Matters India Reporter
New Delhi: India’s top editors joined hundreds of journalists in the national capital on June 9 to share their concerns about increasing attacks on press freedom.
The rare show of solidarity by media persons at the Press Club of India came in the backdrop of recent raids on NDTV, a premier television channel, by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Veteran journalist and former federal minister Arun Shourie said the raids were an attempt to intimidate India’s free press. “Anyone who has tried to raise their hand against the press has had their hand burnt,” he warned to thunderous applause. Shourie called for greater unity among journalists.
“They (BJP government) have made NDTV an example. This will intensify in the coming months because of the nature of the regime – its genes are totalitarian,” Shourie added.
He told journalists to “counter the lies” spread by the federal government by speaking to international media. Shourie also stated that publicity was oxygen for the government, and the media fraternity ought to deny them this oxygen.
Kuldeep Nayar, a nonagenarian journalist and Fali Sam Nariman, esteemed jurist and President of the Bar Association of India, spoke of the dangers of direct or indirect attempts to intimidate the media.
Nariman pointed out that the only safeguards to an open democracy are the press and the independent judiciary, especially during times of single-party majoritarian government rule.
Several speakers accused the government of undermining free speech and intimidating the media just as Indira Gandhi, a former prime minister, did during a 21-month period of Emergency in 1975-1977. Gandhi curtailed fundamental rights and jailed journalists in an attempt to muzzle the press.
“Similar signs are visible now. Here also there has to be a nationalist press, a nationalist judiciary, a nationalist bureaucracy… unless we do something now, unless we are united, we will meet the same fate,” said Hari Krishan Dua, a former Rajya Sabha member who was the editor of several newspapers in India.
In a recorded message, Rajdeep Sardesai, senior Journalist and former colleague of NDTV’s co-founder Prannoy Roy, said silence is not an option in the present atmosphere. “This is a moment when we have to be on the right side of history.”
Roy, one of the most respected journalists in the country, described the case against the channel as “absolutely false and concocted,” said, “I commit we will fight every one of these false charges openly and transparently….all we ask is that this inquiry be held in a time-bound manner.”
He also noted that the raids were not “just a flimsy case against NDTV,” but “a signal to all of us: we can suppress you even if you haven’t done anything.” He, however, asserted the best thing about India is its free press. “Their message is: crawl, or we’ll come for you. I say: Stand up and they’ll never do.”
Roy, his wife Radhika and a private company linked to NDTV – RRPR Holding Private Ltd – are accused of defrauding ICICI Bank of 480 million rupees on a loan taken in 2008. The CBI searched four places belonging to the Roys in Delhi and Dehradun on June 5.
The Roys have denied wrongdoing.
The raids came at a time when the opposition has accused the government of selectively targeting charities and media groups as part of a campaign to control free speech and dissent.
However, federal Minister Venkaiah Naidu had said there was no “witch-hunt” as alleged by the channel. “The law is taking its own course,” he said. “This government does not believe in interfering. They [CBI] must have some information, which is why they might have taken the steps.”