There are still some bravehearts left in Indian media
While mainstream media (MSM) in India struggled with how to keep up with rivals’ TRPs and circulations, facts, investigation, balance and objectivity took a back seat. They competed with each other to become the government’s press release and apologists barring a few. The space left vacant by them is being taken over by small but more dedicated digital publications. The Wire is leading the race at the moment. It published an investigative report by journalist Rohini Singh called Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah on 8 October. It generated so much interest among readers that the servers went down.
The report, based on filings with the Registrar of Companies (RoC), claims that the ‘turnover of a company owned by Jay Amit Shah increased 16,000 times over in the year following the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and the elevation of his father to the post of party president’. Based on the RoC filings there are further details about the company, its funding and more.
The report is fact based and does not say anything directly incriminating. In fact similar reportage had been made by the same journalist against people connected to the previous regime. However, this time around even before the publication of the report, moves were afoot within the ruling establishment to organise a legal challenge against the publication, its editor and the journalist in question. After the news broke a senior government minister came on television to defend Jay A Shah and the government machinery started working overtime to prove his innocence. Even the Additional Solicitor General was given permission by the Law Ministry to represent the businessman, who happens to be the son of the ruling BJP’s President, two days before the report’s publication.
So what could have been yet another story of possible crony capitalism became bigger and bigger. Along with it came a lawsuit of 100 crores Indian rupees (over 1500 million US dollars) – a staggering amount for a relatively small digital publication and the reporter.
The reporter, Rohini Singh, and The Wire also came in for online abuse and threat meant to intimidate and stop both from continuing with such investigative reportage. Despite the threats Rohini remained brave and stuck to her story. She published a Facebook post explaining that she was doing what a journalist ought to do – journalism.
Although Twitterati and Facebookers were discussing and sharing The Wire report, mainstream media remained quiet but for the usual exceptions. MSM preferred to discuss the spat between the two Bollywood stars and other less significant stories. The press conference by the Opposition about the report and its challenge to the government to investigate Jay Amit Shah were blacked out by the mainstream channels though they did not hesitate to go to town about the minister’s press statement and the threat of a defamation case.
The fact that journalists like Rohini Singh continue to do investigative journalism to bring out the truth in an adverse, unfavourable environment despite abuse and threats shows there are still some true journalists left in India.
Meanwhile the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed concern over the criminal defamation case against The Wire and its editors and journalists. They have called for making defamation only a civil offence. Criminal defamation for an investigative report is considered to be an intimidatory step to muzzle independent media and goes against democratic norms.
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