Wednesday, March 19, 2008

How free is Indian media?

I was shocked when I recently read in the Outlook magazine that veteran Indian journalist M J Akbar had been dramatically removed from the editorship of his own paper (he was the founder editor of The Asian Age). I might be commenting a little late on it as it happened sometime in early March but the fault is not mine. I did not come across this news anywhere but in this piece by Khushwant Singh in Outlook, who has written very strongly about the state of Indian media:

The hard truth about Indian journalism is that proprietors matter, editors do not; money counts, talent does not. The latest instance of money trashing ability and experience is the unceremonious sacking of M.J. Akbar, founder-editor of the Asian Age. He is perhaps the most distinguished living member of his tribe. He started the weekly Sunday and the Telegraph for the Ananda Bazaar group of papers based in Calcutta. He has been elected member of the Lok Sabha and is the author of half-a-dozen books, all of which have gone into several editions. Fifteen years ago, he, with a set of friends, launched the Asian Age. It was a bold venture as the Asian Age came out of all the metropolitan cities of India as well as London. It had little advertising but had a lot more readable material taken from leading British and American journals than any other Indian daily. It was as close to being a complete newspaper as any could be. Besides these unique qualities it also published articles by writers critical of the government and the ruling party. It was probably this aspect of the journal that irked Akbar's latest partner in the venture; he had political ambitions of his own and wished to stay on the right side of the government. So without a word of warning, on the morning of March 1 while he was on his way to office, Akbar learned that his name was no longer on the Asian Age masthead as its editor-in-chief. It was an unpardonable act of discourtesy committed by someone with less breeding and more money.

Earlier, Khushwant Singh's son, Rahul Singh, had commented on this subject equally vociferously in The Dawn but I discovered it only later when I googled about it:

THE Indian media takes great pride in being independent and fearless, among the freest in the developing world. Indeed, the press is held up as one of the mainstays of Indian democracy. But is this really so? Take the abrupt and recent sacking of one of the country’s most distinguished editors, Mubashar Jawed Akbar.

On March 2, the erstwhile editor-in-chief of The Asian Age was on his way to his office in New Delhi when he got an SMS on his cellphone from one of his staff members, asking him to look at the masthead of his paper. To his astonishment and dismay, he found his name was missing! When he arrived at his office he was met by an editorial staff in mourning, some of whom broke down.

Word had clearly reached them of their boss’s unceremonious ouster. MJ, as he was known to his friends and colleagues, quickly emptied his drawers, said farewell to his staff and departed.

What has happenend is sad and shameful. Akbar is perhaps one of the last of a generation of mediapersons who represent a certain kind of scholarship and journalistic values.

I have been reading Akbar since his The Telegraph days. That was the first newspaper I ever read in life. Then I was in high school and could barely understand all that was discussed and reported in the paper. Later on, I saw him from close quarters when he fought for the MP seat from Kishanganj, my native town. He was an inspiration to me.

I am sure Akbar will not sit back and will rise again and do something remarkable in the field of journalism.

7 comments:

vishwapriya said...

Sad as it obviously is, dont you think that the facts dont connect? Mr. Akbar was "sacked" not because there is no freedom of press in our democracy but because of either the fear or the greed (or both!) of his partner. Freedom comes into question if he had no means to speak out. As an aside, I have been visitin your blog on and off - are you a writer by profession?

Zafar Anjum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zafar Anjum said...

Thanks for visiting my blog, Vishwapriya. I guess, the question of freedom of press comes into play in this case as indirect political pressure seems to be involved (many have commented on this). And, the basic reason behind Akbar's ouster was his political views that he was airing through his paper that did not please a particular political group. When I am bringing in the question of freedom of press, I am also sort of alluding to many others (illustrious editors) that suffered the same fate in the past. Thanks for your comments. Appreciate it.

reaz said...

It's very said that a journalist of MJ's stature had to quit his dream paper The Asian Age so unceremoniousely. For many years I was with The Daily Star, the Bangladeshi English daily that MJ also used to write for. I think the Indian internal politics apart, his stand against US-India nuclear treaty has got something to do with his sacking from The Asian Age.
Reaz Ahmad
ahmad.reaz@gmail.com

GlobalCitizen said...

you may like to read this:

http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/looking-at-christianitys-handshake-with-media-in-india-book-review_10074366.html

maddy said...

its realy disheartening to read somthing so defaming...being a media student a feel a need of cquick renovation in the feild of media and india journalism..
mirza arique alam
mirza_alam2000@yahoo.com

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