Carrots for the loyal boys

IN Opinion | 16/09/2002
Carrots for the loyal boys



Carrots for the loyal boys


Political leaders today tend to club the media into two categories: those who are with them, and those who are against.

Reprinted from the Indian Express, September 16,  2002





Coomi Kapoor



Some time ago, I attended a seminar at the Press Club in the capital which was billed as a discussion on the state and investigative journalism, but which turned out, in fact, to be a forum for expressing media solidarity against the government’s attempts to clamp down on the fourth estate. While I may not go along with some of the speakers’ scathing denouncements that the Vajpayee government’s record in this regard is the worst since the Emergency — I have seen a time when over a hundred different cases were slapped against the Indian Express for its crusading zeal, and the gutsy Indian Post was compelled to shut down while the rest of the press stood by silently — the government’s crude attempts of late to muzzle the media portend a sinister trend.


Whether or not the government’s record of intolerance is worse than that of earlier regimes is besides the point. The Vajpayee government has surely employed some of the crudest and stupidest measures to silence the media; tactics which often enough have been counter productive. If the CBI wanted to convince us that its case against Tehelka over the poaching of leopards is a routine investigation, it should at least have had the good sense not to raid the

Tehelka offices on the very day Tarun Tejpal was to appear before the Venkataswami Commission. The Passport Office’s flat-footed efforts to intimidate the Time correspondent, Alex Perry, for his tendentious report on the prime minister’s health, merely succeeded in according gratuitous publicity to a bad piece and further raising doubts in the world on the state of press freedom in India. By refusing to concede that they have goofed up by arresting Kashmiri journalist Iftekhar Geelani under the Official Secrets Act for an extremely flimsy case, the authorities may have sent out a chilling message to the moderate,anti-Pakistani voice in Kashmir.


A more insidious method of media manipulation which has gone largely uncommented upon is the policy of rewarding loyalist journalists. No government has doled out as many favours — from Rajya Sabha tickets, to chairmanships of high-flying committees and boards and ambassadorships — to their supporters in the media. The fact that today there are the largest number of journalist MPs ever in Parliament, and several hopefuls are in the queue for a Rajya Sabha nomination, is reflective of a disturbing phenomenon: a journalist’s writings and interviews can actually serve as an indirect job application. Just as the Congress government once offered government advertisements and patronage to its own publications such as the National Herald, the BJP now provides government largesse to party publications and newspapers which do its bidding. The recent controversial decision to award a contract for a duplicate in-flight magazine on Indian Airlines to a favoured publication, to replace another that was given even more special treatment by earlier governments, is part of this ‘carrots for the loyal boys’ syndrome.


Doordarshan’s Kashmir channel and the ‘on again-off again’ 24-hour news channel have doled out programmes worth well over Rs 100 crore to the favourites of this regime. The channels which are heavily in the red command a minuscule share of the TV audience and their real purpose seems to be simply to subsidise the friends of the BJP. The manner in which the powerful press accreditation committee, which is meant to comprise of respected, senior

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