Boycott & Ban Just because you can?
Columns, In Black & White

Boycott & Ban Just because you can?

September 16, 2023

On Thursday, the Opposition alliance did something as gimmicky as their acronym I.N.D.I.A. They released a list of 14 TV anchors they will boycott, accusing them of conducting ‘hate-filled’ news debates.

Congress party, which is leading I.N.D.I.A., has a long history of banning things while running to the West to complain about the lack of ‘freedom of the press’ and ‘liberties’ when they are not ruling India. Congress leadership probably imbibed this habit from Nehru, which has percolated all political parties now.

 Nehru was liberal only when it suited him. More than a dozen books faced censorship during Nehru’s era. The novel ‘Nine Hours to Rama’, written by Stanley Wolpert, was banned because it suggested that the Indian Government’s incompetence led to Gandhiji’s assassination.

Then, surprisingly, Nehru proposed to ban the erotic yet beautifully written novel ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D.H. Lawrence, ironic considering Nehru’s reputation with the fairer sex.

Nehru even had lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri jailed for two years because he wrote a poem that called Nehru a slave to the Commonwealth. Then, of course, we have the daughter Indira Gandhi, who declared an Emergency, followed by the grandson, who banned Salman Rushdie’s book.

So Congress doesn’t particularly have a history of being true believers in ‘liberalism’. It is, in fact, political ‘opportunism.’

But how has Congress maintained its farcical image of being liberal and secular then? Simple, they managed the media.

They have been promoting and patronising journalists and media houses who ensured people forgot their misdeeds for decades.

For example, from the moment it came to power in Karnataka recently, the Congress has been placing Government advertisements mostly in papers supporting the Congress party instead of media with the highest eyeballs.

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Each newspaper has its leanings based on the editor of the day. TV anchors, too, have their prejudices. Many will remember during the JNU student protests, the then ‘Times Now’ anchor Arnab Goswami called the protesting students as anti-nationals while then NDTV’s Prannoy Roy saw them as ‘victims’. They were both catering to their respective prejudiced and                        close-minded audience.

Speaking of Arnab Goswami and Ravish Kumar of NDTV catering to their audience, Delhi High Court lawyer and columnist Gaurav Sansanwal rightly observed, “If Arnab Goswami sells ‘chest-thumping patriotism’, Ravish Kumar sells ‘self-pity’. If Arnab has coined the term ‘Lutyens Media’, Ravish coined ‘Godi Media’. If Arnab calls out ‘anti-nationals’, Ravish paints everyone he disagrees with as ‘fascists’. If Arnab ‘shouts’ at his viewers, Ravish regularly delivers a ‘sermon’.”

If we are talking of unbiased media, Ravish Kumar’s NDTV is not very different from Arnab Goswami’s Republic TV, just that their decibel levels and approach to appeal to their respective audience are different.

The ‘liberal’ media, who are silent today as the 14 anchors are boycotted, must remember that after BJP came to power, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, probably the last dignified news anchor on Indian television, was stopped at immigration and not allowed to board a flight. Back then, the ‘liberals’ were up in arms, but when Arnab Goswami was arrested in Mumbai, they were silent.

Now, as 14 anchors are boycotted, they are quiet again! So, do liberals who obsess over free speech believe only their speech should be free?

If liberal media keeps mum when ‘their’ political party boycotts anchors and if the right-wing press keeps silent when ‘their’ political party curtails the free speech of journalists, then soon there will be no media on either the left or the right — a void will be created only to be filled with fake news and narratives. It is happening already.

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In the end, both the right and the left media will be reduced to mere propaganda machines where your allegiance lies not to journalism or your readers and viewers but to a political party.

For now, the silence of most media houses and journalists reminds me of Martin Niemoller, the German Pastor, who was an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler, who said:

“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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