Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashe-khara Reddy'swar on Andhra Pradesh'sbiggest and most powerful media group?Eenadu?is a matter of concern for all those who believe that a free and independent media is essential for the growth and strengthening of a democratic polity. The manner in which the Andhra Government is harassing the media group is a grim reminder of the fragility of freedom of press and the people'sright to know even in 21st century when a robust and independent media is the taste of all democracies. However, it is a matter of gratification that Hindu?Eenadu'smajor commercial rival in the State?has come out strongly against the Government'singenious strategy to financially cripple the media group by attacking its financial base.
In a hard hitting editorial, the Hindu accused the YSR Government of ?dangerous intolerance? and observed that the development had exposed the ?fragility? of media freedom in India. The Eenadu drama has exploded the myth that media no longer faces any threat from governments?national or state?in view of the changed political scenario, particularly the emergence of an era of coalition governments. How shamelessly the Congress party that is leading a minority Government of more than a dozen parties is exploiting its hold over DD is yet another aspect of its lack of commitment to a free and independent media. It is shocking that Sarva Siksha Abhyan advertisements over DD, it is not the Prime Minister or any one else holding any public office but the de facto PM Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and daughter Priyanka appear asking children to go to schools. It is in a sense an affirmation of the stark reality that public broadcasting in a Congress-ruled India is the sole preserve of the party'sfirst family.
Although the first Prime Minister of India Jawahar Lal Nehru will always be remembered as a defender of the freedom of the press, the Congress party'strack record since 1969 when Indira Gandhi was sworn in as Prime Minister after the tragic demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri with regard to media freedom is least inspiring. Whenever in power, the Congress has been uncomfortable with a free and independent media, particularly that section that is critical and objective. ?Either you are with us, or you are an enemy?, appears to be its approach towards media. If the notorious Bihar Press Bill and Rajiv Gandhi'sbrain-child the Defamation bill were still born, it was not because the party had second thoughts but largely because of stout opposition from the media and concerned citizens. In early 70s, Congress Chief Minister Bansi Lal waged a bitter war against The Tribune of Chandigarh?one of the few newspapers run by a public trust?and shamelessly ignored the Press Council of India'sdirective to release government advertisements to the newspaper. Not content with this, Bansi Lal saw to it that two staffers of the newspaper working in Haryana?including this writer?were hauled up under MISA during the emergency. The censorship imposed on the Press during the hated emergency is the blackest period in Indian democracy. It was a black spot on media too. As L K Advani sarcastically observed, media was asked to bend but started crawling. One hopes the media professionals and publishers have learnt a bitter lesson and are unwilling to allow any government to deny them the freedom guaranteed under the Constitution.
What did Eenadu do to earn the displeasure of the Chief Minister who is otherwise very accommodative considering his soft approach towards Maoists and grant of reservations on communal lines? ?Crimes? committed by the media group make interesting reading. The newspaper that has a circulation of one million plus has been in campaign mode. It did countless investigative stories including the exposure of the scam behind the land surrendered by the Chief Minister and his family. It carried stories as to how this ?surrender? of 300 acres was bogus and raised the question of impropriety on the part of YSR and his family to possess this land in the first place in violation of ceiling and other laws. It also carried a story in which without naming anybody, it alleged that a minister and his family had made a benami purchase of 200 acres in the vicinity of the state capital. Obviously upset at these exposures and indictments, the State Government decided to teach the owner of the media group a lesson or two. The Government responded by appointing a special public prosecutor to file and pursue a defamation against the Editor in Chief of Eenadu for ?bringing the Government into public disrepute? by carrying stories about benami land holdings of 200 acres by a minister of the Government. The Government appointed an Adviser and an Inspector General of the Criminal Investigation Department to pursue the complaint by a Congress MP about the HUF of the publisher of the Eenadu group having raised 2600 crore in public deposit. Nothing but vindictiveness is behind the State Government'smoves.
If the company is guilty of any irregularity, let the Government punish it but on the face of it, the State Government action is mala fide. Credible media reports suggest that though the RBI is making enquiry into the complaint by the Congress MP in a professional matter, it has no grouse against Margadarsi?the company in question?as it has an impeccable track record, with good assets to back it up. There is no complaint from a single depositor about default on the part of the company. In any case the company has discontinued deposits, including renewals, and is making transparent efforts to make payment of all matured deposits. What is the point in Government Advisor examining all the papers and records? Targeting the financial base of an unfriendly news outlet to shut up valid criticism against the misdeeds of powers that be appears to be the motive. The defence put forward by the Chief Minister is revealing??Eenadu has been an anti-Congress newspaper ever since the days of Indira Gandhi?. So, that is how you deal with an anti-Congress newspapers! Only ?friendly? media has the right to exist. And they talk about democracy and the People'sRight to know.