Dainik Bhaskar is one of the big brands engaged in the business of journalism. Since the advent of the new, liberalized economy, Bhaskar has been growing by leaps and bounds and now has a presence in a large part of the country. Besides Hindi, it has also been bringing out newspapers in English and other Indian languages. On 22 July 2021, the Income Tax Department raided the offices of the Dainik Bhaskar group. ABP News channel reported the claim made by the department that the raids followed complaints of financial irregularities committed by the group. Dainik Bhaskar claimed through social media that the raids on the offices of the group and the residences of its promoters were an attempt at intimidating the group for its fearless journalism.
There is some credibility in the charge that the government’s action is the outcome of the group’s journalism and not the alleged irregularities in its financial dealings. When the second wave of the Covid pandemic swept through the country, Dainik Bhaskar consistently presented the real condition of the people and exposed the hollowness of the claims of the government. Besides Dainik Bhaskar, similar action was also taken against Bharat Samachar, an Uttar Pradesh-based TV channel. This channel also claimed that the ruling dispensation was indifferent and callous when the pandemic struck.
How can the action be viewed?
The history of parliamentary democracy in India is replete with such instances. The political parties that control the levers of power also want to control the companies engaged in the business of journalism. For journalism, the problem is that its very existence is dependent on being seen as a protector of democracy. Those in power form a small part of the democratic system but they are well organized and have great clout. Their efforts are geared towards making journalism a part of the ruling establishment. Journalism companies tread a middle path between power and democracy. It is for those who have faith in democracy to say how the government’s action against the media companies Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar should be viewed.
To begin with, let me clarify that we are analyzing only the recent developments and the reaction to them, shorn of the history of the past behaviour of the rulers and institutions involved. We can call this a working ideology. Both Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar have claimed that their recent reportage have led to the government’s action against them. Thus, we are not exploring the ideological reasons for the deterioration in the relationship between the state and the media companies. We can sense the tension caused by the failures of governance and the claims of the media companies of having discharged their journalistic responsibilities in the recent past. In a parliamentary democracy, any discourse is limited to the current developments and the reactions to them. This is also true of the discourse on dangers to journalism.
The power of journalism in Hindi
Democracy is very sensitive. That is why, the state, despite wielding great influence, is always fearful. It sees as a threat every incident that can pose even a remote challenge to it. The BJP, which is ruling at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, has been getting good press and has been a favourite of the Hindi media. It has always been banking on the Hindi-speaking areas to provide a base for its politics of Hindutva. Ever since the BJP’s got hold of the levers of power, it has been trying to separate journalism from democracy. Before the raids on Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar by the establishment, reports of the use of Israeli technology to spy on journalists were coming in. The tools invented over the past couple of years for controlling journalism are too many to be counted. It is as if the media companies have become a part of the state. The owners of media houses and many of the employees have started thinking and behaving like the rulers. For instance, some time ago, the India Today Group sacked a journalist on its roll merely because he had described the prime Minister as “shameless” on his personal Twitter handle. He had simply used his rights as a citizen.
Dainik Bhaskar and Bharat Samachar are basically Hindi media institutions. The language of their publications has a lot to do with the action taken against them. The headers of English daily The Telegraph, published from West Bengal, have been drawing much praise. But the powers that be haven’t been concerned. The headlines have been talked about in glorifying terms as being synonymous with good journalism but the company that owns the newspaper also runs Hindi TV channel ABP News which, like most other private TV channels, toes the line of the government.
Language is a political instrument. In Indian society, who is saying what to the people in their zone of influence in a language understood by them matters a lot to those in power. That is why the companies claiming to do journalism in Hindi have witnessed rapid financial growth. But the democratic space in them for journalism has become constricted.
The ideology of Emergency
What happened with Dainik Bhaskar, Bharat Samachar and many others should be seen as an ideological assault on the freedom of expression. Emergency is an ideology. It is not limited to a particular political party. The fact is that the democracy we refer to has two aspects. One is the concept and the other is the execution. The Constitution and the government reflect each of the two aspects. The parties that work among the people and the parties that hold the reins of power are two-faced. Ideology is not about one incident. A systematized structure strengthens it. If the state of democracy is to be assessed in terms of the current developments and the reactions to them, then any attempt on the part of the government to interfere with or bully any media institution should be criticized.
All opposition parties criticized in bits and pieces
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee saw these raids on media organizations as an attempt to crush democracy. The Congress party described it as an attempt to suppress the truth. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said it was an attempt to cause fear. If we join the pieces we can say that the powers that be are trying to end democracy through threats to suppress the truth. The biggest instrument of the ruling dispensation against democracy is its ability to strike fear.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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