The Red Ink Awards in association with the Mumbai Press Club was held at the NCPA on April 30, where journalists from different genres received awards for their exclusive stories and contribution towards the fraternity.
A panel discussion on 'Limits of Dissent' was held, in which Union Minister for Railways, Suresh Prabhu, veteran journalist Shekhar Gupta, NDTV anchor and show host Sreenivasan Jain and Krishna Prasad, editor-in-chief, Outlook, took part. The debate was moderated by Sachin Kalbag, editor of Mid-Day.
The debate started off with Kalbag, who asked questions to the panellists. “We have a stellar panel today and I will try my best to ask the right questions and get the right answers,” he said and started off a debate by stating that between 1992 and 2014 almost 1,123 journalists were killed on duty and last year between January and June, the government had asked Facebook to delete almost 5,000 posts. “Shockingly, we are only ahead of Turkey in such cases. Between July and December of the same year the deletions rose to 5,832. India is only partly free as compared to other developed countries. Is the space for dissent restricted? Has it become a myth?” he asked the panellists.
Shekhar Gupta was the first one to reply. “Space for dissent is expanding. How do you define dissent? Is it against a policy, or a government or what? Dissent is not going down. I got a call from the owner of a famous hospital in Delhi against whom my reporter had a story. I explained to him that things have changed and if I stop her and you stop us, she will go and write about it on her blog and we will look like fools. So, dissent is taken over by a mob which is ideological and has much higher scope. I don’t think any government is strong enough to restrict the freedom of the media and limit dissent,” he averred.
Sreenivasan Jain, in his subtle manner, disagreed with Gupta. “As a journalist and as a reporter, my job is not to be a dissenter. Our job is to do our work as honestly as we can. I think that the media establishment has always had its own ways. For instance, a story against a man who became the president of a ruling party, recently, had 3 murder cases against him, but, was let off by the court. The CBI had 3 months to file an appeal, but, nothing was done. Was there any noise about it? No! If in this similar situation you would find the opposition party leader, in the same situation, a lot of noise would be made about it. I think situations are there where there are constraints, but, people have a way to voice their dissent through various means,” he argued.
Gupta retorted, “These are limitations of greed or lack of spine which you cannot complain about to anyone. There is a problem, but, it is not imposed by any state or government.”
Krishna Prasad, who has been seen as running an anti-establishment magazine, was quite vocal in his debate as he spoke against the government. “I totally disagree with Shekhar! We cannot confuse freedom with dissent. If we were to have emergency at this time, I would argue with you that we may not even read about it on page 1 of our newspapers today. The bench marks are so low that they are shocking. News is being served to audiences as per their choice. Yes, the space has expanded. However, see how news is being served today on issues that are affecting the country adversely. A leading editor told me that we need to now change our approach with the new government coming in. I think we are hitting rock bottom with this attitude,” he debated.
A visibly calm and composed or rather nonchalant Prabhu, said, “This is one of the fastest growing segments today. The media should never be pro establishment. But what is establishment? Is it the political class or the government or is it the losing party? Who is establishment? Try to expand the argument to what is establishment.” Kalbaug interrupted, “Why should the media approach change when the government changes?” Prabhu quipped,” That is something you should ask the media!”
Prabhu explained that just because the BJP was in power should one take an anti BJP stand. “What is not consent is dissent. There are certain issues, but, if the media gives good advice to the government, then the policies can be looked upon after analysing these factors as well. There is no possibility of any party attempting to limit the voice of dissent, especially the media,” he explained.
The entire panel was also of the opinion that the establishment and government and even the opposition has started ignoring the media and they have taken an anti-media attitude, which is not a positive sign. Prasad argued that the entire media should take this issue seriously. “Managing dissent is the fundamental duty of the media and we shall not refrain from doing so,” concluded Prasad.