extraneous prescriptions penned by powerful forces is no new practice in the world of hard core international politics.
In Nepal’s case, certain predators have always craved for taking over this once peaceful country’s defence and foreign policy rights so loftily and universally recognised. In other words, the option to rulers of officially independent, sovereign states is to accept a free run over domestic issues and accept foreign powers to slice away some of the requisite characteristics of non-protectorate nations.
Be it the June 1973 hijacking of an RNAC aircraft, the hosting of Maoist leaders in the outskirts of Delhi for more than eight years, the Royal massacre, three excruciating trade blockades against this “friendly and peaceful country which numerous shares historical, religious and cultural ties since time immemorial”, the Indian press has always accepted and echoed the government version.
As for the Nepali media, most of them remain silent and only a few “anti-Indians” dare to call a spade a spade.
India Low On Press Freedom
By P. Kharel