The government should withdraw the order asking NDTV India to go off the air for 24 hours as penalty for allegedly compromising national security while reporting on the Pathankot terror attack on January 2 this year. More importantly, the media and the people at large should protest against the order. For, it is the thin edge of the wedge.
If you grin and bear it, congratulating yourself on your ability to tolerate a small incision, before you know it, you would be writhing, staring at the base of the wedge buried firmly in your body in its entirety.
To take a channel off the air for any period of time is to take away its revenue for that period.
The ban order on NDTV India is a threat held out to media owners: if you publish things the government does not like and can label as being anti-national, your financial viability is at risk. LK Advani made the most memorable comment on the Emergency: editors, when asked merely to bend, obligingly crawled.
If the Emergency tested the flexibility of editorial spine, the NDTV India order puts the test to media owners, whose commitment to commerce is, more often than not, more resolute than their commitment to operating the Fourth Estate of democracy.
The charge against NDTV India is patently absurd. It did not reveal any information of strategic importance that was not already in the public domain and was not reported by other news channels and newspapers.
To say that an air force base contains planes, mortars and ammunition stockpiles is a grand revelation only for those who normally expect air force bases to house, as an Economic Times editorial put it, sailboats, rose bushes and flying squirrels.
It would be a revelation, too, no doubt, for the ordinary Indian viewer of news television, who would never know how a woman feels immediately after receiving news of her husband’s untimely death if a TV correspondent did not relay her anchor’s piercing question, Aapko kaisa lag raha hain?, thrusting her microphone at the heaving, sniffling mass of presumed feminity behind a ghunghat.
A Peculiar World The channel is accused of divulging the location of the air force school, endangering civilian lives. As if the terrorists and their handlers would not have scoped out the place thoroughly before mounting their attack, and relied, instead, on the assured irresponsibility of the Indian media to locate potential civilian targets ancillary to the main one.
How does any reporter know what quite happens inside an area cordoned off for operations? Only through what people in charge of the operation brief him or her.
If the government is serious about putting a lid on any reportage about an ongoing operation, it should train its personnel involved in the operation to keep their mouth shut.
If they speak to any one media outlet, others would be compelled to scurry around getting some “source at ground zero” to speak as well. In fact, if organised media are muzzled, social media would have a field day and more misinformation could spread than if organised media were allowed to report.
As it is, the government itself has two versions as to how many terrorists were involved in the Pathankot attack: four and six. Even today, after prolonged investigations, including by Pakistani experts, who can be trusted to know a thing or two about terrorists and body counts, and DNA analysis of the charred remains of presumed hold-out positions of two attackers whose bodies were never recovered, a definitive number eludes us.
Then again, this is perhaps not so accidental. In a certain dystopian world imagined by George Orwell, two and two added up to five. Today, we live in a peculiar world.
The prime minister has cast himself as political correctness in human form. He denounces “cow protectors” as those running little rackets, but his ministers and his partymen, not to speak of the uber-leader of his philosophical fountainhead, the RSS, celebrate cow protectors.
The PM sings ringing praise of media freedom; his ministers suspend a news channel. The PM says chest-thumping over surgical strikes should be avoided; his party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh pumps out surgical pride through Bose speakers with thumping bass.
The PM appeals to the people of Pakistan, in a public speech after the Uri attack, drawing a line between them and their treacherous government. His acolytes in the media and the social media slam ordinary Pakistanis and traduce ordinary Indians who do not patriotically join in this chorus of Pakistan-bashing.
The PM says, create world-class universities. Yet, in his home state of Gujarat, one of India’s oldest colleges, established in 1860, the Gujarat Provincial College, is allowed to decay: the faculty strength came down from 119 in 1960 to 19 in 2014-15 at its arts and commerce offshoot (26, if you add seven temporary hands), while the student strength more than doubled since 1960.
Fair, in other words, is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air of Delhi, one could add.