Bhadas ब्लाग में पुराना कहा-सुना-लिखा कुछ खोजें.......................


Was Keeping Space Blank by The Telegraph Justified?

We are inviting the opinion/ suggestion of all journalists on an issue related to the profession of journalism so that the matter can be sent for the consideration of the Press Council of India to decide the limit of the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in the Constitution of India although the Council should have taken up this issue suo muto. The background of this letter is that on 18th May, the Telegraph, an important newspaper from Calcutta, kept a few columns space blank on the top of the first page saying that it will be filled up when the Prime Minister speaks anything in the Press Conference.
As we all know that in the evening of 17th May a press conference was called by the BJP in which the Prime Minister was also present. The BJP President addressed the media persons for 23 minutes and thereafter he requested the Prime Minister to say something to the media persons, who further spoke for another 12 minutes but did not reply to any questions asked by the media persons. When some newspersons shot some questions to the Prime Minister, he passed it on to the BJP President Amit Shah saying that he was a disciplined soldier of the party therefore, all party related questions would be replied by the Party President only. Next day some newspapers and, in fact, on the same evening some channels criticized Prime Minister Modi for not replying any questions. The BJP clarified on the same evening that it was not the Press Conference of the Government, so the Prime Minister was not expected to take the questions. There can be differing opinions for and against it.

However, many media persons have expressed shock over the grossly partisan attitude of The Telegraph. They ask that what was the point in keeping the space blank? Will the newspaper keep the space blank till the Prime Minister addresses the conference? But except on one day, the newspaper has not kept the space blank from the next day.

There have been two instances in the past when news space has been kept blank. Once by the Indian Express on 26th June 1975, when the emergency was promulgated, and the censorship was imposed. This was the principled stand of the newspaper, which was taken for the sake of the freedom of the press. But here in the case of Telegraph it clearly shows that it was done in opposition to Narendra Modi rather than for the freedom of the press. It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister / Chief Minister / Minister to speak to the media but the newspaper or a TV channel cannot the liberty from the readers or viewers to keep the space blank in opposition to any person.

The second incident was that of the Qaumi Awaz, a publication of the National Herald group which kept the front-page blank on 7th December 1992, in protest to the demolition of the disputed site at Ayodhya on 6th December 1992.  The conduct of the Qaumi Awaz was most despicable and against all the canons of journalism because it was not the newspaper of a particular community. Even if it was the newspaper of any particular community it could not have withheld the news from the readers on the basis of likings and disliking of any cynic. The editor could have written an editorial on the front page stridently criticising those responsible for the demolition but the manner of its opposition was wholly unjustified.

We have not come across to any other noted instance of protest like what has been done by the Telegraph on 18th May 2019 and by the Qaumi Awaz on 7th of December 1992. If the members have come across any such instance, they can cite them in furtherance of their argument. The moot question is if such types of liberties are endorsed then what will happen to the real freedom of the press, which is to be enjoyed by every citizen of the country?

This is an important issue, which needs to be discussed and debated by all the journalists of the country. We will be happy to get your suggestions on this issue.  You can circulate it among others to elicit their opinions on it.

Thanking you,

Yours sincerely,

Parmanand Pandey

Secretary-General, IFWJ

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