Shooting the Messenger in the most Populous Democratic countryby Opinion Express September 4, 2019 0 comments
How can a journalist be held guilty of criminal conspiracy for focussing on child rights?
It’s a classic case of shooting the messenger who was just trying to help focus on a scam in the mid-day meal scheme in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where children were being abominably fed roti and rice with salt. Considering that funding for such welfare schemes can at least ensure a minimal balanced diet, the journalist felt it was his duty to expose the anomaly. Especially since it concerned the health index of children, an essential component of the demographic dividend that we so love to talk about. Instead, Jansandesh Times reporter Pawan Kumar Jaiswal was arrested with the State administration bizarrely accusing him of trying to defame the Yogi Adityanath Government. And in a blatant onslaught on the freedom of the Press, Jaiswal has been booked for criminal conspiracy after he circulated a video on the travesty at Siur near Mirzapur on August 22. According to the UP Government’s mid-day meal guidelines, Rs 4.48 is allocated to each primary student daily for providing a nutritious, balanced meal, consisting of dal, vegetables and rice or roti. Community kitchens under welfare schemes by various State Governments have also been known to arrange meals at Rs 5. So clearly Jaiswal was highlighting the fund leakage that happens at the micro-levels in collusion with implementing authorities. This is not just characteristic of UP but other States too, a similar incident being reported from West Bengal a couple of weeks ago. So the crackdown by the UP Government is uncalled for, which has clearly been put on the backfoot by the extensive media coverage of this outrage. Of course, now it has been compelled to order a probe.
So what message is the UP Government giving to journalists? Don’t expose corruption, else you will pay? But isn’t it antithetical to the Adityanath Government’s avowed commitment to clean up systemic deficiencies? In a democracy, people have the right to know what the Government is doing with their hard-earned money. And in exposing corruption and scams, journalists are not only keeping the electorate informed about what’s going on but also making the Government accountable and aware of the malpractices taking place right under their nose that they might not be aware of. As Supreme Court Justice KM Joseph, who was part of the Bench hearing the Rafale deal case in April 2019, noted, the Indian Press has greatly contributed to strengthening of democracy and “it will have a pivotal role to play for the continued existence of a vibrant democracy in the country.” He also reminded the Press of the public duty it has in disseminating truthful information as its freedom continues to be protected under the Constitution. The Government must take exposés and sting operations in the right spirit and clamp down on corrupt officials, not journalists. As it is the World Press Freedom Index 2019 downgraded India two places and ranked it 140th out of 180 countries. The index listed reprisals by corrupt politicians and criminal groups exposed by reporters as some of the occupational dangers.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer