Shantanu Bhowmick
Shantanu Bhowmick

As Henry Grunwald puts it “Journalism can never be silent, that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault”. But what can be more distressing for a democracy than silencing this critical weapon often termed as its fourth pillar?

In the last half a decade Indian media has been rattled by the death of some prominent journalistic voices -allegedly by ever so strengthened right wing forces- with last month the latest victim being Gauri Lankesh, a senior journalist, editor and an activist. Known for being anti-establishment and also a strong critic of ultra nationalistic forces, her death, not astonishingly, was largely being considered as a political murder.

Although, all prominent dailies carried out front page stories about Lankesh’s death -the largest selling English daily in India, The Times of India, in its story termed her death as a ‘cold blooded murder’ whereas The Indian Express put a story titled ‘Journalist who spoke her mind is dead’ -­however what is now a perturbing normal, most of the prime time news anchors in their typical brash and hectoring style, without any tinge of substantiation, either declared it as a handiwork of Naxals or blamed the opposition parties for ‘unnecessarily politicizing’ the issue. The deliberate attempts to provide an alternate – yet not so viable – narrative to these ignominious acts sums up the mess we find ourselves in.

Eventhough media fraternity and intelligentsia respond with widespread protests and condemnations whenever a prominent journalistic voice is silenced, the reaction is not on similar lines when a small-time journalist, based in some far-off city or town meets the same fate. The case of ‘Rajdeo Ranjan’ is a glaring example. Ranjan, who was working as bureau chief with “Hindustan”, a local daily in Bihar, was shot dead near a railway station by motor cycle borne assailants. His death, however, didn’t garner even a fraction of sympathy and support as compared to Lankesh’s, which leads to a pertinent ask – Are journalistic ethos in India only driven by elitist endeavors?

Also,what is disturbing is how- owing to increased attacks on journalists and reporters by ultra nationalists- India is sliding down steadily in World Press Freedom (WPF rankings). Not astonishingly, India has slipped three places to 136, out of the 180 countries surveyed, and is placed even behind war torn countries like Afghanistan (120) and Palestine (135).What can be more a stigma than being 16 places down to a war ravaged country like Afghanistan?

Even though there is no state censorship, there are many reasons to believe that media organizations going all out against the government face some sort of indirect censorship. The timing of CBI raids on NDTV, or the Allahabad court verdict banning  The Wire from writing anything about Jay Shah’s business point towards an undeclared media gag.

Although those in the corridors of power refute any claims of country sliding into what is being termed as an ‘undeclared emergency’, however there is no denying in the fact that majority of the people who on various social media platforms rejoice such killings subscribe to the ideology of those who are at the helm of affairs. It is quite evident that journalists who don’t concur to their stringent views face the wrath of trolls and are even subjected to death threats. Such an atmosphere would ultimately pave path for self-censorship, which in-turn can drive the life out of any vibrant democracy.

Hanan Zaffar is Associate  Editor “CricSwarm” and is currently pursuing Masters in Journalism from MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia. He has written for national and international media organisations like The Diplomat The Quint etc.

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