Goa Chief Minister takes on the media

BY frederick N| IN Regional Media | 06/10/2003
Manohar Parrikar threatens four newspapers with defamation, the press says it is being muzzled, but also begins to introspect on its own role.

From Frederick Noronha in Panaji

Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar has got into a major head-on clash with four of the most important papers in the state, after sending them a legal notice warning against reproducing anything "defamatory".

This follows a bitter spat between chief minister Parrikar and Opposition Congress leader Luizinho Faleiro, over who was really responsible for draining and destroying
Goa`s premier state-run financial institution, the EDC (Economic Development Corporation). Charges made by each against the  other, of favouring political cronies and kin, lead to the legal notice against the Big Two English-language newspapers in the state -- Navhind Times and Herald -- and their Marathi-language counterparts -- Tarun Bharat and Gomantak.

Between themselves, these four papers control at least eight of every ten daily papers sold in this high-literacy state of 1.35 million, where newspaper readership is however surprisingly low, and one daily newspaper copy is printed for just approximately every ten inhabitants here.

"This is unprecedented. It`s a blanket threat. In my 35 years as a journalist, I`ve not faced something like this. Such an attempt at muzzling the press has not taken place," charged the controversial editor of the Herald newspaper, Rajan Narayan. He was recently involved in a war of words with his paper`s management, and charged them with bowing down to pressures from local politicians.

The chief mininister`s lawyer, former BJP-aligned ABVP student leader and now advocate Narendra K Sawaikar, said he had already issued a legal notice against Opposition leader Luizinho Faleiro in a ten crore rupee (Rs 100 million) suite for the allegations made.Parrikar`s lawyer called on the newspapers "to refrain from, in any way, publishing any further or defamatory pieces or statements made by any person including Mr Faleiro" against the chief minister.

Says the legal notice: "My client does reiterate that being a public figure, it is necessary for him to accept criticism even if it be fair (sic) or uncalled for. However, under no circumstances, can a person`s reputation, character, integrity be made the issue for judgement through newspaper publications by making false statements and publishing them."

Uday Bhembre, former legislator and editor of the Konkani daily Sunaparant, commented at a journalists` meeting on Thursday evening: "Parrikar doesn`t have democracy flowing in his veins. (The former colonial dictator Antonio Oliveira) Salazar need not live in
Portugal alone. He can also come up in India." Bhembre blasted the chief minister`s "RSS mindset" and, alleging the CM`s intolerance to criticism, said the CM had told him that he "was deeply pained to read what you are writing".

Bhembre said the CM denied saying things attributed to him by news-agencies while travelling outside
Goa. But, Bhembre argued, the CM had not issued a denial of these reports, and nor could any newspaper wait till the CM returned days later for his version when the same had been put out by a reliable news agency. "This is not the way journalism is conducted," the lawyer-editor and ex-politician said.

Opposition parties, smarting under Parrikar`s systematic attempts to divide or neutralise them, jumped onto this issue with undisguised enthusiasm. In the
Goa assembly, former deputy chief minister, Dayanand Narvekar, who himself had a troubled relationship with the press while in power, led other Congressmen in angry protests against what he said were curbs on the Press.

Congressmen, other Opposition politicians of smaller parties like the regional Goa Suraj and liquor baron Vijay Mallaya-resuscitated Janata Party, which is trying to spread its wings in Goa too, were present in a show of solidarity with protesting members of the Press.Said former Congress leader now in the Janata, Avinash Bhonsle: "I don`thave much expectations of the media. But this very notice will become a Brahmastra (invincible weapon). Let this issue not be taken up by, and restricted to, the icons of the Press."

Said army man-turned-politician, Capt (Retd) Gerard J Fernandes: "It`s time such impulsive, hasty, Rambo-type politicians are brought to heel." Former student activist Prashanti Talpankar charged that the chief minister had blocked all government adverts through a circular, when a magazine she and local Konkani poet Dilip Borkar were involved in bringing out, `Bimb`, had made a mistake in reporting some fact. She charged Parrikar with pitting journalist against journalist.

Restauranteur Caetan Martins announced the formation of `Goa Tomorrow`, which he said would be a watch-dog group "to save
Goa for tomorrow, for your children and my children". He said he had nothing personal against Parrikar, and was in fact the "first person" to publish a congratulatory advert in a local Marathi daily on his past election win.

Prof Mishra, formerly with the
Dhempe College, however argued that if the Press was indeed guilty of defamation, it would have to face the court, whereas "if the notice has no legal standing, then it is meaningless". "Freedom of the Press does not mean licentiousness," he reminded.

Advocate Ranjit Satardekar pointed out that a defamation charge needed to be backed with specific details, not blanket bans. "Is there anything mentioned that this or that particular fact is defamatory?" he asked. Aires Rodrigues, one-time student leader and now advocate called this case just the "tip of the iceberg" and said "bigger damage was being done to the secular fabric of
Goa" by the BJP government in power. He called on editors to be given full powers to run the papers they headed, saying: "The editor should be the boss."

Parrikar, who has earlier too faced accusations of trying to somehow control the Press here, is also known to be oversensitive to criticism. This is, in part a fallout of the excessively good press he got since taking over power late in the year 2000. His earlier "Mr Clean" image has also possibly made him react negatively to adverse publicity.

But this time, he just might have overplayed his hand. This, combined with the signs that the `honeymoon period` with his government is wearing thin, could lead the Opposition to make the most of a `civil liberties` issue that the chief minister himself gifted to them.


Meanwhile, the issue has also prompted some introspection among journalists.  Should journalists play politics? Does the media need to turn the criticism onto itself too? Is the iron fist of censorship or the velvet glove of behind-the-scenes manipulation actually more dangerous when it comes to blocking the Fourth Estate from having its say?

These issues came up during a well-attended morning`s meeting, held Friday, in the state-capital of Panaji, among  Some journalists here  feel that there is  a need, among some media-persons, to clean up their own act. Sitaram Tengse, editor of the Marathi daily `Rashtramat` published from Margao, explained why he felt the need for journalists to keep their distance from the Establishment and voice the common person`s interest. The Rashtramat has recently launched a widely-debated column, which holds up the media itself to scrutiny. Not all in the Fourth Estate are happy with this column though.

Tengse said the chief minister had sent him a notice, seeking a front-page apology for what was written in his media column, or else warned him of a Rs 50 million defamation suite. Speaking at a T.B.Cunha Hall fairly full mostly with journalists, surprised some by publicly stating that he was "one of those" responsible for building the alliance between the MGP( Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party)  and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the nineties. He added: "But now I feel very sorry for that I have done. The alliance talks caused confusion in the rank and file of the MGP, and destroyed it. So I feel bad."

He explained his role in the earlier MGP-BJP alliance, saying: "My commitment is only to the society at large, for the good of Goans. Congress was degenerating to such an extent, and there was no other alternative here (at that time)."  But later, other younger journos challenged this position, asking whether it was the job of scribes match-make among parties. Another question thrown up was if such work was being undertaken, should it not be made public, so that a `disclosure of interest` could be made up-front? "Otherwise, readers of an editorial wouldn`t have a clue of this double-role," argued journalist Ashley Rosario.


 Rosario added that the issue of freedom of the press, and political interference, is an ongoing one. It was there in the past too (under other chief ministers).  It happens in the open (as in this case). But it also happens behind the scenes, on phones and in five star hotels. It`s the latter kind which is more dangerous, because you simply don`t get a chance to know what`s hitting you."

contact: fred@bytesforall.org












Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More