Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dangerous Portents for Press Freedom

Dangerous Portents for Freedom of Expression
Teesta Setalvad

In Gujarat for some years now, some articles simply don’t make it into the final editions of the newspapers even as individual journalists toil bravely on. A sinister effort at manufacturing consent and support has been systematically afoot.
Shadows and Silences at (Communalism Combat).
Over the past few months since the generated hysteria of Modi as PM has gained ground, sinister links in this chain can be found. There appears to be a clearcut, powerful and monied effort to manufacture consent and stifle critical comments in the media.

Freedom of expression is clearly a threat to those who back Modi.
Recent examples
1)      On or around December 4, 2013, an article critical of Modi’s serial blunders authored by Dheeraj Tiwari was published online on Economic Times website and later, strangely, deleted. The article was published sometime around 4th December 2013. Titled Is Modi Our Palin? by Dheeraj Tiwari, the article was available when I downloaded it at” which leads to an error page right now. The above link can be confirmed as it also appeared on Now the link shows up as an error. (Attached below is the article)
2)      On January 6, 2014, again, after months of speculation, PR Ramesh, a journalist considered close to general secretary of the BJP Arun Jaitley, joined the magazine as managing editor leading to the resignation of Manu Joseph as Editor.
3)      On January 7, 2014, the day before yesterday, an innocuous comment by advocate Patrawala on the Times of India website was removed as “offensive” (Attached below is the comment etc)
4)      On January 8, 2014, SUN TV sacked a senior journalist and political analyst from his job. Veerapandian for the last 17 years, succumbing to pressure from the BJP. Activists have alleged that Sun TV had taken the decision to stop the program following a letter from the BJP’s state office secretary Sarvothaman to its MD on the 23rd of last month stating that no BJP representative would take part in Veerapandian’s programs on the channel. (See, Modi critic loses job in Sun TV: Activists The talk show can be viewed at
Individually these developments are bad and sincerely challenges the freedom of expression essential to a vibrant democracy. Reports of paid professionals trawling the internet to blot criticism have been many as much as agencies like funded by BJP bigwigs with the assistance of Foreign Firms like APCO wordwide.
Together they are sinister attempts at manufacturing consenta head of, or in preparation for 2014.
Teesta Setalvad
Articles in Question
Is Modi Our Palin? by Dheeraj Tiwari
 Insulting the intelligence of voters is could be suicidal in an election year. In the 2008 US Presidential elections, Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for the vice president’s post, committed that offence. In 2013, is Narendra Modi following in her footsteps?
 When Palin started her campaign, commentators gave the ‘hockey mom’ a real chance. After all, she was folksy, which America loves, good looking and a would-be grandmother to boot. The concoction was deadly and Republicans lapped it up. A war veteran, John McCain as the head and a mommy as his aide fell in line with the American dream.
 Modi’s team has also created a similar aura around him. Decisive, incorruptible and earthy – are the characters which largely define Modi’s campaign. If BJP is to be believed, Modi is the underdog of Indian politics, a ‘chaiwala’ who through his sheer hard work has managed to rise in the political hierarchy. In his own words, he is not a ‘shehzada’ but a ‘sevak.’
 Till this point, the script runs perfect. But the American dream crumpled when the mommy started getting her facts wrong. Palin was ridiculed when she claimed to have an insight into American foreign policy because Russia is the next door neighbour to her state of Alaska.
 Back home, Namo replicated that feat in his Independence Day speech at Bhuj. He almost took the same neighbourhood line as Palin and while lambasting Pakistan claimed that his voice reached Pakistan first and Delhi later. This came from the same man who some months ago had offered Sindh province in Pakistan, the ‘Gujarat model’ to overcome its power crisis.
 While Palin called Afghanistan a neighbouring country, Modi brought Taxila from Pakistan to Bihar. There is an uncanny resemblance between these two politicians in getting their facts wrong, again and again. Their supporters may term this as unpretentious behaviour.
 Perhaps, voters could have forgiven Palin, the winner of the Miss Wasilla pageant for not knowing what lie beyond the American shores but the crowd booed her when, at a public rally, she said that the state of North West Hampshire is in the Northwest of Americas. Modi so far has been spared this public ignominy.
 A closer look at their campaign and one gets a feeling that perhaps the fates of Palin and Modi are intertwined. Days after being nominated for the Presidential elections, the Republican supporters were shocked that Palin’s unwed daughter was five months pregnant. Palin, who by then had projected herself as ‘Bible-believing Christian,’ ultimately lost out on the traditional conservative Republican base. Modi, too, is now embroiled in a snooping scandal as his aide Amit Shah has managed to score a self goal against his ‘saheb’.  
 In the midst of this jamboree these down-to-earth leaders and their supporters forget that the voter cannot be fooled, or at least for long. So, when Palin described that the Iraq War is ‘a task that is from God,’ voters knew that she was making no sense. Unfortunately for his supporters, Modi is catching up with Palin.

After historical blunders such as calling Gandhi Mohanlal instead of Mohandas, and claiming that Nehru did not attend Patel’s funeral, Modi is now treading on more difficult terrain. In a Jodhpur rally, Modi claimed that he may not be as educated as the country’s finance minister but he knew that buying gold is not leading to inflation. His first lecture in economics may have got a thunderous applause in the rally but he might have lost the faith of voters who till then would have bought into his image as the deliverer of Gujarat’s vibrant economy.
 It is time that Modi should learn from the mistakes which Palin committed. After all he would not like to be remembered as Palin, who finally had to be told that there was no tradition of concession speeches by running mates, and that she would not be speaking. Not anymore.  
Manu Joseph’s resignation: The perils of editorial surrender
Manu Joseph, my former boss at Open Magazine, announced yesterday that he had quit the magazine. While he did not state his reasons, they are evident to all those who have been associated with the magazine. I was sacked from the magazine in November, and while Manu had opposed the decision he had let matters rest at that. But in the three years we had worked together we had managed to put together a reasonable body of stories, including most importantly, the Radia Tapes. This became possible, in great measure, because Manu allowed a considerable degree of independence to those working for the magazine. Manu Joseph. Image courtesy IBNLive Manu Joseph. Image courtesy IBNLive Shortly after I left, he had sent out a mail, in fact, it was the last mail to be forwarded to my account before it was terminated, stating: Just to keep you informed -- we have shortlisted candidates to head politics and news, and are in talks. Naturally, the next political editor of Open will be someone who fits in the magazine, someone who reflects its vibrant, credible, unbiased and what is widely known as 'secular' character. I had long conversations with Sanjiv Goenka from here and we updated each other on matters concerning the magazine. People expect high standards from us, so let's keep going.
On January 6, after months of speculation, PR Ramesh, a journalist considered close to general secretary of the BJP Arun Jaitley, joined the magazine as managing editor. Manu had opposed this decision and he chose to resign once it was forced upon him. I personally feel Manu has himself largely to blame for the tame end of his term at Open. Evidently if the management can sack a political editor without the editor’s consent they can appoint a managing editor without the editor’s consent. Manu had already conceded the journalistic principle, now he had only been negotiating for personal pride. He was not even granted that. Given that I am legally contesting my own termination with the Open management I do not want to belabour the point. All that really matters in this episode is that the reason an owner can bypass an editor in this fashion is that over several decades editors in the Indian media have been willing to let their position be undermined, and the few editors such as Manu, who recently made their mark, have been unwilling to stand up to pressure when it really matters. Surprisingly, as I have found out in the course of mounting my legal case, the law does provide a reasonable degree of safeguards for an editor, and, in fact, every journalist. Unless a journalist has undermined his or her own case by gross misbehavior or obvious professional mistakes the management cannot fire a journalist without stating a clear and defensible reason. Neither can any management enforce the provisions of any contract on a permanent employee that do not subscribe at the minimum to the standards set out in the Working Journalist Act. An editor thus is protected against the whim of a management and in the worst case is assured of six months of full wages. Despite these safeguards, the reason that editors so rarely take on the management or ownership is simple, they need another owner or management to give them their next job. I realized how successful some editors have been in this pursuit only in the course of a television program I was part of a couple of years ago. After the Radia Tapes, published as they had been without the knowledge of the owner or the publisher, some of us at Open were required to appear on television to defend our story. I found myself on Headlines Today, part of a show where Vir Sanghvi made an appearance, characteristically from a balcony in a hotel somewhere in southeast Asia, and refused to take any questions. After Sanghvi, who first became editor of Sunday in 1986, spoke, a discussion followed involving Prabhu Chawla, who also figured prominently on the tapes and had been editorial director of India Today since 1986; MJ Akbar, who became editor of Sunday in 1976, and N Ram, who first became editor of Frontline in 1991. Some of the discussion centred on the state of journalism in the country and how things had been allowed to reach their current state. I did then think that the answer to this most crucial of questions lay around me. Every person in the room had already been an editor by the time I began my career in journalism in the early 1990s. Not all of them were equally culpable, but between them they had a century worth of cumulative experience of editorship. I have found over much of my time in journalism that owners preferred to have editors who had already shown a degree of pliability in their previous jobs. This keeps the editors' jobs circulating among a pool of largely pliant journalists. While all of the usual reasons hold – the ownership patterns in media, the lack of transparency in funding, the linkages between owners and politicians – for the current crisis in journalism, it also remains true that journalists entering the profession today have to make their compromises with ownership and management at a much earlier stage of their career because they have been largely deprived of the protective shield of a good editor. For a brief period of time a Tarun Tejpal had created the illusion that this could change, we all know how that has turned out. In any case the journalistic story at Tehelka had already run its course long before the current episode. Now as things unravel at Open, we can add one more cautionary tales, or perhaps a footnote, to the long list of journalistic disasters that unfold when editors forego their responsibilities. That still leaves unanswered the question of how a young journalist today goes about being true to the profession.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: A. Patrawala Advocate <>
Date: Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 10:00 PM
Subject: Fwd: Offensive comment deleted
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: The Times of India <>
Date: 7 January 2014 14:07
Subject: Offensive comment deleted

Dear Reader,
Your comment has been taken off the website as our user community did not approve of it. We encourage you to participate in conversations on the site while refraining from posting obscene, defamatory, or inflammatory comments and not indulging in personal attacks, name calling or inciting hatred against any community.
Comment Removed: Modi has brought the Indian democracy to the level of Hall Mark of corruption, be it the Constitution or rule of law. System be it legislature, executive or judiciary have utterly failed to curb the historical menace of Modi culminating into the dire frustration and helplessness of the common man.
Best wishes,
Team TOI
A. Patrawala
Advocate Supreme Court,
G-3&4, Vighneshvar Estate,
Surat-395001   Gujarat   India

Modi critic loses job in Sun TV: Activists
Posted 08 Jan 2014
Political and human rights activists have strongly condemned Sun TV for stopping a popular Tamil talk show anchored by political analyst Veerapandian for the last 17 years, succumbing to pressure from the BJP.

They allege that Sun TV had taken the decision to stop the program following a letter from the BJP’s state office secretary Sarvothaman to its MD on the 23rd of last month stating that no BJP representative would take part in Veerapandian’s programs on the channel.
A joint statement issued by a group of journalists, writers and activists stated, “A few weeks ago Veerapandian participated in a meeting in Chennai wherein a Human Rights organization released its fact finding report on the Muzaffarnagar riots.

“While speaking on the occasion Veerapandian made certain critical remarks on the BJP and its Prime Ministerial Candidate Narendera Modi. Some persons had uploaded his speech in the social media.”
Below is the link where the interview can be heard

They said that in his letter Sarvothaman had stated that ”Veerapandian’s speech was divisive and could create problems between two groups, and his programs on Sun TV has never been impartial.”

They alleged that the BJP leader had also requested for action to be taken against Veerapandian.

The statement further added that “consequently from last Saturday, Sun TV has stopped telecasting Veerapandian’s programs,” and appealed to Sun TV to allow Veerapandian “to resume his duties as an anchor person.”

“India is a Democratic Republic. To express one’s opinions freely and without fear is one of the basic rights accorded to its citizens in the constitution. This right is fundamental to all citizens of India including Press and Media people,” the statement said.

Following are the signatories to the statement:

K. Veeramani, President, Dravidar Kazhagam
M. Sudarsana Nachiyappan, Minister of State for Commerce and Industry
Tha. Pandian State Secretary, CPI
Gnanadesigan State President, TNCC
S. Peter Alphonse, Ex. Member of Parliament
Thol. Thirumavalavan, MP and President, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi
M.H. Jawahirullah MLA and Legislative Party Leader, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi
K. M. Kader Mohideen Ex. MP and General Secretary, Indian Union Muslim League
Viduthalai Rajendran, General Secretary, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam
Senthamilan. Seeman, Chief Coordinator, Naam Thamizhar Katchi
Suba. Veerapandian, President, Dravida Iyakka Thamilar Peravai
Tamil Selvan, State Secretary, Progressive Writers & Artist Association
Peter Fernando, Archbishop of Madurai
Kaviko Abdul Rahman, Poet & Writer
Henri Thiphange, Executive Director, Peoples' Watch
A. Marx, Human Right Activist
Kavingnar Manushya Puthiran, Publisher
Thirumurugan Gandhi, Coordinator, May 17 Movement
J.S. Rifayee, President, Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam
Abdul Rahman, Member of Parliament, Vellore Constituency
Kovai Ku. Ramakritinan, General Secretary, Thanthai Periyar Thi.Ka
M. Ezra Sargunam, Bishop,Evangelical Church of India and Founder, Indhiya Samuga Neethi Iyakkam
Pe. Maniyarasan, President, Tamildesa Podhu Udamai Katchi
A. Kumaresan, Cheif Editor, Theekhadir
Devasagayam, Bishop CSI, Chennai
Gnani, Writer & Journalist
V. Suresh, National General Secretary, People's Union for Civil Liberties
Ko. Sugumaran, Makkal Urimai Kootamaippu
TSS Mani, Journalist
Senthil, Coordinator, Save Tamils Movement
- TWL Bureau

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