In a moving letter of resignation from Zee News, a journalist accuses the channel of “toeing the government’s line” on JNU and “pushing towards ruin the careers, dreams and families of several students”
We journalists often point an accusing finger at others but never at ourselves. We decide others’ limits of accountability but never ours. We are called the fourth estate of Indian democracy, but are we, our organisations, our thinking and our work process democratic? These are questions not for me alone but for everybody.
The manner in which JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was framed in the name of ‘nationalism’ and charged as ‘anti-national’ by means of media trial, points to a very dangerous tendency. We journalists have a responsibility to ask questions of those in authority, not to work in equilibrium with them. Whatever excellence has been achieved in the history of journalism has been the result of asking questions of authority.
To question or not to question is a personal matter. However I believe the personal is also political. A time has come upon us when one has to choose between one’s professional responsibilities and politico-social convictions, take sides. I have chosen to go with the latter and due to differences on these grounds with my organisation Zee News I have resigned with effect from February 19.
I dedicate my resignation to the hundreds of thousands of Kanhaiyas in India and to those friends in JNU who are inspired to struggle and make sacrifices by the beautiful dreams they dream.
Dear Zee News,
After a year and four months the time has come for me to separate myself from the organisation. I know I should have taken this step earlier; however if I don’t do so even now, I will never be able to forgive myself.
What I am about to say now is not being said in the heat of the moment, or in anger and irritation; it is a well-thought out statement. I am a journalist but I am also the citizen of a country in whose name the poison of blind ‘nationalism’ is being spread. My duty as a citizen as well as my professional obligation both tell me that I must try my best to stop this poison from spreading. I know this is akin to crossing the high seas on a small boat but even then I want to make a beginning. Based on this conviction, I am resigning to register my protest at the role played by Zee News in instigating and spreading the campaign of blind nationalism under the pretext of publicising Kanhaiya’s excess.
Then again, this is not a personal matter – it is equally to do with professional accountability, social responsibility and also love for the country. I have to say with regret that on all three yardsticks, by virtue of being connected to the organisation as a journalist I have failed on several occasions.
Ever since Mr Modi became the prime minister of India, every newsroom in the country more or less has witnessed a communalisation but the conditions in this organisation are far more grim. I am sorry to use such a big sounding word but there is no other word for it. Why is it that every news has to be embellished with a Modi angle with the aim of furthering the pace of the Modi government’s agenda?
So much so that I am assailed by a deep doubt whether we are journalists any more. It seems as though we are the mouthpiece of the government or its hatchet men. Modi is the prime minister of the country, he is my prime minister too; but as a journalist I can only digest so much of Modi worship. My conscience has started rebelling against me. I feel ill.
An agenda behind every news, an attempt to deify the Modi government as great in every news show, an attempt in every debate to ‘shoot’ down all of Modi’s opponents – no lesser word than attack is acceptable to us. What is all this? Sometimes when I pause and think about it I feel as if I have gone mad.
Why have we been forced to become so pathetic, unprincipled and the scum of the earth? After having studied in India’s foremost media institutions, worked in reputed organisations ranging from Aaj Tak, BBC and Deutsche Welle, all I have earned by way of professional recognition is the appellation of ‘Chhee’ (dirty) journalist. Our integrity lies in tatters. Who will take responsibility for that?
Bias in the newsroom
There is so much to tell. There has been a continuous campaign against Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and it is still going on. Why? Questions have also been raised against his policies on power and water, education and the odd-even scheme. One has every right as a journalist to differ with Kejriwal and criticise him but not to do a hatchet job. If I were to make a list of al the negative stories done against Kejriwal it would fill up many many pages. I want to know if the fundamental principles of journalism such as impartiality or objectivity and integrity with respect to the viewer have any value left or not.
There was a similar attitude towards dealing with the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula. First we described him as a Dalit scholar, then as a Dalit student. Still that would have been alright if the news had been approached properly. The role of ABVP leaders and BJP’s Bandaru Dattatreya in inexorably pushing Rohith towards suicide is under scrutiny (everything is crystal clear) but as a media house our role was to dilute the issue and provide a defence for the individuals in question.
I am reminded of the occasion when on the issue of tolerance, reputed writers like Uday Prakash and others from every Indian language started returning their Akademi awards. Predictably we started raising questions about them. Take Uday Prakash, whose readers are legion. He is the pride of the language that we speak and in which we write. In his writings we can see glimpses of our lives, our dreams and our struggles, but what we are engaged in is trying to create the impression that this award return was ‘sponsored’. It was a painful episode; still one bore it.
But for how long and why?
My sleep patterns are disturbed, I am restless. Perhaps it is the consequence of an awareness of my guilt. What can be worse for an individual than the ignominy of being branded anti-national? The question, however, is that as journalists what right do we have to hand down sentences thus to people? Isn’t that the function of the courts?
Wilful distortion of JNU story
We succeeded in tarring Kanhaiya and many other JNU students as anti-national in the eyes of the people. If one of them is lynched tomorrow, who will be accountable for it? We have not just prepared the ground for somebody’s killing and the destruction of the lives of a few families; we have created conditions fertile for the spread of riots – even civil war. What kind of love for the country is this? What kind of journalism is this?
Are we a BJP or RSS mouthpiece to say what they direct us to say? The video that never had a slogan of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ we ran again and again to stoke passions. How could we convince ourselves so easily that the voices in the darkness belonged to Kanhaiya or his friends? Blinded by prejudice we heard ‘Bharatiya court zindabad’ as ‘Pakistan zindabad’ and toeing the government’s line managed to push towards ruin the careers, dreams and families of several individuals. It would have been appropriate if we had let the agencies investigate the matter and awaited their conclusions.
Umar Khalid’s sister is being threatened with rape and acid attacks. She is being called a traitor’s sister. In any eventuality, would we not be responsible for this? Not once but hundreds of times Kanhaiya insisted that he did not support slogans that went against the interests of the country but no one listened to him for the simple reason that the frenzy we instigated was on the lines of what the NDA government wanted. Have we seen Kanhaiya’s house carefully? His house is not a house but a painful symbol of the helplessness of the farmers and ordinary people of this country. It is the graveyard of hopes that are buried every moment in this country. But we are blind to all this!
It is painful for me to say this but I do want to say that there are many such houses in my area too. Rural life in India is truly ugly. We have injected teetering walls and fragile lives with jingosistic poison without sparing a thought for the consequences. If something untoward happens to Kanhaiya’s father who is paralysed, won’t we be responsible for it? If the the Indian Express had not done a story, this country would never have known from where Kanhaiya got his inspiration to speak for the deprived.
Unleashing the mob
Rama Naga and others too have a similar background. Battling poverty, it is with the help of a subsidy provided by JNU that they are able to study there and have the confidence to go far in life. But our vulgar longing for TRPs and our corrupted minds have virtually destroyed their lives.
We may not be in full agreement with their politics, or maybe we find their views too extreme but how does that make them anti-national? How can we essay the role of the court? Is it mere coincidence that Delhi Police has referred to Zee News? It is being said that we are in cahoots with Delhi Police. What are we expected to tell the people?
In any case, what enmity do we have vis-à-vis JNU or its students. I believe that if there is any institution that presents a beautiful combination of modern values of life, democracy, diversity and dissenting views, it is JNU. But it is being branded as a criminal base for anti-nationals.
Is JNU a criminal base or is the real criminal that BJP legislator who barged into the court premises and assaulted Left activists? The legislator and his companions were kicking CPI activist Ameek Jamei prone on the ground and the police were standing there watching the scene unfold. Our screens were showing the images of this beating and we were writing that O.P Sharma was being accused of assault. I asked, why use the word accused. I was told, orders from the ‘top’. How can our top sink so low? Defending Modi in our writings is still understandable, but now we are reduced to write in defence of BJP leaders like O.P. Sharma and ABVP workers in our stories.
I loathe myself, my journalism and my helplessness. Was it for this that I left everything else to pursue journalism. Probably not.
Now there are two options before me – either I leave journalism or remove myself from this situation. I am choosing the second option. I have not pronounced a sentence, just raised some questions that are linked to my vocation and my identity. Maybe in a minor way but I too am accountable for my actions. I know for a fact that I will not get a job anywhere else. I also know that if I keep at it here I will reach the one lakh bracket. I earn a good salary here but these creature comforts are extracting a huge price from me which I no longer want to give. Coming from an ordinary middle class family, I know that without a salary I will face many difficulties but even then I no longer want to suppress my conscience.
I would like to reiterate that I have no personal grievance against anyone. My questions are linked to organizational and editorial policies. I hope these questions will be taken in the right spirit.
It is also important to point out that if a media house has the right to express its rightward leanings and inclinations, on an individual level we too have every right to talk about our political leanings. As a journalist being objective is a professional obligation, but at a personal level and as an aware citizen my path is of the Left – the Left which more than in party offices is to be found in our lives. It is my identity.
Finally, a word of thanks for dragging on a year-long tug-of-war. It gave me an opportunity to make some good friends in Zee News.
With respect and love
(Translated by Chitra Padmanabhan)