Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Defence of Thejas Daily: A Reply to Critiques

WHAT IS the responsible media's job in a democracy?

For the past quarter century when I was active in this profession, I was under the impression that we are the watchdog and we need to a keep barking and if possible do some biting too.

But going by the Central Home Ministry's letter (sent by the Ministry's National Integration wing's director Y K Baweja, to Kerala chief secretary, asking effective steps to curb Thejas daily and fortnightly, I think the government is now thinking of providing some new roles to the media in this country.

The letter is an excellent piece of media criticism. It needs a thorough critical analysis, but right now I will quote here only the four major points they have raised in the letter:

First, they say Thejas in its editorials and articles speak up against the Government of India's policy line on Israel and the United States.

Second, they say the paper in its articles and editorials dubs the Government's actions to control extremism in the country as State terrorism.

Third, the paper opposes the Government of India's actions and policies in Kashmir to control extremism and tries to debunk all the initiatives there.

Fourth, the paper tries to look at issues and developments from a communal point of view.

While I was writing these points for a discussion forum, I had not a copy of the letter with me. I was quoting from the media reports that appeared in various publications and channels like the New Indian Express, Deshabhimani, India Vision and Amrita TV. Since then, I have been able to get a copy though a friend and it urges the State chief secretary to take effective steps to curb the operations of Thejas so that it does not vitiate the communal atmosphere in the state of Kerala.

The letter warns the government of Kerala about Thejas daily as well as fortnightly. I have been closely associated with Thejas daily (run by Intermedia Publishing Ltd, while the fortnightly has a different ownership pattern), an from its inception on January 26, 2006, I was its executive editor. It was one of my primary responsibilities to keep the newspaper under a firm professional control and I think I had done the job fairly well. There were mistakes and criticisms, but I must say that it was a fairly well edited and professionally run newspaper. Then how did the government of India find it a threat to communal peace in Kerala is a mystery to me.

I was watching the public reaction to this and was happy that most people thought this was a serious encroachment on media freedom and there was nothing its pages that warranted such a criticism or perceived punitive action. That is good, but I do not know how the Government proposes to go ahead in the coming days as it appears there is some concerted and serious moves on the part of the officials to put difficulties before Thejas daily.

I saw that in some public fora, there were criticisms raised against me personally and some even raised questions about my credibility to speak about media freedom vis a vis the contemplated actions towards Thejas, in response to the first part of this post I quoted above.

Below, I am just quoting a post I made where I try to explain my position vis vis Thejas and its role in Kerala society and media:

I am returning here not to defend myself or my paper against public criticism because I have said earlier in this forum itself that as a media-person, I do consider myself a public person and I am willing to be subjected to pubic scrutiny. Not only my public life, but even my private life.

So let the question of my personal credibility, raised here, remain there unanswered.

But I think it is absolutely necessary for us to ask some important questions in the charged atmosphere that is Indian journalism today. It is about the charge that certain newspapers and certain media-persons are communal, they need to be hauled over the coals for violating our public morality; they need to answer for and provide proof for their loyalty to the nation and its ideals. And some others are whiter than white, they are secular without a spot; they only deserve the nation's undivided attention and adulation.

This, at best, looks like a nursery story of black and white world; a world of certainties and no gray areas. That Punjabi bureaucrat in charge of National Integration in Home Ministry (!!), who has passed a judgment on the (lack of) secular credentials of Thejas, a Malyalam newspaper from deep south which he has not even seen most probably, must be living in such a world of fantasy. God save him and his nation.

Now what is the reality?

Let me give my take on this: When I returned to the regional media after a long spell in the national press, what I could see was a terribly fragmented media scene with substantial sections of the people just left out of its ambit. You cannot imagine the kind of gap and communication vacuum that existed here. You can say such a situation is the national reality, and why bother about it?

Well, I think the difference at least in Kerala was that those people who were feeling left out and dejected and frustrated were still in a position to build upon their limited resources. Unlike Gujarat or other places in the north, where the 'Final Solution' is almost achieved in the case of Muslims, (“they will not dare to make a noise any more...”), Kerala offers a peculiar situation where members of the community, though frustrated and angry, do have the resources and powers to fight back and build a life of their own.

In this context, we must remember in the 90s there was the rise of a militant tendency among the youth (Madani was one example, SIMI & NDF were some others) and this did cause serious introspection and concern among many, especially among the Muslim community. I was a reporter with Indian Express in Malabar and I did have deep and intimate contacts and communication with various players and had a deep idea of these concerns and the search for new options and solutions.

Those days I was arguing for a new alliance among the restive Islamic youth and the left wing, as you can see in my many articles of this period, including the Indian Express edit page piece, The Radical and the Faithful, published some time in late 90s. But we know such a turn never took place, and the left, to my mind, was taking political advantage of the helplessness and frustration of these people.

Now we are at a crossroads: Things are taking a bad turn and we hear reports of youngsters even from remote Kerala getting shot on Kashmir border; they are being taken into custody even from Afghan or Bangladesh borders. So what? One might ask. The police and border cops will take care of them. As far as Kerala's own security is concerned, who said we do have any problem here? Of course, even if there are a few malcontents, the forces are capable of handling them.

But I do feel we cannot and should not opt for such a solution. The only way is to go through a democratic process, a dialogue process and a process of engagement and empowerment.

So in the past four years when we were running this newspaper, we had to take up strong and uncompromising positions; tough stances. We were asking why the six men from Muslim community were shot dead point blank at Beemapalli, we questioned the claim of the police that the boy from Pakistan who came here to meet his relatives was a terrorist (which he was not), we said there is a different tale to tell for Shahansha (in Love jihad case)... no other paper cared to tell this story as we did.

Now can anyone in their sense describe these as communal propaganda? I don't think so. Of course Thejas, in its editorial today(December 19, 2009), has thrown the challenge: All its editions during the past four years are available in public domain (also available online free of charge), and just locate one sentence in all these that can be dubbed a deliberate, malicious and hateful attack on another community, (must be easy as some honourable people have discovered that we are full of venom spewing it every day), and confront us in the public sphere with the proof.

A post-script:

On Monday, I heard on India Vision an interesting comment made by media critic S Jayasankar: "On the centenary year of Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai's banishment, Tejas' N P Chekkutty also can hope for a place in history through another deportation!"


Unknown said...

Dear Chekkutty Sahib,

Thank you for allowing me to say about my Thejas daily, I am certainy, believe that you perefectly explained the positon where the GREAT Thejas daily stands.

I use to read long time ago,your news coverages in Indian Experss, when I was a student during my Panchayat Reading room visit at Feroke.

It is needless to say that Thejas truly voice disturbing "some people" and readrs are enjoying the real news coverage of Thejas. its really shocking me when I heard from the channels.

Here, I would lilke to Quote again from your article

" Well, I think the difference at least in Kerala was that those people who were feeling left our and dejected and frustrated were still i a position to build upon their limited resources. Unlike Gujarat or ohter places in teh north, where the 'Final solution' is almost achieved in the case of Muslims,("they will not dare to make a noise any more....") Kerala offers a peculiar situation where members of the community, though frustrated and angry, do have the resources and powers to fight back and build a life of their own."

Why I quoted the above, because at least, people should read and refesh their mind.....

Finlly, I still do not find any articles against National Interest or spreading Communal spirit. Further more, I like to mention here that, my office secretary Mr. Kumar always asking me about Thejas articles and expressing his positive feelings. It is crystal clear there is " preplaned conspiracy" against the Thejas daily. We have had to find it out who are behind this dirty politic game.. ??

I repeat again. Your article is "self explanatory" .. people and officials from Ministry can read this and decide what's going on...

Although, agian you can expect such challenges such as letters, orders,lobying etc. etc. from various sources, do not care those unnecessary "small snakes". The keralites cannot pass their morning with out THEJAS.

Keep it up....

All the best for Thejas team.

About S Jayasanker, He have to please his "Boss" .Forget about his critic.

Mohamed Babu

രജന said...

In this context, we must remember in the 90s there was the rise of a militant tendency among the youth (Madani was one example, SIMI & NDF were some others)
I don't know about SIMI and Madani, but what is the proof for you that NDF is a militant organization?