Guest Column: A case of gagging the press

Joginder Singh, former CBI director, remarks on the unfortunate incident of Bangladeshi court sentencing UK journalist on grounds of making "derogatory" remarks about the tribunal

e4m by Joginder Singh
Updated: Dec 6, 2014 9:53 AM
Guest Column: A case of gagging the press

As long as media sings praises of  individuals or organisations, such people love it. We must realise that media has a job to do. For several reasons, including any defamation suit, whatever they report is based on some documents or facts. However, it is a reality that whatever media reports will always have detractors. There is advice galore both from the media and people who make news.

The Prime Minister  of our country , in the last    week of November, 2014 said,  “Journalism should be like a honey bee, and not a housefly, as housefly sits on filth and spreads it around and journalists should be, like bees, productive, but also capable of retorting with a sting when needed. He added, "It would be wrong to say that newspaper only informs us and delivers news, newspapers shape our perception. There was a time when newspapers used to look for news. Time has changed. Today news look for newspapers…Indira Gandhi introduced us to democracy. She put locks on newspapers, and turned the country into a jail. That is when people realised, what democracy is about.”

About his idea of journalism,  the PM, compared the claims of "sabse tez" (fastest) and "sabze sacchi" (truest) news with those of people selling "pure" desi ghee. "It means something, somewhere is wrong.”

A   special Bangladeshi court on 2nd December, 2014  jailed a prominent UK journalist to a token one-day sen¬tence on contempt charges for making "derogatory" remarks about the tribunal and for ques¬tioning the three million official death toll in the country's 1971 in¬dependence war against Pakistan. The International Crimes Tri¬bunal of Bangladesh also fined David Bergman Taka 5,000 (USD 65). If he fails to pay the fine, he will face another seven days in prison.

It added, "He (Bergman) is to suffer simple imprisonment till the rising of the 'Court and pay fine of Taka five thousand only, in default to suffer seven more days imprisonment. The judgement said Bergman, currently working for Bangladesh's New Age newspaper, deserved the punishment for de¬meaning the court by his "irrele¬vant" criticism of the trial on his personal blog. It said the journalist had crossed the limit of his profes¬sional ethics in the name of free¬dom of expression.

The judgment came, nearly 10 months after a SC lawyer filed the contempt petition, saying Bergman made "relentless efforts to justify that the tribunal was absolutely wrong in mention¬ing three million deaths and the number of 200,000 women raped in 1971.”

This on the face of it is nothing short of gagging the press.  It only proves that if  media is to avoid criticism or contempt of any Bangladeshi Court , it  should  say nothing, do nothing, and thus   be nothing. Obviously Bangladeshi Tribunal  criticised what it could not understand. It has been rightly said that, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” 

Fortunately, In India, judiciary is more understanding and does not take notice of such difference of perception or facts, which are the essence of democracy, and have not taken roots in our neighbours like Pakistan  and  Bangladesh.

Criticism is never agreeable, but it is necessary, as it fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop. Of course, journalists have also been criticised for turning things upside like a critic once said 'A dog bites a man'—that's a story; 'A man bites a dog'—that's a good story...”

The secret of successful journalism is to make your readers so angry they will write half your paper for you. At the same the Mighty are also afraid of the Media exemplified by Napoleon who once said, “I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.”

The author is former CBI Director.

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