Sunday, September 10, 2017

Gauri Lankesh was murdered because politicians fear regional media

In the critically-acclaimed Hindi movie Peepli Live, Rakesh, a vernacular journalist, breaks the story of a poor, debt-ridden farmer Natha’s intended suicide to the "national media". Soon, he gets killed. The demise of Rakesh is an allegory of the sad state of affairs in regional news media.
Truth is, the death of a vernacular journalist seldom makes news in India. It’s heartening to see people coming out on streets across India to protest the brutal killing of journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh outside her home in Bengaluru.
At the same time, it’s brought a grim reminder to the fore - the vulnerability of journalists, particularly those working in regional or vernacular media.
Gauri Lankesh was the editor of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada-language weekly tabloid, and staunch critic of right-wing Hindutva politics. Her tabloid was vehemently opposed to communal forces.
What is it that makes regional media more vulnerable than the all-powerful English media? In the last few decades, with the expanding market, the growth of vernacular media outfits has been phenomenal; it has proliferated, penetrating remote parts of India. This is evident from the fact that of the ten most read dailies, five are Hindi language ones while the other positions are occupied by Malayalam, Tamil and Marathi publications — all regional language newspapers.
Times of India is the only English newspaper that features in the top ten list. It holds true when we look at the reach of regional news channels too.
With their left-liberal slant since Independence, while the English media has been popular among the elite, in the last two decades, key media outfits have made inroads into the vernacular, which has largely become the language of the powers that be.
Political parties are aware of the influence and reach of the regional language media because cultural and political phrases and imagery are best reflected in the native language.
With few exceptions, political forces have always tried to use these media outfits for political mobilisation and often been successful in influencing their constituents.
For this reason alone, one day after the first phase of UP election ended, the leading Hindi daily, Dainik Jagran published exit poll results showing BJP was marching ahead in the state even though it was in violation of the code of conduct.
In the North India of the '80s, "Hinduisation of the Hindi press" began vigorously and intensified in the '90s with the rise of Hindutva forces in the political firmament.
It has been well-documented that in the time of communal flare-ups, regional media mostly sided with the communal forces. With the Modi government coming to power, Hindutva forces are once again using the regional language press quite successfully for political mobilisation; it helps them set their agenda, be it nationalism debate or beef ban!
When a fearless, independent journalist like Gauri Lankesh emerges on the scene, her voice strikes a chord with the public at large — and deeply feared by right-wing Hindu nationalist forces. It should be noted that Ram Chander Chhatrapati, who exposed the rape and sexual assault of female devotees of the now jailed Ram Rahim by publishing an anonymous letter by one of the victims in his evening paper Poora Sach in 2002 was also shot dead.
While the power of the regional media has grown manifold, the attempts to silence journalists have also risen in the world’s largest democracy.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), since 1992, at least 40 journalists have been killed in India of which 27 were murdered in direct retaliation for their reports! Most of them were from the regional language media. Sadly, there has been no conviction and it is no wonder then that India ranks 136 among 180 countries when it comes to press freedom.
(Published on DailyO on 9th September 2017)

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