Concept of investigative journalism vanishing from India: Chief Justice of India

Newspapers earlier used to expose scandals leading to serious consequences but everything in the garden seems rosy nowadays, claims CJI NV Ramana.

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Jitesh Surjiani | 16 Dec '21

Chief Justice of India NV Ramana fired another shot in the arm for the Indian media who has of late become subservient to the ruling political establishment. Speaking at the launch of the book "Blood Sanders: The Great Forest Heist" authored by senior journalist Sudhakar Reddy Udumula on Wednesday, he said that the concept of investigative journalism is "unfortunately" vanishing from the media canvas, "at least in the Indian context".

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, the CJI, whose first job was that of a journalist asked the media to introspect and test itself against his words that "the newspapers should be read for the study of facts. They should not be allowed to kill the habit of independent thinking."

"As a person whose first job was that of a journalist, I am taking the liberty to share a few thoughts on present-day media. The concept of investigative journalism is, unfortunately, vanishing from the media canvas. It is true at least in the Indian context. When we were growing up, we eagerly looked forward to newspapers exposing big scandals. The newspapers never disappointed us. In the past, we have witnessed newspaper reports on scandals and misconduct creating waves leading to serious consequences. Barring one or two, I don't recall any story of such magnitude in recent years. Everything in our garden appears to be rosy," he said.

Speaking about the subject of Red Sanders, known for preventing forest fires from spreading in the vulnerable forests of Seshachalam hills, covered in the book, he said that it is facing the threat of extinction and like all good things in this world, has fallen prey to the greed of man.

"The AP Forest Act' was amended in 2016 to deal sternly with the smuggling of Red Sanders. However, what is lacking is the necessary will to enforce these laws. This is where the media needs to play its role. The collective failures of individuals and institutions entrusted with the role of protectors need to be highlighted by the media. People need to be made aware of deficiencies in the process. This job can only be done by the media," the CJI said.

Reference Reading

The fearlessness in reporting has of late been found to be missing in Indian media who claim to be buckling under pressure by the ruling political establishment to tow their line. This is evident in India’s falling scores on the Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of countries that reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations, and netizens have in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect this freedom. India's performance on the Press Freedom Index has been on a steady decline year on year for the most part of this decade, dropping from a freedom level of 71% in 2010 to 53% in 2021. With a world rank of 142, India counts itself within the bottom 20% of the 180 countries with the least press freedom.

   Also read: Press Freedom Index and expert analysis

As quoted in the Press Freedom Report in 2021, "Instead of drafting new repressive laws in order to impose censorship, several of the region’s countries have contented themselves with strictly applying existing legislation that was already very draconian – laws on “sedition,” “state secrets” and “national security”. There is no shortage of pretexts. The strategy for suppressing information is often two-fold. On the one hand, governments use innovative practices often derived from marketing to impose their own narrative within the mainstream media, whose publishers are from the same elite as the politicians. On the other, politicians and activists wage a merciless war on several fronts against reporters and media outlets that don’t toe the official line. The way India applies these methods is particularly instructive. While the pro-government media pump out a form of propaganda, journalists who dare to criticize the government are branded as “anti-state,” “anti-national” or even “pro-terrorist” by supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This exposes them to public condemnation in the form of extremely violent social media hate campaigns that include calls for them to be killed, especially if they are women. When out reporting in the field, they are physically attacked by BJP activists, often with the complicity of the police. And finally, they are also subjected to criminal prosecutions."


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Jitesh Surjiani

Jitesh Surjiani

Jitesh Surjiani is passionate about progressive change for India and its citizens. He writes about issues that are roadblocks in improving quality of life and interpersonal interactions as well as areas of public governance that fall short in intent and action.

Concept of investigative journalism vanishing from India: Chief Justice of India Concept of investigative journalism vanishing from India: Chief Justice of India
Concept of investigative journalism vanishing from India: Chief Justice of India
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