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Rectifying Washington Post bias about the Indian Media

In his controversial 2004 novel “State of Fear” the late Michael Crichton described PLM (politico-legal-media) as a complex that has taken over from the military industrial complex in the 21st century.  The author argued that in the modern world, these 3 entities are joining forces to create a new “ecology of thought” that has led to a state of fear.

Curiously enough,  Katy Daigle and Anna Matthews’s piece for Washington Post titled “Indian journalists see more threats attacks with Modi as PM” takes on a different meaning once viewed in the context of this coordinated effort of the PLM complex to attack a constitutionally elected government. We saw the P leg of this attack when American lawmakers wrote a highly insulting letter to PM Narendra Modi. The L leg is omnipresent with various US-funded NGOs constantly blocking development agenda of government by clogging our judicial system with PILs. With this article, the M leg kicks in as well.

As choice of outlet to do this hit job goes, Washington Post’s credentials are well established. Even though largely considered a centrist publication with balanced views, there have been times when it has allowed its contributors to hit below the belt. Its controversial cartoonist Ann Telnaes did that twice in recent past; once while showing Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s five and seven-year old daughters as monkeys, and once  while drawing a cartoon of Israeli PM Netanyahu punching a baby.

Washington Post published this video cartoon of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly punching a Palestinian

(Even the usual opponents of the bigoted Cruz were horrified at Ann’s attack on his daughters, the cartoons were later withdrawn by WP editor, while supporting Ann’s right to draw them). Even on the same ideological side, we recently saw WP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jonathan Capehart  questioning Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’s presence at an anti-segregation sit-in in 1962.  It turned out Sen Sanders was present there all right, but Capehart’s partner (or former partner) is a Hillary strategist. You connect the dots.

Ms. Daigle herself previously reported about the murder of rationalist Kalburgi in this piece. She built connections between the murders of Kalburgi, Dabholkar and Pansare while leaving two very important details out

  • Two out of these three men were killed in Congress ruled states. Dabholkar was killed in a Congress ruled state with Congress at center
  • While Dabholkar was critical of superstition in Hindu religion, he was also critical of Vatican’s policy of two “miracles” before conferring sainthood and had written a series of letters to Vatican about the same. A neutral journalist (say somebody like a Woodward or a Bernstein) would have at least made a mention of it

Coming to the recent article in question itself, let me open with the columnists reporting about the JNU sedition case. They breezily refer to the execution of terrorist mastermind Afjal Guru as “secret hanging”. This may be as good a point to examine the impartial credentials of the duo as any.

Flashback to May 3rd 2011. Washington post reported the targeted assassination of 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden as “Osama Bin Laden is dead, Justice has been done”. So let’s get this straight- Indian Govt hangs a terrorist after giving him a fair and vigorous defence, and every chance of clemency, and the only report worthy part is “secret” hanging; but the USA sends forces on the soil of a friendly nation without its consent and murders a man in his sleep on a single order by its President and that is Justice done? This is a classic case of elitism where Americans feel their government and president are somehow more eligible for taking such life and death decision without the world questioning them.

The authors open with the case of South Indian TV anchor Sindhu who received a lot of threats after she anchored a discussion about the Mahishasur day. They claim most of the people threatening belonged to right-wing and Hindu organization. They also leave out the fact that the day the first of the threats came, the state unit of BJP put out a statement condemning the threats and stating that the freedom of speech of press is very important. But of course when it comes to BJP, media feels either they are doing something or not doing something or not doing something enough. Interestingly, the entire article makes no mention of the extremist Islamic organizations bringing life to standstill in several parts of India over the alleged remarks of one Kamlesh Tiwari or the fact that his death was demanded by certain Muslim legislators in Indian assemblies for his alleged blasphemous remarks. Perhaps they were scared of being called Islamaphobes.

The authors then claim that Modi’s government is equating dissent with government with anti-nationalism citing Smriti Irani and Rajnath Singh’s statements as examples. In reality, all they said was that anti-nationalism will not be tolerated, and that “Bharat ke Tukde honge” (India will be broken into pieces) is an anti-national statement. On both counts majority of the country is in agreement with them. Oh, and while reporting the bullying ministers, our fearless journalists conveniently leave out the fact that The Telegraph, a prominent  East based daily, ridiculed the HRD Minister as “Aunty National” the day after her speech.
wp contd

The authors then move on to abuse of female journalists (a favorite defence of cry-bullies these days) and with hilarious inaccuracy call Barkha Dutt as India’s best recognized TV Anchor. Yeah, perhaps from all the parody accounts on twitter making fun of her book, certainly not from NDTV viewership numbers. The Hindi part of the embattled news channel has already gone free for view and if the TRP ratings are any indication, the NDTV English will soon follow suit.

I will begin this discussion by conceding that threat, even when the person making it has no intention of carrying it out, is a vile thing and that abusive people are reprehensible creatures who should be treated like outlaws irrespective of their political affiliations.

Having said that there are two aspects to the online threats that merit consideration. One, Twitter is an abusive medium and nearly everyone with a sizeable following receives abuses and threats on it almost on a daily basis. It is a sad reflection of the times we live in perhaps. American comedians like Bill Maher and Jimmy Kimmel have even built comedy segments based on this phenomenon. In Kimmel’s show, celebrities come and read out (usually with hilariously deadpan expressions) the most abusive tweets addressed to them in a segment called “mean tweets”. Does it mean no barking dog shall ever bite? Hell, no. But the majority certainly seem to lean that way.

Second and more important aspect, and one that the authors leave out dishonestly, is this- journalists on both sides of ideological debate receive threats and abuses almost on a daily basis. I sent a tweet today to Mr. Rohit Sardhana the popular senior anchor of Zee News Hindi (he was fairly critical of the seditionist students in general) about the threats he receives and he replied saying he stopped counting. Columnist and Economist Rupa Subramanya was threatened with acid attack when she expressed her doubts about the authenticity of the story about leftist activist Soni Sori being attacked with acid. Close to USA, Canadian Rebel media’s feisty Sheila Gunn Reid says she just exposes the person and moves on.

Rupa Subramanya

Am I making a case for tit for tat? Of course not. But I think you will agree with me when I say a discussion about threats to journalists is biased, if threats made to both sides are not presented.  Also this discussion will remain incomplete without taking a look at these ladies own online behaviour. Since WP conveniently stays away from this, allow me to complete the job for them.

While it is true that Swati Chaturvedi received many abusive and threatening tweets from a particular handle and she filed a police complaint against it, it is also equally true that Swati herself is one of the most abusive person present on the scene today. From insinuating her two opponents have a fetish for watching gay porn to calling editors of this site “swine” and Minahz Merchant “biggest ass”, Swati has truly surpassed all the limits of taste and civilised debates under the guise of righteous indignation.

Washington Post

Barkha Dutt (the best recognized face on Indian TV ^TM) is one of the biggest bullies whether it is during her tv shows or in her social media presence. When her book’s ratings dwindled due to adverse ratings given by amazon users, Barkha lost her famous temper and went to the extent of calling amazon “useless online forum” because they were not filtering out negative reviews given to her product. In other words, Barkha wanted an e-tailer to deny its registered users their right of reviewing a product on sale. So much for free speech eh? Barkha does not tolerate any dissent on her shows either.

When noted Men’s Rights Activist Deepika Bharadwaj argued with her on a debate on the marital rape law, Barkha sent a crass message asking since Bharadwaj disagreed with her,  did she agreed to appear on her show only for publicity? Guess for this hard hitting journo, the only ones with right to dissent are the ones on her side of the argument. Interestingly, when Barkha claimed to have received threatening phone call, several people from right wing including this author sent message to the Delhi Police demanding that they track the number down. At the time of writing this article, there is no confirmation that Barkha has even handed over the phone number to the police. So the threat perception is enough to mention in the WP article but not enough to merit a real investigation?

Let me reiterate for all the cry-bullies out there- does this resume of Barkha and Swati make the threats made to them excusable? No way. But does it reframe the context from innocent journalists getting targeted by right wing thugs to obnoxious, gender baiting women getting involved in an online brawl? It absolutely does.

An interesting aside – In the course of her article, Daigle brazenly refers to RSS as “militant” organization. So let’s get this American slang straight- an organization with “service” in its name and a history of disaster relief and selfless service spanning over seven decades – Militant. An organization that threatens white people with riots if they vote for a candidate of their choice as Black Live Matter did recently- necessary tactic ,they are merely following Doctor King’s footsteps! Intricate stuff this!

We finally examine the last lie the article tries to perpetuate, namely, dissent against Modi government is not tolerated. It was Voltaire who once said to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize. Let’s examine some of the tweets mentioning our Prime Minister in this light, shall we?

A journalist named Rajyasree hoped someone would slam the nimbu-paani glass in Narendra Modi’s face while he was not looking (during his 9 day fast in summer). Sanjiv Bhatt, a disgraced IAS officer who was terminated from his services for his part in the Gujarat riots fake charges once speculated if all the women leaders of Bjp get excited at the prospect of their PM’s 56 inch underwear? Another senior journalist Ashish Nandy once said Bjp members will sell their own mothers to get votes. RSS leadership is routinely mocked as Khaki chaddi (reference to the uniform of khaki shorts). While reporting on the execution of 1993 Mumbai bomb blast accused Yakub Memon, the headline of a prominent newspaper read “and they hanged Yakub!” Off hand, I do not recall any American newspaper printing “And they sneaked in the dark of the night and murdered Osama!” I can go on but I think you get the drift.


So then is this article just another hit job by the left? I tend to think it is a bit more sinister than that. The authors give themselves away when they mention, earlier the journalists being killed were small city journalists but now even the big names are under threat ( a shocking case of all animals are equal but some are more equal than others). That is what this is all about isn’t it Messrs Daigle and Mathews?

This is not about the increased perception of threat to our media persons. It never was. It is about the one war the left is comprehensively losing out on. The war on social media where the government enjoys numerical superiority of supporters and a growing base of fact based columnist’s eager to out the lies perpetuated by our mainstream journos. The unedited nature of social media means the only way to control the discourse is by simply knocking your opponents off the platform. Playing victim is the go- to tactics of cry bullies in such cases. Such articles will serve as background when the mainstream media will eventually build its case for censorship on social media. The abusive trolls are not their problem. They too know those are barking dogs unlikely to bite. It is people who do not abuse, but calmly and methodically refute their own brand of divisive political discourse, that is the target of this hit job.

They are coming for your free speech folks, 140 characters at a time.

UPDATE (26th March 2016; written by editorial team and the author):

In response to this article, the India bureau chief for The Washington Post (WaPo), Annie Gowen clarified on Twitter that the concerned article was not written exclusively for WaPo, but was a wire story filed by the news agency Associated Press (AP), which WaPo happened to publish on their website. She essentially shifted the blame to the news agency for the opinions presented and facts claimed in the article.

However, we are not too convinced that this argument absolves WaPo of any responsibility. There were no editorial disclaimers such as “opinions are personal” beneath the article, which would suggest that WaPo was not responsible for the accuracy of the content. Also, this “journalistic tradition”, where the publications can simply keep their hands off any accountability and blame a news agency, itself needs to be looked into.

Nonetheless, If WaPo edits the article hosted on their website and appends a link to our rebuttal, thus presenting both sides of the arguments, we will also edit our article and remove WaPo from the headline (and make suitable changes in the article) and absolve them of the responsibility that they are seeking.

Till that doesn’t happen, we are left with no choice but to assume that WaPo stands by the comments made in the article, which just happens to be a wire story by AP, and thus our criticism of their journalism is valid.

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