BJP charms the fourth estate in Goa

BY noronha| IN Media Practice | 13/01/2002
The Bharatiya Janata Party has already taken the art of influencing the media to a new high in this small state.
 Frederick Noronha

PANJIM: The Congress party gained a whole lot of friends and `admirers` in
Goa`s Fourth Estate during its decade-and-half tenure in power here. But the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), heading an hotch-potch coalition since late 2000, has already taken the art of influencing the media to a new high in this small state.

Goa CM Manohar Parrikar has charmed former pro-Maoist student activists who are now mediapersons, thrown sops to the journalistic community, accommodated editors on various official bodies, and in a word placed a lid on the key quarters capable of fuelling dissent or raise critical questions.

This has seriously impacted the boundaries of discussion on public life here. More so because the slothful and corruption-prone Congress finds itself unable to play the role of an Opposition party, its leaders stand attacked by cases selectively filed -- though probably well justified -- by the government, and some of its top leaders also face allegations of snuggling up to the saffron party in power.

In his first year in office, the chief minister unveiled a state-funded `pension scheme` for private-sector employed journos. But it later became apparent that after the fanfare, the government lacked the finances or the political will, or both, to adequately continue funding this scheme.

GUJ, the local journalists body, was also given a spacious premises in the government-build building in Pato, the extension of state-capital Panjim which once comprised paddy fields, and now is pretentiously claimed to be Goa`s `Nariman Point`.

But beyond the collective perks, individuals have also sought to be pandered. One deal for an IT-related project was handed over to the kin of a journalist, leaving the bewildered Opposition to ask whether any tendering process had been followed.


 Journalists seen as friendly to the government are seen as being accommodated on official committees, including the recently-reconstituted Right to Information committee. (Goa has an interesting RtI Act, which has been systematically subverted by reluctant officials and politicians. After a fiery campaign, journalists have themselves seldom utilised the potentially-utilised law to ferret out information which could have ensured transparency.)

Editor Chandrakant Keni of the little-read Marathi daily Rashtramath has been appointed to head the Goa NRI Facilitation Centre, though his link with the subject remains unexplained. Some other editors have also been similarly accomodated on official panels.

Prior to Goa`s critical May 31 elections last year, a well-timed advertisement  called for voters to back " a time when (the) sovereignty of our nation is being threatened by enemies". It didn`t name any party, but was clearly aimed at boosting the BJP chances.

This ad, calling on voters to "think twice before casting your vote" also blasted "tainted elements" and those "defecting" (read Congressmen) and was signed by three Goa editors -- Sharad Karkanis of Gomantak, Pramod Khandeparkar of Gomantak Times and Keni of Rashtramath. Former Herald chief reporter Julio D`Silva was among the early journos to side with the BJP, and contested twice the Chandor seat in Catholic-majority Salcete taluka for the party.

Another former scribe, Rajesh Singh, has been appointed to head the long-politicized Department of Information; an appointment which was dragged to the courts. Singh was press liaison officer to
chief minister Parrikar before being made the information director.

Some scribes perceive this as just a different style of functioning by the party in power but at least one senior union office bearer termed it a "total degeneration".  In news conferences, the alliances show up when mediapersons deflect any attempts at raising critical questions by either `adjourning` the session arbitrarily or shifting gears to some other innocous subject.

Interestingly, the press` capitulation has worsened the situation created by the lack of an effective Opposition in the state. Congress` ex-CM Luizinho Faleiro is seen by some party men as siding BJP CM Manohar Parrikar for his own political ends.

Former Speaker and long term Congress chief minister Pratapsing Rane`s stance -- and his go-slow in deciding on defection cases, while being allowed to continue in Speakership by the BJP -- also left its impact. Currently Rane is Opposition leader.

Meanwhile, another local satrap, once vehemently critical of the BJP, ex-CM Dr Wilfred de Souza, has been accommodated by the saffron party as the head of the state planning board. It could be just a coincidence that this timed with a sharp decline in his angry outbursts against the government headed by the RSS-member turned IIT-engineer and politician Parrikar.

Commented a Mumbai-based journalist who earlier worked in
: "The nexus BJP leaders developed with journalists during their long years in the opposition also must have played a big role in silencing potential critics now that the party is in office."

"Parrikar`s regime has at least brought out all the closet-saffronites out into the open," says Manohar Shetty, former editor of the monthly `Goa Today`. "These include editors, journalists, columnists, and also powerful industrialists."

He argues that
Goa "badly needs" a Goa
edition of a national newspaper with an enlightened publisher to act as a "buffer between politicians, arrogant industrialists and the proprietors".  But with a lid on potential dissent,
the party in power is obviously making hay.



Frederick Noronha is a freelance journalist based in Goa. Contact:







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