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Shooting the messenger won’t help Modi govt’s Covid fight. Tushar Mehta should know that

It is now routine in strongmen democracies to shoot the messenger if you don't like the message, and the messenger inevitably is the journalist.

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Solicitor General Tushar Mehta made an impassioned speech in the Supreme Court on 27 May in which he called a section of journalists “prophet of doom” and compared them to vultures. Mehta’s description of the scribes came in the context of media reporting on Narendra Modi government’s response to the migrant labourers’ crisis.

In the middle of a pandemic, Tushar Mehta, it seems, had found a soft target in the journalists. The Solicitor General’s description of democracy’s  watchdogs shows the fate of the media today.

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron, while delivering an address to Harvard University 2020 graduates, said: “There’s a systematic effort to disqualify traditional independent arbiters of fact. The press tops the list of targets. But others populate the list, too: courts, historians, scientists and medical professionals – subject-matter experts of every type.”

It is now routine in strongmen democracies to shoot the messenger if you don’t like the message, and the messenger inevitably is the journalist, whether it is in Erdogan’s Turkey, Putin’s Russia, Trump’s US or Modi’s India.

Why is Tushar Mehta angry with journalists? The question in the Supreme Court was on the plight of migrants. Although in a subtle way, even PM Modi now agrees that migrants have suffered.

Also read: Milind Soman to ‘Nazma Aapi’, Indians slam TikTok for censorship and call for boycott

Journalists doing their job

Mehta seems to have forgotten that journalists are the fourth pillar of democracy. It is their job to record and document the happenings in society. From war zones to containment zones, they get into such places only to record events and present it to people. One can’t argue why they are not fighting on battlefronts. The truth is that they are doing their duty, and this is the duty they have been assigned to. However unfortunate it may seem.

What about the duty of the governments? Do they not have the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of the citizens? And what are the duties of political parties? Furthering their political agenda? Well, that has not stopped even in a pandemic.

Maybe Mehta is also forgetting that the Modi government in India presently enjoys support like no other government. The state governments, the opposition, the media and the public have all supported the central government in the last two months, which is unprecedented in recent times. There has been criticism, but no demonstrations or vile attacks on the government. Even the most prominent face (if we may call him) of the Opposition, Rahul Gandhi has avoided taking direct jibes at the Modi government, only suggesting from time-to-time measures it should take to ease people’s pain.

Also read: Disappointment, disastrous management, diabolical pain: Congress on first year of Modi 2.0

What about govt duty?

When the threat of coronavirus spread was looming large in India, the BJP was busy occupying office in Madhya Pradesh. Before that, the prime minister was busy with the Namaste Trump event in Ahmedabad. Then came the unplanned lockdown, which has disrupted millions of lives and brought death upon many. Does this not require vehement criticism from all sections of the society, including the media?

This is not something the Modi government can be proud of. The plight of workers walking for hundreds of kilometres, the Shramik trains getting lost and police brutality has gone unnoticed by the government.

Still, the Solicitor General will put journalists in the katghara (witness box). If he goes by the true spirit of the Constitution, he would know who to hold accountable for the mess?

Also read: Most Shramik trains running on time, don’t spread fake news: Railway Board chairman

Celebrating in crisis

Celebrating Modi government’s six years in power, articles authored by senior BJP leaders are doing the rounds on social media and in newspapers. Not sure if this is the best time to showcase a party or government’s achievements, especially when the country is going through an unprecedented health and humanitarian crisis. Is the party bigger than the country? If a person lies on his/her deathbed with Covid, will the family members narrate the laurels of the past or attend to their health?

There are thousands of people working selflessly, feeding the migrants. They are spending their own money. Actor Sonu Sood has been working tirelessly to send people home with his own money. Is he also a prophet of doom? Or a vulture? Is he doing all this to make a name for himself?

In Bihar’s Buxar, which is also the constituency of MoS for health, Ashwini Choubey, Ramji Singh and Sharafat Hussain, who run a youth organisation named Yuva Shakti, are working tirelessly for the past 70-odd days, feeding the migrants. Are they prophets of doom? Are they trying to put the Modi government in a bad light?

The Modi government has all the support it needs to fight the coronavirus, but its representatives are trying to abdicate their responsibility and shift the blame on to others. And journalists are a soft target. If only someone could tell them, there are better ways to deal with their mistakes: identify, recognise and correct them.

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  1. Govt failed in tackling the issue. The govt at the center and its leaders must stop tall speeches. Do some thing on the ground.gimmicks doesn’t work.Why to blame the press for the failures?

  2. Today it is the journalist who gets away with anything and everything that he says and even writes. Other than facing the law which is a long process made complicated by the politicians and exploited to the hilt by the super lawyers so the journalists have no fear.
    Time and again the politicians have been called everything including thieves but never have we heard or seen all the politicians coming together to protect / defend themselves as a breed, across the party lines.
    But the minute the expressions such as prophet of doom, vultures or presstitute are heared the clan will gang-up, without accepting the fact that they also come from the same society that gives us the politicians, babus and judges, some outstanding and some downright scoundrels.
    The unquestioning authority given to the journalists by themselves including use of most derogatory, illogical and insulting language makes one wonder what these people will write, god forbid if we were to ever get into a major war. Sense of balance builds up only over years and would not come overnight to anyone..

  3. It is not in govt.’s interest to criticize the media. but the polarization and corruption is as rampant in the media as it is the rest of the society. the media can never consider itself as the holy cow because they are just a part of the whole.

  4. Oh you poor poor journalists, the right wing ecosystem said few abstract words about you and many (Tavleen Singh, Barkha Dutt et al) have started wailing. Meanwhile the same right wingers have put protestors in jail, killed them, run them out of the country, taken away their land and property, poor Rahul Gandhi gets hounded by this system even when he is correct – and you journos have stood by and faithfully reported the govt’s version of the story without making any attempt to uncover the lies. Many of you have overtly supported the right-wing in hounding decent people. Even today many of you blame opposition parties for all of India’s problems and do not bother to even ask basic questions of the govt. No wonder you guys have zero credibility left amongst anybody.
    Remember, when they come for you there will be no one left to speak on your behalf.

  5. JOurnalists must do some soul searching, before beating their chest about being the fourth pillar of democracy. They made pact with devil to maligne India. During Modi’s first term, Media both in print and electronic was at the forefront of maligning the Hindus and Government. “Intolerance” was blown up into such a proportion that even foreign leaders started lecturing India.

  6. “Journalists doing their job”.

    You mean journalists like Burkha Dutt, NDTV, The Print, Scroll, Wire?

    “Doing their job” of speaking on behalf of Pakistan & China, being rabidly anti-Hindu, spreading fake news against the Govt?

  7. Jyoti ji, What SG said may not be true but tell me is this the same media which once was repreaented by Girilal Jain, Nikhil Chakravarty, Kuldip Nayyar(Shekhar Gupta’s guru, if I am correct) etc. Why media has brought itself to such disrepute that a central minister called it “Presstitute”? A anchor calls all the other media houses as “Godi Media”. What SG had said tells us that media has brought iyself to such a level that any can thrash it.

  8. Fine edit in Indian Express. The Court is completely within its rights to stop an unacceptable line of reasoning / arguments in its tracks.

  9. If enemies are wearing the mask of messengers, they must be treated as enemies. ThePrint has become the den of such enemy messengers.

    • Wrong. The Print displays columnists with a variety of views some of whom may even be nutty right wing like you. If you want all columnists to have similar third rate views as yours, go to Republic or Zee news.

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