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October 28, 2007
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Media Watch

October 28, 2007

Page: 37/39

Home > 2007 Issues > October 28, 2007

Media Watch

Press freedom and a succession pang

Seldom has a High Court judgment come to be challenged with such ferocity as was the Delhi High Court?s judgment imposing a sentence of four months imprisonment on four journalists of the Delhi-based Mid-Day in a Contempt of Court Case. Mid-Day had carried a series of articles between May 2 and July 12 raising troubling questions on the manner in which a former Chief Justice of India, Y.K. Sabharwal had dealt with a land sealing episode in Delhi. The allegation had been made that sealing orders had been passed by the bench headed by the Chief Justice to benefit his two sons who were ?somehow involved in construction of multi-crore malls in Delhi?.

The write-up in Mid-Day, reported the UNI, ?had virtually accused the former CJI who retired on January 14, 2007 of professional misconduct?. Was the write-up fair? The Times of India (September 23) reported that ?eminent citizens and senior journalists came together at the Press Club to discuss? the judgment?s fallout and a future course of action. Among the suggestions made was one advocated by lawyer Prashant Bhushan and Magsaysay Award winner Arvind Kejriwal that the media should come together and take up the fight on behalf of Mid-Day. One suggestion went to the extreme to the effect that all major newspapers should re-publish the Mid-Day stories to register their protest against the Delhi High Court order.

The speakers who included journalists Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN, Vinod Mehta of Outlook and Pankaj Pachauri of NDTV also felt that there was need to adopt a self-regulation code rather than allow the government to come up with an Act that might effectively gag the media. At the same time, eminent academicians and members of civil society urged the Delhi High Court to immediately recall its order maintaining that only an investigation would ?restore public confidence in the judiciary?.

The Indian Express (September 27) in an editorial said that the Delhi High Court?s judgment raises ?troubling questions? and dismay ?not least because it chose to delve into the truth or otherwise in the articles but because it inexplicably chose to disregard the aspect in its entirety?. The paper said ?by handing out a judgment that seems to be arbitrary and impervious the idea of delving into the truth, even more attention has been focussed on the manner with the former Chief Justice consequently facing a growing clamour for investigation over questions of propriety?.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has directed the Delhi High Court to release the editor, resident editor, cartoonist and printer and publisher of Mid-Day on bail. Though, among the four journalists charged with contempt of court was a cartoonist, Irfan, another cartoonist E.P. Unny, writing in The Indian Express (September 27) raised an interesting point. One of the most distinguished cartoonists of the forties and fifties was Shankar who spared nobody, not even Jawaharlal Nehru. But Nehru was sporting enough to call up Shankar and say: ?Shankar, don?t spare me!? And Unny wrote: ?If the cartoonist is tamed, the readers will smell a rat and think more evil thoughts. How do you censor the thought balloon?? Unny added: ?There are diplomats who look at the host country?s cartoons to get a first feel of how free the society they have stepped into is. The cartoon is the most visible democracy index.? Well said. Now the matter is left to the Supreme Court of India.

O far as the Congress Party?forget the United Progressive Alliance?is concerned, it seems to have decided who should be the successor of Dr Manmohan Singh, should it ever again be returned to power, which, of course, is a doubtful proposition. The press has acted to it with some vehemence. The Hindu (September 25) noted that ?the moment Sonia Gandhi overcame her reluctance and agreed to become president of the Indian National Congress in 1998 it became clear that the attempt to find a leadership outside India?s best known political family had collapsed?.

Though The Hindu specifically does not criticise Rahul Gandhi or his mother Sonia, it makes its point clear that it does not like dynasticism. And, considering its Left-leanings, it has to also snigger at the BJP saying that ?its own desperate negativism seems to be a function of its bankrupt communal policies, its geriatric leadership and its moribund organisation state?. Sadly, The Hindu can only be itself negative and has no positive suggestions to make.

The Indian Express (September 26) wants to know whether ?salvation lies with the crown prince?. Bluntly it said: ?Many in Congress senior leadership, otherwise capable and worthy of leadership roles, will formally have to subjugate for the foreseeable future any thoughts of democracy taking roots within the party as opposed to kowtowing to the idea that ultimately no one outside the dynasty is destined for anything but bit roles in the larger political processes in the country that involves the Congress.? Pathetic.

The Express does not have the courage to say that it does not condone dynasticism but indirectly suggests that Rahul?s pretensions must stop considering that ?UP proved that charisma, energy and youth alone are not enough to sway the electorate?.

The Times of India reported that ?there was a long-standing demand from a large number of party leaders that the 37-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family take up a more active role in the organisation? and quoted the fawning AICC spokesman, Abhishek Singhvi as saying that he has ?no doubt that Rahul Gandhi will return the compliment by decisively winning the next big match??that presumably being the election to the party?s leadership and ultimately the Prime Ministership should the Congress of the so-called UPA gets re-elected. ?Rahul?, said the Times of India headline is, ?projected as Cong?s Dhoni?. It is not that there are not enough sycophants in the country to fall at Sonia Gandhi?s?and Rahul Gandhi?s?feet. Deccan Herald ( September 30) interviewed Devendra Dwivedi, a permanent invitee to the Congress Working Committee and a senior leader from Uttar Pradesh, as saying that ?Congress believes in continuity with change??whatever that means.

But one of the most hard-hitting articles against Rahul Gandhi appeared in The Indian Express. Authored by Aditya Sinha it asked whether Rahul Gandhi will prove to be the Mahindra Singh Dhoni of politics as the Congress party hopes. ?Recklessly? wrote Sinha, ?this columnist sticks his neck out and predicts, no. Probably not?.

Apart from Jawaharlal, his daughter, grandson and now his great grandson have not shown any particular academic distinction to show, except that they are descended of Motilal Nehru who was, in the first place, the one to push Jawaharlal into national prominence, courtesy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. What is significant is that the larger media is still hesitating to state its views frankly. There is no Emergency, but there is fear.

Since when, in the last sixty years, one may ask, has the United Nations been addressed by a non-Prime Minister? What, may one ask, is Sonia Gandhi?s standing in India except as a Congress president that she should represent India and address the General Assembly as spokesperson for India? Have we all lost our sense of values?

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