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A public meeting was organized by Janhastakshep on The Challenges of 2019 and the Role of Media on 22 March 2019 at the Press club. Veteran journalist and columnist Prem Shankar Jha; Hartosh Singh Bal, the editor of Caravan and Professor Apoorvanand of Delhi University were the main speakers. Pankaj Srivastava, a member of the Punya Prasoon Vajpeyi’s team that just got terminated from Surya TV also narrated his ordeal and the difficulties before the journalistic ethics. Ish Mishra, convener, Janhastakshep while introducing the subject underlined importance of independent media in a democracy itsvital role for which it is known as its one of the pillars. Its role is not only to keep the people informed about the things going around the world but also plays pivotal role in questioning the power that be. But for the last few years, particularly since the ascendance of present regime to power the most of the mainstream media, particularly the TV channels controlled by corporate houses and political syndicates are not only shying away from covering the events of national importance and popular concern but also indulge into spreading the misinformation and false propaganda for biased opinion making. The voices of dissent to the monolithic narrative orchestrated under the instructions of the state establishments and the ruling party are being muzzled, the latest example being the forced exit of the entire team of Punya Prasun Vajpayi from the Surya TV, who was, not so long ago expelled from ABP News for his Master Stroke programs targeting the misdeeds of the government.

Prem Shankar Jha in his address while talking about the ‘terminal’ crisis of journalism in election time in which the other parties seek to revive the old secular India that knew to live with differences on the principles of unity in diversity, while the ruling BJP seeks to continue with its Islamic (anti-Muslim) phobia for communal polarization and chauvinistic political mobilization appealing to the religious sentiments. Talking about various tactics adopted by the government and the RSS affiliates, he pointed out that that the muzzling of the media was just the one aspect of the fascist designs of the present dispensation, it aims at suppression of discontent arising out of stagnating employment, agrarian crisis, the regressive education policy and attack on the campuses of higher education, it gives the slogans of religious and cultural revivalism. The flow of information from government offices has dried up and the surveillance of human rights activists; attacks on minorities and Dalits in the name of cow vigilantism and Love-jihad etc. have increased with the patronage and encouragement from the government and the ruling party, causing havoc to the composite culture of the country. He accused the PM Narendra Modi of not holding not only any Press Conference to publically account for the governmental deeds (or misdeeds) but also not holding any meeting of National Development Council undermining the federal structure of the government. He also pointed out about how the government is using the central agencies like CBI to harass and intimidate the political opponents. Citing the recent example of confrontation between West Bengal Police and the CBI he asserted that aggravation of Police v/s Police confrontation would sound the alarm of the break of the idea of the pluralistic and the federal idea of India. Mr. Jha citing the intelligence warnings from the IB and the J&K Police regarding the possibility of Pulwama attack accused Modi to deliberately allow it to happen to derive political mileage by using anti-Pakistan jingoism. He suspected the entire episode to be a drama enacted in tacit understanding with Pakistan establishment.

Professor Apoorvanand lamented about the state of helplessness of conscientious citizens in the face of lies and misinformation being catered by the media in the name of news and views. The media in general and the Hindi media in particular have created an audience habituated to treat the lies and misinformation as the news suiting to their media created mindset, specifically in the wake and aftermath of the Mandir movement since mid-1980s. He expressed the need of an alternative media that can reach the people and tell them the truth. He also talked about the brutalization of the language adversely affecting people’s power of understanding. He pointed out how the sectarian reporting is shaping peoples’ desires and sensibilities on communal lines and categorization of reactions in terms of Hindu and Muslim.

Hartosh Singh Bal began with the recent forced exit of Punya Prasoon Bajpeyi along with his team from Surya TV and also talked about skepticism on the part of the journalists. He recounted the continued attack on media since even before Modi came to power and possibility of its continuity even after his exit owing to the concurrence of interest as competitive loyalty to the imperialist global capital. Pankaj Srivastava, fresh after the termination of his job from Surya TV along with the team head Punya Prasoon Vajpeyi, narrated the woes of journalism in difficult times and called for struggle for the rights of journalists and peoples’ right to right information.

Ish Mishra, in his vote of thanks, summed up the proceedings and unearthed the reality of Hindutva as the political version of Brahmanism, the old wine in the new bottle. The cultural and ideological values of the ruling class (caste) minority to be defended by the working class majority, the Bahujan, in Kanshiram’s terminology. He also pointed the dangers of fascist attack looming large over the pluralistic tolerant horizons of the country’s composite culture and need of a non-sectarian free media. To meet the challenges of the current state of affairs, when a larger section of the media is playing the role of apologetic to the ruling establishment, the role of the ethical and honest journalists is multiplied, who can do that only with the committed support of the civil society and its organizations.

Ish Mishra (Convener)

Vikas Vajpayi (Co-convener)

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