This week’s Reporters Without Orders features host Cherry Agarwal with Newslaundry's head of research Ayush Tiwari and desk writer Gaurav Sarkar. The panel talks about the impact Sandeep Bamzai’s tutelage has had on IANS, a petition presented to the Supreme Court seeking permission for Muslim women to offer namaaz in mosques and Maneka Gandhi’s comments on the un-secret nature of secret ballots.
Ayush kickstarts the discussion with his own article about how a news agency, IANS, that has off late become "a part of the larger trend of media layoffs" as it suffocates under the corporate ownership of Mr Anil Ambani. He reveals examples of reporters at IANS and establishes a growing pattern alongside other media organizations such as Vice and Buzzfeed. The panel goes on to discuss the intricacies of corporate ownership and the direct influence they exercise on editorial management. Ayush also talks about a Swarajya Magazine report about how the family of a minor Dalit girl who was kidnapped by a man that happened to be Muslim were denied the right to file an FIR by the police since they did not want it to flare up into a ‘Hindu-Muslim’ issue. The panel then went into discussing the implications of ‘pseudo-secularism’ that dominates the Indian narrative today.
Gaurav discusses an archaic ritual that Shashi Tharoor made a mockery of himself participating in. The ritual, called ‘Tulabharam’, is one where a person’s “BMI is weighed in phool, phal and gold” and Tharoor fell off the scales having to endure 11 stitches afterwards. The panel delved into the problems associated with the endorsement by politicians of religious traditions such as these and the implications that such engagement had on the sentiments of the voting public. He also brought up a recent plea put before the Supreme Court by a Pune-based couple that sought permission to let women offer prayers in mosques. The discussion questioned the fast-paced nature of the proceedings as well nuances of religion such as the “contest between personal liberty and religion” and the stronghold of the religious orthodoxy.
Cherry drives the conversation towards the larger question of the responsibility of the media. She references a specific tweet by Times Now that says, “A political leader has said something communal, listen in” and questions the ethicality of cashing in on hate in the name of journalism. While Ayush agrees that its ‘clickbait’ tone was questionable, it is not the place of the media to dictate whether something, communal or otherwise, should be censored or not. The media should contextualize information, is what the panel agrees on, irrespective of that content that is. Cherry goes on to talk about Maneka Gandhi’s comment on not helping Muslim voters if they didn’t vote for her and lays down the reality of contemporary times wherein the concept of secret ballots is conceptually dead. With the Election Commission now providing politicians with a constituency-wise break up of votes via Form 20, the panel dived deep into the vulnerability of voters today.
The panel also brings up the ineffectiveness of the EC and the Supreme Courts backhand comments on its exercise of powers, the trend of the Supreme Court gaining an “inordinate amount of power”, as well as the oft-ignored details of Islam in terms of its various schools of law.
This and more, so listen up!