Tag Archives: Censorship

The Editor who declined the Padma Bhushan

20131103-124049 PM.jpg

Today, 3 November 2013, is the birth centenary of Nikhil Chakravartty, the “barefoot reporter” who founded the journal Mainstream.

NC or Nikhilda, as most who knew him called him, plunged into active journalism as a special correspondent with the Communist Party organ People’s War (1944-46) and People’s Age (1946-48), and later Crossroads (1952-55) and New Age (1955-57).

He then set up a feature news service, India Press Agency (IPA) in collaboration with another Communist journalist David Cohen.

In 1959, IPA shot into prominence with a report of the then prime minister’s personal assistant M.O. Mathai, that rocked Parliament, forcing Mathai to resign.

Nikhil Chakravartty quit the Communist Party for its support of Indira Gandhi‘s emergency and played a key role in opposing press censorship (1975-77) and Rajiv Gandhi‘s anti-defamation bill in 1989.

Tellingly, he declined the Padma Bhushan conferred on him by the National Front government In 1990, with a dignified letter to the then President, “pointing out that a journalist carrying out his professional obligation should not appear to be close to any government and/or any political establishment.”

A commemorative issue of Mainstream, released at a seminar organised by the Editors Guild of India in New Delhi yesterday, records:

“He always called himself a ‘reporter’. He did have the finest attributes of a reporter, and despite airing his own views in commentaries and editorials never discarded fairness in reporting or tampered with facts.

“His fidelity to facts was extraordinary. And he knew what to report and what not to report—always preserving the confidence reposed in him by his interlocutors.”

Nikhil Chakravartty passed away on 27 June 1998, by which time he had stepped down as editor of Mainstream to become its editorial advisor.

Mainstream is now edited by his son Sumit Chakravartty.

Also read: Why Rajdeep, Barkha must decline Padma Sri

Lessons for Vir Sanghvi & Barkha from Prem & Nikhilda

Did Radia tapes impact Padma awards for journos?

External reading: Usha Rai on Nikhil Chakravartty

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What they said when Shankar shut his Weekly

The capitulation of the Congress-led government at the Centre in the Ambedkar cartoon controversy was welcomed with the thumping of desks by parliamentarians who seemed to have little appreciation of the legendary Shankar‘s work and even less of what its inclusion in a school textbook meant.

From Congress president Sonia Gandhi (whose mother-in-law Indira Gandhi ushered in press censorship in 1975 and whose husband Rajiv Gandhi tried to pass the defamation bill in 1987) to the BJP which opposed both; from the supposedly “liberal” Left to the young MPs who represent the “future”, no one (bar one) raised a voice.

But back in 1975, when the legendary cartoonist P. Shankar Pillai decided to close down Shankar’s Weekly, there was a flurry of letters from politicians in the final issue. At least five Congress chief ministers mourned its imminent closure, including the Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra, who would later become synonymous with the Bihar press bill.

Here’s a mirror of India circa 2012 vis-a-a-vis 1975:

***

It is indeed sad and unfortunate that the only letter you chose to address to me personally should convey to me your intention to bow out. It is going to be a painful ordeal for thousands of your readers including myself, to go without the Weekly. I must believe you when you say that advancing age and ill-health have compelled you to close down Weekly, but I see neither of them reflected in your magazine. Indeed a tribute to your spirit – so young despite age! I am sure the Souvenir you propose to bring out will be an adorning piece on your lovers’ and admirers’ book-shelves! It will also serve as a lesson and guide to the new generation of cartoonists and journalists, convincingly telling them what an individual can achieve single-handedly.

S.B. Chavan
Chief Minster, Maharashtra

***

I was rather distressed to hear that the great journal is closing down after twenty-seven years of yeomen service to the nation and significant contribution to journalism in India. I really wish I could compel you not to close down Shankar’s Weekly, but I quite understand the reasons that have forced you to take this painful decision.

Harideo Joshi
Chief Minister, Rajasthan

***

I have received your letter with mixed feelings. That a journalist of your eminence has excellently finished his innings in this harsh world in a tribute to your sobre manners, accommodating  spirits, and the immense sense of humour which you have been exhibiting for the last quarter of a century. You have shone on the horizon of Indian journalism in a manner which is difficult to imbibe. You are an institution in yourself and the younger generation in the journalistic field will feel proud to emulate your example in all spheres of life.

H N Bahuguna
Chief Minister, Uttar Pradesh

***

Sorry too learn that you are not keeping well, but I am impressed to find that your sentiments remain the same. Your effort to publish a souvenir of Shankar’s Weekly are praiseworthy.

Jagannath Mishra
Chief Minister, Bihar

***

I am really sorry that you are closing down Shankar’s Weekly.

D. Devaraj Urs
Chief Minister, Karnataka

***

I read the contents of your letter with deep concern. I know how the Shankar’s Weekly was started with your efforts and made a name of itself and continuous devotion and dedication. I am sure you have taken the decision after deep thinking and for the good of your health and for other reasons. You always had my admiration and regards, and it will grow whether you are with the Shankar’s Weekly or not.

Radha Raman
Chief Executive Councillor, Delhi

***

Shankar’s Weekly has served a very good purpose for over 25 years and could rank as one of the best cartoon journals in the world.

Jagannath Rao
Member of Parliament, New Delhi

(Published in the 31 August 1975 issue of Shankar’s Weekly)

Photograph: courtesy National Book Trust

Research: courtesy D.D. Gupta

Also read: Shankar‘s Weekly: the final editorial

MUST READ: ‘Shankar’s Weekly’ final editorial

Media freedom in India id est Bharat has never been a more scarce commodity than in the year of the lord 2012.

The fourth estate is under concerted attack from all three pillars of our democracy—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Organisations mandated to protect media freedom (like the press council of India) are happily chomping its heels. Every day the sound of some distant door closing echoes through the internet chamber.

On top of it all, or because of it all, the sparks of public cynicism about the media and its practitioners (thanks to paid news, private treaties, medianet, and this, that and the other) has become a wildfire, its faceless flames licking the very hand that feeds. Regulation and self-regulation is the mantra on every lip.

(Why, supposedly courageous practitioners of journalism themselves don’t hesitate to intimidate those who expose their warts.)

The illiberalism, the intolerance, the control-freakery that have become a part of the accepted discourse in 21st century India was most evident last week when parliament—the so-called temple of democracy—committed the ultimate sacrilege: a Harvard-trained poet agreeing to remove newspaper and magazine cartoons from school textbooks because they could hurt the fragile egos of faceless mobs back where they go out with their bowls every five years.

The ostensible provocation was a 1949 cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar, the Constitution framer and Dalit icon, drawn by P. Shankar Pillai, the legendary cartoonist, in his now-defunct magazine Shankar’s Weekly that had been included in an NCERT textbook in 2006.

But it was clearly a smokescreen to sneak in the scissors to cut out all cartoons about all politicians in all textbooks.

Shankar’s Weekly shut down on 31 August 1975, the very year Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, on whose back rode a beast called Censorship.

In circa 2012, as her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi thumped the desk when Kapil Sibal eloquently ushered in Censorship without the formal proclamation of Emergency, it’s useful to go through Shankar Pillai’s farewell editorial, which shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

***

FAREWELL

“We started with an editorial 27 years ago. We will end with another.

“The world was different in 1948. The Cold War had not taken the sinister overtones that it later did. The atom bomb was in our midst and there was scare of war. But there was no apprehension that life would be wiped out from the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

“The United States was riding high with sole possession of the atom bomb. Communism was to be rolled back by its strength and Time magazine’s brave words. But monolithic communism was already breaking up. In 1946 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform.

“Less than a year after Shankar’s Weekly was born, Mao Tse-tung took over mainland China, for ever changing the dimensions of international affairs. While Europe was still struggling to get over the aftermath of a ruinous war, Asia stood up for the first time as independent entity.

“Soon after Africa emerged from colonial darkness. The old imperialisms watched uneasily at Bandung and Afro-Asian solidarity. Perhaps there was something in Nehru’s non-alignment after all.

“The world of today is very different. The Cold War is still there but played according to already laid ground rules usually. West Europe has been integrated in a sense, although the sense of nationalism is still strong. Africa by and large has not steadied itself except in one or two countries.

“White supremacy is still unchallenged in South Africa and Rhodesia. Asian politics has become uncertain largely due to Sino-Soviet rivalry. Latin America seethes with unrest, but the CIA and multi-nationals are trying to contain discontent. Economically, the world is somewhat better off than 27 years ago despite runaway inflation and drought and so on. But the quality of human life cannot be said to have shown any qualitative change.

“This is what brings us to the nub of the matter. In our first editorial we made the point that the our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion.

“Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer.

“Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-cartoonists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language.

“It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and such-like.

“What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings, and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.

“But Shankar’s Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death dealing forces and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged.

“Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought we bid you good-bye and the best of luck.”

Published on Sunday, 31 August 1975

Hat tip: D.D. Gupta

Image: A facsimile of the front cover of Shankar’s Weekly

An Emergency-style witchhunt of the media?

The top item (above) in the gossip column of The Indian Express today lends further credence to the conspiracy theory doing the rounds in Delhi that there may be a pattern to, and a devious intent behind, all that is happening to the media in recent weeks: the sweeping remarks of press council chairman Justice Markandey Katju, the notification of the Majithia wage board recommendations for journalists, the talk of regulation of the electronic media, the curbs on crossmedia ownership, etc.

And that in circa 2011—following the exposes of the gigantic scams and scandals that powered the anti-corruption movement—the Congress-led UPA government may have quietly ushered in a very sophisticated form of whiplashing and witchhunting the media, without the formal declaration of censorship as in 1975.

Image: courtesy The Indian Express

Also read: Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

B.G. VERGHESE: The declaration of Emergency in 1975

KULDIP NAYAR: Hindu and HT were were worst offenders

Is UPA hitting back at ToI, India Today, DNA?

There has been plenty of buzz in recent days that the Congress-led UPA government has quietly begun hitting back at the media for the manner in which it has exposed the scams and scandals, and for the proactive manner in which it backed the middle-class led “Arnab Spring”.

There have been rumours, for instance, of the Union information and broadcasting ministry actually proposing a ceiling on the number of minutes a news channel can show a specific news event and so on. Now, as if to show that the messenger is indeed being wilfully targetted, these two stories have emerged in the last two days.

Exhibit A: Nora Chopra‘s item in The Sunday Guardian (above), which talks of the government making things difficult for cross-media groups like The Times of India and India Today.

Exhibit B: DNA editor Aditya Sinha‘s column, in which he links a 10-day stoppage of government advertisements to his “mass-circulating” paper to the paper’s stand in the Anna Hazare episode.

“We advised ad-sales to seek an appointment with I&B minister Ambika Soni. It was a pleasant surprise when the ad-sales executives immediately got a slot to meet the minister.

“Soni was pleasant enough. She told our guys she was unaware of any DAVP action; but in any case the government was rationalizing the flow of ads to English and language newspapers.

“Her body language, according to the ad-sales team, suggested otherwise. And then, during a general chat about the newspaper, she came to the point: she said that DNA ought to look at its coverage over the past few weeks and introspect….

Soni’s statement led us to infer that our Anna Hazare coverage was being punished by a suspension of government ads, and that Soni met our ad executives just to ensure the point was driven home.”

For the record, a point Sinha artfully sidesteps, DNA has been in the government’s crosshairs for an incendiary and imbecilic column written by the Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy after the July 13 bomb blasts in Bombay.

For the record, DNA is part-owned by Subhash Chandra‘s Zee group, some of whose journalists (present and past) played a key role in the media management of Hazare’s fast.

And, also for the record, Ambika Soni traces her Congress origins to Sanjay Gandhi, whose role in ushering in press censorship during the Emergency in 1975, has been long documented.

Image: courtesy The Sunday Guardian

Read the full piece: Ambika Soni‘s arm-twisting

External reading: DAVP wants balance sheets

Also read: How The Times of India pumped up Team Anna

Is the Indian Express now a pro-establishment newspaper?

The ex-Zee News journalist behind Anna Hazare show

Ex-Star News, ToI journos behind ‘Arnab Spring’

Is the media manufacturing middle-class dissent?

Should media corruption come under Lok Pal?

‘Indira exploited Western media outrage in ’75’

William Rees-Mogg, the former editor of The Times, London, on the Emergency of 1975 and media censorship, in his book, Memoirs, to be published by Harper Collins on July 7:

“We attacked in a Times leader Mrs Indira Gandhi‘s suspension of Indian democracy. I only saw Mrs Gandhi once. She was insufferably arrogant, and very conscious of her image in the world. Our own correspondent in India, Peter Hazelhurst, had been ordered out of the country in the early Seventies.

“Because of consistent condemnation in the Western press, Indians were able to use the sense of moral outrage that existed in Western newspapers, rather the same way as the anti-apartheid campaigners were able to use the sense of moral outrage that apartheid caused.”

Also read: B.G.Verghese on the night Emergency was declared

Kuldip Nayar: The Hindu and Hindustan Times were worst offenders

Did we fight Emergency for this kind of media?

A blank editorial, a black editorial & a footnote

When Indira Gandhi introduced media censorship as part of the Emergency in 1975, Indian newspapers ran blank editorials as a form of protest.

The Kannada newspaper Vijaya Karnataka, belonging to The Times of India group, runs a blank (and black) editorial today, in protest against what happened in the State legislative assembly on Monday, during the trust vote moved by the chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa.

And in white type set on 60% black, editor Vishweshwar Bhat writes this small footnote at the bottom:

“The unseemly occurrences in the assembly on Monday should make every citizen bow his head in shame. The manner in which our elected representatives behaved is unpardonable. They have dealt a deadly blow to democracy. While criticising this, we symbolically represent the silent outrage of the people in this form.”

Also read: B.G. Verghese on the introduction of Emergency

Kuldeep Nayar: Hindu, HT were the worst offenders in 1975

H.Y. Sharada Prasad: Middle-class won’t understand Indira

People, not the press, are the real fourth estate in India