Reporting with Borders

That critical media reports are not just unwelcome but could imperil the journalist or media house is deeply disturbing

By Author Geetartha Pathak   |   Published: 2nd May 2018   12:08 am Updated: 1st May 2018   9:02 pm

Presstitute means journalist or media agency who gives biased and predetermined views in favour of the government and corporations, thus neglecting their fundamental duty of reporting news impartially. It is a portmanteau of press and prostitute,” stated the Wikipedia.

Some say that the term ‘presstitute’ was originally coined by Gerald Celente, an American trend forecaster and publisher of the Trends Journal. As early as 1955, former US President Harry S Truman called journalists who coverd White House in a biased manner ‘prostitute of mind’. He called such journalists ‘prostitutes of the mind’ in a letter to then US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson on December 29, 1955.

Dipping Media Freedom

In India, the term was reportedly first used by Union Minister General VK Singh in April 2015 after a slander campaign against him in the Indian media. Since then, the word has been repeatedly used in India by the government and far-rightist forces against those journalists who write critical reports against the government and their corporate supporters.

There is also a Facebook page ‘Prestitute’, which has been created to censure those media and journalists who raise critical voices against the government and other Hindu nationalist outfits.

Reporters without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), which promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press, in its World Freedom of Press Index report published on April 25, 2018, says the following on the Indian situation: “Hate speech is also an issue in the continent’s other giant, India, which has fallen another two places to 138th. Ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, Hindu fundamentalists have been referring to journalists in extremely violent terms.” Little wonder, India’s ranking has fallen by two places to 138th position in a ranking of 180 countries.

The RSF also points out that in Slovakia, former Prime Minister Robert Fico described journalists as filthy, anti-Slovak prostitutes accusing them of trying to damage Slovakia’s European Union (EU) presidency when questioned about alleged procurement irregularities linked to the presidency.

An investigative reporter, Jan Kuciak, who exposed the link of the ruling party Smer-SD with Italian mafia and embezzlement of EU funds, was murdered in February this year. This triggered huge street protests forcing Fico to resign from the post of Prime Minister. Slovakia ranked 27th in the press freedom index this year, lower by 10 points since 2017.

Press FreedomAttacking With Untruth

“Any investigative reporting that annoys the ruling party or any criticism of Hindutva elicits a torrent of online insults and calls for the death of the reporter or writer responsible, most of it coming from the prime minister’s troll army,” observed the RSF report.

A fake quote from a parody account ascribed to journalist Rana Ayyub, author of ‘Gujarat Files – Anatomy of a Cover Up’, recently went viral on the social media. “Minor child rapists are also human, do they have no human rights. This Hindutva Government is bringing ordinance for death for child rapists just to hang Muslims in larger numbers. Muslims aren’t safe in India anymore”. This quote was ascribed to Ayyub and a tweet with this quote was posted by an account @republictv.

The account user later deleted the tweet and also the account. Her face was morphed in videos and content calling for her to be defiled “if she didn’t stop talking against Hindus and Modi,” and these were widely circulated. Even her address and phone number were made public, making her vulnerable to virtual and physical attacks.

Only As We Like

Swathi Vadlamudi, a journalist and cartoonist received online threats over a cartoon that depicts a conversation between Lord Ram and his wife Sita. In the cartoon, Sita tells Ram she is ‘glad’ she was kidnapped by demon king Ravan and not her husband’s followers. After the cartoon was published, she received numerous threats online, with many calling for her arrest. Some even threatened to kill her.

Media bashing has now become a routine exercise for authoritarian regimes across the word. US President Donald Trump, who was assumed to be a manufacturer of fake news during his electoral campaign in the 2016 presidential elections, is now widely using the term alleging that the reports of the US mainstream media criticising him are fake news.

“When foreign leaders see the US president denounce the media on a regular basis, it gives them free rein to do the same,” says one of the RSF spokespersons. Trump has declared the press an ‘enemy of the American people’ in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists and has attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets.

Dangerous Situation

He has even called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licences. The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government is coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists now run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask questions from public officials. It is unfortunate that like India, the US — the country of the First Amendment — has now dropped two places to rank 45th.

Despotic regimes, far-rightists, mafia and other anti-social elements generally target those media and mediapersons that publish critical reports on them. When all of these elements converge under a brute power, media rights and freedom of speech face virulent attacks from all sides. Recent Indian experiences allude to such a prevailing dangerous media situation in the country.

(The author is a senior journalist from Assam)