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‘Journalists Being Reduced to Just Stenographers to Power’: P Sainath

The PARI founder took to Twitter to highlight the foundations on which Indian journalism took birth 200 years ago under the aegis of the reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
‘Journalists Being Reduced to Just Stenographers to Power’: P Sainath

Image Courtesy: Deccan Herald

Sharply criticising the state of mainstream journalism in the country today, P Sainath, veteran agrarian journalist and founder of Peoples’ Archive of Rural India highlighted the 200th anniversary of Indian journalism.

On social media platform Twitter, he wrote: “This week marks the 200th anniversary of the great tradition of Indian journalism – the opposite of the petty one that has ruled our media for 30-40 years. Raja Ram Mohan Roy founded the newspaper Mirat-ul-Akhbar on April 12, 1822.”

Laying the context further, he said “He had of course launched the Bengali paper Sambad Kaumudi in November 1821, but it was not his name that appeared as publisher for a while. With Mirat ul Akhbar he explained his political and social views quite explicitly to an educated elite.”

Ram Mohan Roy (May 22, 1772 – September 27, 1833) was an Indian reformer who was one of the founders of the Brahmo Sabha in 1828, the precursor of the Brahmo Samaj, a social-religious reform movement in the Indian subcontinent. He was given the title of ‘Raja’ by Akbar II, the Mughal emperor. Roy is considered to be the "Father of the Bengal Renaissance" by many historians.

Sainath went on to add how early on Roy’s paper very vocally protested the death of a certain Pratap Narayan Das, who had died from “a whipping ordered by the Judge of what is now Comilla in Bangladesh, John Hayes.” This editorial was translated into several English language papers and succeeded in creating a public outcry, which finally led to Hayes being tried by the Supreme Court.

Soon after this, a reaction followed. Sainath mentions how “the Governor-General of the time hit back with draconian ordinances smashing freedom of expression in the press. Publications were proscribed, Indian writers, editors and journalists were subjected to severe harassment. Anything and anyone seen as anti-ruling regime was targeted.” Despite being pushed to the hilt, Roy did not bend to the powers.

“Ram Mohan responded to the ordinance and its accompanying developments by shutting down Mirat ul Akhbar. He said he would not function in such degrading conditions. But he never let up on his campaign against choking freedom of expression in the press.”

“Compare that with the spineless display of servility from corporate owners of media each time the government cracks the whip in our era. Consider how reporting of Covid mismanagement in UP vanished when government ads were pulled from the papers,” Sainath rued.

Sainath was particularly aghast at the contemporary media’s incapacity to even identify the zeitgeist of today’s India. “Ram Mohan, whether in Sangbad Kaumudi or the short-lived Mirat-ul-Akhbar, focused on the great issues of his time. The campaign against sati, for women’s rights and widow remarriage saw him attacked and vilified by the Hindu fundamentalists of his time.” On the other hand, “Let alone educate us on how they are covering them, it would be interesting to know if present-day (corporate media) editors can sum up what the great processes of our time are – (Hint: the list does not include the IPL).”

Sainath concluded his view of the state of Indian journalism today as: “There now remain only two schools in journalism: Journalism – and Stenography. The latter rules the media, reducing so many journalists to being just stenographers to power. Good journalism struggles to survive.”

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