पंतप्रधान नरेंद्र मोदी यांच्या भोवती जमा होऊन त्यांच्याबरोबर सेल्फी घेण्यासाठी गर्दी करणार्या संपादक-पत्रकारांचे एक छायाचित्र मध्यंतरी देशभर चर्चेचा विषय बनले होते.त्यावर किमान विरोधकांनी तरी ‘लाचारांची फौज’ अशा शब्दात पत्रकारांची हेटाळणी केली होती.संपादकांनी एका फोटोसाठी अशी गर्दी करावी काय ?यावरूनही तेव्हा माध्यमात जोरदार चर्चा रंगली होती.मात्र आज जी बातमी समोर आली आहे त्यावरून देशातील सारेच पत्रकार अशा सेल्फी गर्दीतील चेहरे बनण्यास तयार नसतात हे वास्तव लख्खपणे समोर आले आहे.अक्षय मुकुल हे दिल्लीतील ज्येष्ठ पत्रकार .गेली 25 वर्षे ते टाइम्स ऑफ इंडियात काम करतात.एक भूमिका घेऊन काम करणारा पत्रकार म्हणून दिल्लीत त्यांच्याबद्दल आदर आहे.त्
यांना यंदाचा रामनाथ गोयंका पुरस्कार जाहीर झाला.इंडियन एक्स्प्रेसच्यावतीनं दिला जाणारा हा पुरस्कार पत्रकारितेतील उत्तुंग कार्यासाठी दिला जातो.गोयंका पुरस्कार पत्रकारितेतील मापदंड समजला जातो.यंदाचा ग्रथलेखन श्रेणीतला पुरस्कार अक्षय मुकुल यांना जाहीर झाला.Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India या दोन पुस्तकांसाठी त्यांना हा पुरस्कार जाहीर झाला आहे.तो त्यांनी स्वाीकारणार असल्याचे इंडियन एक्स्प्रेसला कळविले ही.यथावकाश पुरस्कार वितरणाची तारीख ठरली.2 नोव्हेंबर 2016 रोजी पुरस्कारांचे वितऱण होणार आणि त्यासाठी पंतप्रधान नरेंद्र मोदी यांना बोलाविले जाणार हे जेव्हा अक्षय मुकुल यांना समजले तेव्हा ते अस्वस्थ झाले.त्यांच्या अस्वस्थतेचं कारण त्यांच्या पत्रकारितेबद्दलच्या निष्ठेत लपलेलं आहे.नरेद्र मोदी यांच्या नेतृत्वाखालील सरकार सत्तेवर आल्यापासून देशातील पत्रकारांवर होणार्या हल्ल्यात मोठी वाढ झाली आहे,सरकार पत्रकारांबद्दल कमालीचे असहिष्णू बनले आहे आणि फेब्रुवारी महिन्यात दिल्लीतील पतियाला हाऊस कोर्टात भाजपनेते ओ पी शर्मा यांच्या नेतृत्वाखालील एका टोळक्यानं पत्रकारांची येथेच्छ पिटाई केली होती हे मुकुल विसरलेले नव्हते.देशाच्या वेगवेगळ्या भागातही पत्रकारांवर हल्ले होत आहेत त्यामुळं आपण नरेंद्र मोदी यांच्या हस्ते पुरस्कार स्वीकारणार नाही हे त्यांनी इंडियन एक्स्प्रेस व्यवस्थापनाला कळविले होते.मात्र आम्ही दरवेळा पंतप्रधानांच्या हस्तेच पुरस्कार वितरण करतो असे सांगत 2 नोव्हेंबर रोजी हा पुरस्कार वितऱण सोहळा एस्क्फ्रेस ग्रुपनं घेऊनही टाकला.अर्थातच या कार्यक्रमावर मुकुल यांनी बहिष्कार टाकला म्हणजे ते पुरस्कार स्वीकारायला गेलेच नाहीत. यावर त्यांचं म्हणणं “I Cannot Live With The Idea Of Modi And Me In The Same Frame”: असं होतं.
देशाचे पंतप्रधान असलेल्या नरेंद्र मोदी यांच्या हस्ते मुकुल यांनी हा पुरस्कार न स्वीकारणे म्हणजे त्यांचा उद्दटपणा आहे असं काही भक्त बोलू शकतात,मुकुल स्वतःला समजतात कोण ? असाही उद्दाम सवाल काही जण विचारू शकतात,मात्र असा प्रश्न करणार्यांनी एक गोष्ट लक्षात घेतली पाहिजे की,हा विरोध व्यक्ती म्हणून नाही तर माध्यमांची जी गळचेपी सुरू आहे आणि देशाचे पंतप्रधान म्हणून सरकार ज्या पध्दतीनं त्याकडं दुर्लक्ष करीत आहेत त्याचा निषेध म्ङणून मुकुल यांनी ही भूमिका घेतलेली दिसते आहे.एका बाजूला सेल्फीसाठी धडपडणारे पत्रकार आणि दुसर्या बाजुला विशिष्ठ भूमिका घेऊन तत्वासाठी थेट पंतप्रधानांच्या हस्ते पुरस्कार घेण्यास नकार देणारे अक्षय मुकुल ही भारतीय पत्रकारितेची दोन रूपे आहेत.यापैकी आपण कोणत्या गटातले आहोत,किंवा आपण कोणत्या गटात असायला हवे आहोत याचा निर्णय ज्याचा त्याने घेतला पाहिजे.माध्यमांत भूमिका घेणार्यांची संख्या कमी होत आहे आणि हो ला हो म्हणून आपल्या नोकर्या टिकविणार्या संपादकांची भाऊ गर्दी झालेली आहे.अशा स्थितीत एक तत्वनिष्ठ भूमिका घेऊन माध्यमाचे पावित्र्य जपणार्या अक्षय मुकुल यांची कृती नक्कीच उठून दिसते यात शंका नाही .
या संदर्भात The Carvan या नियतकालिकानं एक सविस्तर स्टोरी छापली आहे ती मुळापासून वाचली पाहिजे.मुळ लेख खाली दिलेला आहे.
On 2 November 2016, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi presides over the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards—instituted by the Indian Express in honour of its founder—at least one recipient is conspicuous by his absence. Akshaya Mukul, a senior journalist from the Times of India, has boycotted the ceremony. Instead, Krishan Chopra, the publisher and chief editor at HarperCollins India, the publishers of his book, Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India, received the award on his behalf.
Mukul, a veteran who has worked as a reporter for close to 20 years, has been conferred the RNG award in the category of Books (non-fiction) for this book, which sheds light on the ideological moorings of Hindutva—ironically, the lynchpin of the prime minister’s politics. Since its release in August 2015, Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India has elicited rave reviews and won literary awards such as the Tata Literature Live! Book of the Year Award, and the Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize for the best non-fiction work in English.
Mukul had no bone to pick with the RNG awards. He told me that it was an “honour” to have won one. His problem lay in receiving the award from the prime minister. “I cannot live with the idea of Modi and me in the same frame, smiling at the camera even as he hands over the award to me,” Mukul said. He invoked an incident that had taken place at Patiala House Court in February, during which a number of journalists and students were assaulted by a group of men in lawyer’s robes. The attackers were accompanied by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s OP Sharma. Noting that the episode had led to unprecedented protests by media persons, Mukul said, “Imagine, there were journalists who defended the BJP and opposed us.”
The management’s decision to invite Modi to the ceremony has reportedly irked some of the senior editors of the Indian Express as well. A journalist from the publication told me that these editors have raised questions over whether “journalism awards should be given by the prime minister at all, especially somebody as polarising as Modi.” When I asked Raj Kamal Jha, the chief editor of the paper, about the matter, he responded with a cryptic text message that appeared to disassociate the editorial department from the invitation that was extended to Modi: “Please send your query to Vaidehi Thakar of The Ramnath Goenka Foundation, which administers the award.” Subsequently, I sent a mail to Thakar, specifically asking her to explain the rationale behind inviting Modi, who, I wrote, has a consistent anti-media policy and uses every forum to run down the media. Thakar side-stepped my question. Instead, she reassured me that the Indian Express would always remain “free and fair.” “Your query,” she continued, “seems to suggest that the prime minister’s presence might have some bearing on the Indian Express’s coverage of the government or its politics. Such is not and will never be the case.”
Thakar’s response also included a long list of the politicians who have previously graced the award ceremony, starting with Manmohan Singh, the former prime minister of India, in 2006.
But India under Modi is very different from India under Singh. For one, the BJP, led by Modi and Amit Shah, has been unsparing in its response to the steadily dwindling section of the media that dares to report facts over government spin. In August 2016, for instance, the Indian Express published a story in which two of its senior journalists reported that during a closed-door meeting in Delhi, Modi had called for the BJP to reach out to Dalits and members of backward communities since the “nationalists are with us.” The BJP reacted to the report sharply. Mahender Pandey, the office secretary of the BJP, issued a two-page press release in which he called the story “fictitious,” a result of the “irresponsible attitude of the Newspaper,” and deemed the Indian Express guilty of “following the vacuous approach of the Congress & Co and Kejriwal & Co.” Pandey added that he hoped the “said Newspaper will play the role of creative journalism instead of doing fictional reporting and nefarious plotting to defame the government and work like a negative opposition.” This press release, which demanded a public apology from the Indian Express, was sent to various news organisations across the country. The subtext of the note was clear: the hallmark of good journalism would be to publish only what the prime minister wanted known; the ruling party had nothing but disdain for source-based reporting of any kind.
The message was presumably intended for those news organisations that are perceived to be an integral part of Modi’s pet peeve, “Lutyen’s Delhi”—a term the prime minister has appropriated to conjure the image of an ideological dump yard in the heart of Delhi, comprising anti-Modi voices that are led by the English media. This crowd, according to Modi, has not spared anyone over the years, including his illustrious Gujarati predecessors such as Vallabhbhai Patel and Morarji Desai.
The fundamental contradiction between Modi and the Indian Express lies in the positions that they occupy on the free-speech spectrum. One is a publication that has built itself on a legacy of unrelenting journalism. Over the past two years, the Indian Express has only added to this oeuvre with work such as its story on the increase in communal tensions in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar since May 2014, its investigation on the Panama Papers, and its coverage of banks that wrote off over one lakh crore in bad debts between 2013 and 2015. (It bears mentioning that since the Uri attack on 18 September 2016 and the surgical strikes that were reportedly conducted by the Indian Army on the night straddling 28 and 29 September, some of the paper’s coverage has appeared to toe the government line, raising eyebrows and inviting criticism.) The other is a politician who wears his contempt for the media—which is bazaaru, or for sale, as far as he is concerned—on his sleeve.
Modi has often attempted to control both the media and the message through means fair and foul. His most favoured and effective tool remains his inaccessibility. The prime minister does not take questions from the media and even if he does, the interviews are granted as favours to hand-picked journalists after he has approved the questions. A senior television reporter who covers the BJP told me, “Information flow is only one way—top-down. Even ordinary information like the prime minister’s Uttar Pradesh campaign schedule is only given out by the BJP or even the RSS. Nothing comes from the PMO.”—the prime minister’s office.
The media has been under attack across the country, including and apart from states that are governed by the BJP. Over the past two years, criticism or even questions regarding the government’s claims have been dangerously branded as a betrayal of the nation. This is symptomatic of a culture that has thrived and grown during Modi’s tenure as the prime minister: intolerance against any form of dissent. In May 2016, Hoot, a media news and criticism website, reported that there had been 22 instances of assault on members of the Indian press over the course of the first four months of the year, with Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh leading the pack. The BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh is a particularly stark example of the party’s abhorrence for a critical press. Recently, the state police reportedly burnteffigies of academics, civil-rights activists and journalists for their “anti-national opposition” to the state’s machinery.
India ranks 133 out of 180—lower than the Central African Republic and Congo Brazzaville—in the latest World Press Freedom Index, released by Reporters Without Borders, an international non-profit organisation. Yet, since the country’s nationalistic fervour has been impervious to any dents over the past few months, it would not be surprising if the ruling party and the Indian media sought solace in the knowledge that India is ranked higher than Pakistan. The report noted that, “Journalists and bloggers are attacked and anathematised by various religious groups that are quick to take offense.” “Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” it added, “seems indifferent to these threats and problems, and there is no mechanism for protecting journalists.”
The most disturbing of these attacks are the ones that target journalists belonging to minority communities. The communally charged atmosphere that the Sangh Parivar has perpetuated has made it difficult for journalists who belong to these communities to carry out their jobs with a sense of security. As Josy Joseph, the national-security editor of The Hindu, told the digital news platform Scroll, “When I did stories against the UPA, nobody turned around and said, ‘you’re a BJP man, or a Communist or a Christian.’ Today when I do a story against the government, the first thing I hear is ‘You’re a Christian, a Sonia Gandhi agent from the Vatican.’” Mohammad Ali, also a reporter with The Hindu, echoed Joseph when he told me, “It is not that during the UPA regime my identity was not a problem while reporting. But now, things have become bad. It is very easy to call out my identity whenever the story appears to go against the BJP and its supporters.” Ali, who is writing a book on the mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaque in Dadri, said that he only reveals his name when he has achieved a certain level of comfort with the people he is interviewing. During our conversation, he recalled sitting with the alleged assailants of Mohammad Akhlaque when one of the elderly women in the group suddenly said, “Why are the katuas”—a derogatory Hindi slang for ritually circumcised Muslims—“getting so much coverage by the media?” “I immediately got up,” said Ali, “made an excuse, and hurriedly exited from Dadri.”
Even for this story, it has been difficult to elicit an on-the-record response from most journalists. Those in support of Mukul fear that speaking up for him could cost them their jobs. Those opposing his boycott on grounds that the “prime minister is popularly elected” are loath to be publically identified with the current regime. This speaks volumes about the success of Modi’s media-gag policy. It underscores the fear, the sense of defeat and the reluctance to stand out that is afflicting the practitioners of journalism. Meanwhile, Mukul, who said that he has been under immense pressure to attend the ceremony—both from his peers and the management at the Indian Express—is relieved that event is finally underway. “I don’t fear the consequences,” he said.
Sandeep Bhushan was a television journalist for twenty years. He is currently an independent media researcher.