India’s So-called Press Freedom

India’s mainstream media highlighted the government’s release of a few names charge sheeted for depositing black money abroad. The names are of businessmen including the Dabur company owner which manufactures Ayurvedic products and is a business rival of Baba Ramdev who is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. Thus far the government’s disclosure has been a damp squib after the huge claims on black money made during the poll campaign following five months of inaction. Finance Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley advised media that the full disclosure might embarrass the Congress. The inappropriateness of a cabinet minister unleashing an innuendo reflects the current permissive political culture in which norms of rectitude have disappeared.

On the day that the government released few names of black money foreign accounts the Aam Admi Party (AAP) leader Mr. Arvind Kejriwal held a press conference on black money. He criticized the government for its selective approach. He released his list of alleged black money account holders. His list included the names of Reliance Industries owners. He had released these manes two years ago and Reliance spokesmen had denied the allegations. In the current context of black money names being released by the government Mr. Kejriwal has repeated his allegations. By any reckoning his press conference made news. However mainstream media’s reaction to the press conference was astonishing. The Times of India published a small brief box item reporting what Mr. Kejriwal had said but published no names. The Hindu likewise reported Mr. Kejriwal’s remarks but omitted reference to any names. The Hindustan Times ignored the press conference. The Indian Express also ignored the press conference. The Statesman published a photograph of AAP leaders with the caption that they held a press conference on black money. But the accompanying report dealt only with what Mr. Kejriwal said about Delhi assembly elections. For a newspaper admired for its professional approach it was a curious lapse. Only the Millennium Post published all the names. None of the mainstream TV channels reported Mr. Kejriwal’s allegations regarding black money but reported only his references to the Delhi assembly elections.

If Mr. Kejriwal’s allegations are false, reporting them without endorsing them would not render media vulnerable to defamation proceedings. If Reliance owners again deny the allegations and resort to defamation proceedings in court they might do so against Mr. Kejriwal but not against media which reports the press conference without endorsing the allegations. In light of this the media reaction to the event is symptomatic and unfortunate. Reliance Industries is a heavy investor in media, is a heavy donor to political parties, and is very close to Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. This became evident from a recent public function in Mumbai hosted by Reliance.

Can people be blamed for concluding what Communists say about capitalist democracies? People will overlook the fact that what is being witnessed in India is not capitalist democracy but its perversion induced by huge widespread corruption in the system.


More by :  Dr. Rajinder Puri

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