In April this year, travelling through south Chhattisgarh, I met Hari Singh, a reporter for `Dainik Bhaskar' in Konta town. A journalist with 35 years of experience, he told me his pen in the last few years has made peace with its shrinking journalistic space.
“You should write in favour of the government. If you write against the government, there will be pressure. That is the fear,” said Hari Singh.
Hari Singh did not use the word Emergency.
Travelling further north into Chhattisgarh, I met Satish Chandak, a young journalist in Sukma town. What he writes, he said, was determined by the threat quotient he faced from either the state or the Maoists.
“Our limits have been defined. I have decided that I will not write beyond those self-defined boundaries. While police have arrested few journalists, Maoists have killed two of my colleagues,” said Satish.
Satish Chandak did not use the word Emergency.
Another journalist, Salim Shaikh, also in Sukma said there is no support from the news organisation if you get into trouble. ``The organisation's order is you should not write against the police,'' he admitted.
Salim Shaikh did not use the word Emergency.
Earlier this year, Malini Subramaniam was forced to flee Jagdalpur, with state-backed protestors accusing the award-winning journalist of being pro-Maoist. Prabhat Singh from Dantewada was arrested for using a slang term for a senior police officer. He is now out on bail but fears for his life.
The stories of Malini and Prabhat did not get even 1/10000th the space that the one-day ban on NDTV India has - rightly and justifiably - got in mainstream and social media. The elimination of Jagendra Singh and Hemant Yadav, journalists in Uttar Pradesh in two separate incidents last year, got mention because geographically it was closer to Noida, where most media houses are located.
In 2014, the newly elected chief minister of Telangana, K Chandrasekhar Rao took offence to content put out by two Telugu channels TV9 and ABN. His party accused the channels of insulting Telangana through their programming. The cable operators eager to curry favour with the CM, took both channels off air. KCR himself threatened to bury the channels 10 feet under the ground. TV9 stayed off air for five months while ABN was blacked out for over a year. The message was sent out loud and clear.
Hyderabad media fended for itself then. Most made peace with the situation, defined their own laxman rekha of reportage. This far and no further. For Delhi media, the plight of the Hyderabad media, being throttled by the arrogance of power suffered from tyranny of distance.
But it wasn't an Emergency.
Newspaper `Kashmir Reader' was banned last month by the Jammu and Kashmir government which accused it of ``inciting acts of violence''. Delhi ignored the warning sign.
Journalists in Tamil Nadu think one hundred times before writing anything about chief minister Jayalalithaa for fear of getting a defamation notice. Mediapersons have been assaulted by lawyers at the Kerala High court and for three months now, are unable to enter any court in the state, despite an appeal by the Chief Justice of Kerala High court. It is routine in many states for the establishment to instruct media houses not to give any newsprint space or airtime to specific opposition leaders. These are verbal diktats that newsrooms can ignore at their own peril.
No one called this brazen muzzling of free media, an Emergency.
But I am glad New Delhi has finally woken up. The Breaking News ticker tells me it is an emergency-like situation in India today. That is because a one-day ban has been imposed on NDTV India, for allegedly revealing ``strategically sensitive'' details during the coverage of the Pathankot terrorist attack in January 2016. In my piece in First Post, I have dissected how ridiculous the charge is. This piece in Newslaundry also shows how NDTV India, it would seem, has been singled out for punishment.
I was advised by a fellow journalist over Twitter in a condescending tone that this debate over Delhi's hypocritical media calling it an `emergency' only when it hits them, is for another time. No. India faces this situation because on previous occasions, Delhi with all its voice that carries weight and halo of celebrated journalists could not care less for what happened beyond Noida and Gurugram. The fact that Press Clubs across the country are today standing up for NDTV India has a lesson for the entire Delhi media fraternity.
This is not an attempt to make it a case of Delhi versus the rest. The fact is what Lutyens Delhi is witnessing now, has been a reality of life for journalists, stringers and media houses beyond Delhi, for many years now. When those in authority in the states rode roughshod over local media, Lutyens media chose to ignore because the netas would cosy up to its high fliers from the national capital. Now having tasted blood, the establishment has come for the real meat.
Is this an emergency-like situation? No. Those who have seen 1975 have horror stories to tell about how badly the press then was treated. The fact that we are able to criticise this decision on NDTV India shows we are nowhere near that situation.
But make no mistake, this is a trial balloon. Where the media that does not follow the establishment’s line, it is muzzled using the ban letter in the envelope of nationalism. Which is why the realisation has dawned on the media in general that today it is NDTV India, tomorrow it could be anyone else.
It is a good sign that the media has decided to stand together. It should. It is not about the NDA or the UPA. All power centres, be it at the Centre or the states, are the same when it comes to wielding authority. They brook no criticism. From the media or the public. Today it is mainstream media, tomorrow it could be social media. And next week, the citizen.
That includes You, gloating over the one-day ban on NDTV India.
(Disclosure : The author worked in NDTV from 1995 to 2011)