This Article is From Jun 10, 2017

Arun Shourie's Speech On Media Freedom At Press Club Of India: Full Transcript

Arun Shourie said the CBI raids on NDTV were an attempt to intimidate India's free press

New Delhi:

Top journalists and editors gathered at the Press Club of India in Delhi on Friday to condemn the raids on NDTV. Veteran journalist and former union minister Arun Shourie said the raids were an attempt to intimidate India's free press. "Anyone who has tried to raise their hand against the press has had their hand burnt," he said.

Following is the full transcript of what Mr Shourie said:

My dear friends, I want to first begin by expressing my deep gratitude to Narendra Modi. He has brought so many friends together. And as a return favour, I want to read him a couplet, which Kuldip Nayar will tell us who it is by:

Tujhse se pahle vo jo ik shakhs yahan takht-nashin tha
Us ko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yaqin tha

(He who occupied this throne before you
He too believed himself to be God as much as you)

And as that is from a Pakistani poet (Habib Jalib) I must protect myself by reading from the Granth Sahib: Ram gayo, Ravan gayo, jake Bhau Parivaar...Ye bhii jaayenge. (Ram is gone, so is Ravan, and these people too will go.)

So we must have that confidence. As there is no fact that needs to be added, no point in law that needs to be added after the person who has been the shield of freedom in India, Mr Fali Nariman, has given us such a good exposition.

I will address the question which (journalist) Nihal Singh sahib proposed. The question is: What should we do? And as Mr Kuldip Nayar said, it is not necessary to answer this question, at the time of the Emergency, but the fact of the matter is every generation is taught the lesson of freedom.

So this time, once again that lesson has begun. The first thing we must do is to recognise that a new phase has begun. Because thus far the government was using two instruments. One was to stuff the mouth of the media with the bribe of advertisements. There is a Zulu proverb that a dog with a bone in its mouth can't bark. So, they were converting the media into a dog with the advertisements in its mouth that cannot bark at them.

And the second point was, they were controlling and managing the media by the subterranean spreading of fear: Yaar, tum jaante nahi ho, Modi sab sun rahaa hai, uske paas saari team hai, ye hai, woh hai... Amit Shah CBI ko control kartaa hai, kal tumhaare par ye hogaa...Arre yaar, ye ho gayaa hai, phir bhi aadmi zindaa hai (points towards Prannoy Roy). Phir bhi channel chal rahi hai. (You know, Modi is listening to everything. He has this big team, he has this, he has that...Amit Shah controls the CBI, tomorrow they will do this to you... But, this has happened (the CBI raids) and the man (Prannoy Roy) is still alive. The channel is still going strong.)

You must see that now they have got what they could from those two instruments. So now they are using the third instrument, which is overt pressure. And they have made NDTV an example of that. And this will intensify in the coming months, I believe this will intensify. One because of the nature of the regime, the nature of the regime - its genes are totalitarian. What does totalitarian mean? Total domination in the entire geography of India, in every sphere of life - in all fora, they must dominate. So, they are extending it step by step, if you look at the pattern. The second is, that the gap between what they claim in their advertisements and speeches, and what the people are feeling on the ground in their lives - whether you're a farmer or a person who is losing his job, that is so wide already but that will become wider in the next two years as investments doesn't revive and other things happen. For that reason, they will then take to not just managing but suppressing the voices of dissent. So that's the first thing to realise.

The second is that we must proceed with full faith as that Nariman reminded us, as Kuldip has demonstrated with his own life, throughout his life, that anybody in India who has raised his hand against the press, against the media, has had their hand burnt and has had to withdraw it.

Jagannath Mishra's press bill, Rajiv Gandhi's bill, Mrs Gandhi taking over The Indian Express - removing Ramnathji (Ramnath Goenka, the late proprietor of the newspaper) and putting a pseudo board there. Everybody who raised their hand against the media, had their hand burnt and had to withdraw.

Dua (HK Dua) was just reminding us that at the time of the defamation bill, we had a meeting here, but I tell you, you and I both know, we did not have these many persons at that time as we have today. 

The second point I would like to make: the facts are clear. Nariman has put them out. NDTV has put them out. The CBI is not able to answer those facts. Actually there is a story on The Wire today, I think. What has happened to the complaints that were filed by not just private individuals but by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence against two of the biggest houses for defrauding the country of Rs 30,000 crore and causing a loss to the exchequer and how the CBI has not acted on that. So, the facts are irrefutable. But I want to suggest something else: this is not the time to sit in judgement on each other. I say this from the experience of my personal life. When you have to serve, your service must be absolutely non-judgemental because the mind suggests so many reasons as to why I need not help him - Arre yaar, woh cigarette saarii umr piitaa thaa, ab usko cancer honaa hii hai, now let him suffer. (He used to smoke cigarettes all his life, no surprise that he got cancer, so let him suffer.) No, that is not the time to sit in judgement. You must totally support and help in assistance and service of your friend. Because they will try to divide the press by insinuating such things and they will use you, they will use the existing media to defame the rest of the media. So, please do not become instruments in that.

Second thing is: stand by each other. Because I can assure you that nothing demoralises persons as much as the fact that their peers have not stood by them. I have seen this in civil service among civil servants when in the last regime, three CBI inquiries were instituted against decisions that were taken under me by the civil servants. I had told the CBI, I wrote to them that they (the civil servants) are not responsible for anything, because I am the one who took those decisions. But the fact that the rest of the civil servants did not stand by those civil servants really demoralised them. So we must stand by each other in this.

Fali Nariman quoted the very famous lines of a Lutheran pastor in Germany who opposed what Hitler called the coordination of churches. But there is an even older one - 2,000-year-old - by Hillel which says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I don't fight for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now - when?"

And I tell you, it is my grievance against my colleagues in the press that we have not been vigilant in this.

Last year, by accident, I happened to be called to Jaipur for a journalists' meet and there I found out the harassment and the financial loss which had been inflicted on the Rajasthan Patrika. Being an average reader of New Delhi or Delhi newspapers, I did not know of that at all. So we must be on the lookout for any attempt, not just on a very prominent person like Prannoy but any attempt anywhere in the country because that is how fear is spread in those regions...

And the reason for that is the governments watch reactions - you can be absolutely certain that the fact that so many journalists have gathered here is being watched by the government. And I can tell you they are very sensitive even to the social media. Ek puurii team hai unki jo dekhtii hai kii Twitter pe kyaa chal rahaa hai, Facebook per kyaa chal rahaa hai. To jab woh dekhenge ke itne log ikatthaa hue hain, Ravish Kumar jaise nidar log ikathaa hue hain to woh jaanenge unhone ek galat step liyaa hai. (They have a full team that keeps a tab on what is happening on Twitter and Facebook, so when they see how many people have gathered here, how many fearless people like Ravish Kumar have gathered here, they will realise that they have taken a wrong step) and they have to find a way to retreat it.

But there is a way in which we help governments. The easiest cop out for journalists is to tell, what they call, both sides of the story. Prannoy Roy ke paas jaa kar puuchh lo, ke, "Sir what are the facts?" Phir CBI ke paas puuchh lo, "Sir, what are the facts?" (First go to Prannoy Roy and ask him, "Sir, what are the facts?" Then go to the CBI and and ask, "Sir, what are the facts?") 

This business of neutrality, perfect neutrality between the man who sets fire and the fire-fighter - this is the way the governments will use you, so you must resist it.

Sir, therefore, go beyond this and watch out for each which is taken to stop the free flow of free information. It is a very sad thing that we have not reacted as a community to the way the RTI (Right to Information) is being choked. Raj Kamal Jha of The Indian Express was telling me - they are doing excellent work; (turns to Kuldip Nayar and S Nihal Singh), Kuldipji and Nihalji, both of them have been editors there. They are doing excellent work on using the RTI to excavate information from the government. But Raj was saying that almost every request is turned down in the first round. It is only at the appeal stage which, which you have to persist for many months that something distorted or partial information. But we in the press are not broadcasting these facts. And yet that is one of the most precious rights that we have. So I will urge that any encroachment on the freedom of the flow of information, not just on freedom of speech. As Fali will remind us, Justice Bhagwati has said, "I can speak only if I have information." So, the freedom to acquire information, receive information, flows from the freedom of speech.

Then, I feel the government is using social media to spread lies and abuse against everyone it does not like. So some of you should counter that and be as active on social media because Modi has a whole team in the Prime Minister's Office headed by a guy called Hiren Joshi, who many of you would have encountered and whose only job is to watch social media and keep the Prime Minister informed. So he is sensitive to that; that is his weakness. And especially what is happening in foreign media, so inform the foreign media of everything that is happening here.

Secondly use social media to inform the government that we are also watching what you are watching. One important point I want to make here - I have seen in the last three-four years many journalists have succumbed to this and that is never delude yourself into believing that a little concession will buy you peace.

Many of you think that if you give prominence to the articles of some of these ministers or if you give them airtime, they will help you in a crisis. Mera dost hai Venkaiah Naidu, hamare apne paper Indian Express main, us ke three-quarters of a page, Kuldeep ji ne mujhe toh nahi diye itne space. Woh Venkaiah Naidu ka article hai, Venkaiah Naidu ko teesri class ki jo choti notebook hoti hai woh deejyay, ask him to fill one page coherently on any random issue...Magar aap us ke article chapay ja rahe ho when you know he cannot write. (My friend Venkaiah Naidu, he gets three-fourths of a page in our own newspaper, The Indian Express, to write an article. The same Venkaiah Naidu who if you ask to fill one page of a small notebook with something publish his article when you know he cannot write.) Because you think that by giving him that space, by giving that much airtime to these fellows, you are buying peace. No, in fact, when the assault comes on you, none of them will help. Ek toh baat yeh hai ki yahan koi minister to hai nahin, sarkar dhai aadmiyon ki sarkar hai, toh ye bechare to bandhua mazdoor hain. Toh woh help aapko us tarah nahin kar sakte. (The thing is there is no minister today, this is the government of two and a half men. These people - ministers - are bonded labourers. They cannot help you.)

But in fact, what they will be doing is that if someone among them is a friend of Prannoy Roy, he will be fearing that Modi will think 'I am a friend of Prannoy Roy', toh iss se dur raho (so I better stay away from him). So don't think you can make peace by buying some small concessions. Instead of buying peace with concessions, I would urge non-cooperation, boycott. 

Dua sahib reminded us about the defamation bill. One of the most effective instruments we used at that time was by telephoning editors all over the country. We said please do one thing: "If a minister of Rajiv Gandhi's government comes to your city, in the press conference first ask them, are you for or against the defamation bill. If he does not answer, or if he gives an ambiguous answer, or if he says 'yes' just get up and leave." Margaret Thatcher said 'publicity is the oxygen of terrorists'. It is also the oxygen of these "bandhua labour" also. Woh dikhana chaahte hain Modi ko, ki saab maine itni achhi taqrir di, meri itni coverage hui. (These "bonded labour" ministers want to show Modi the coverage they got and the arguments they gave for government policies.) So just deny them that. Just boycott their press conferences.

Never call to your meetings, never call to your functions somebody whom you would not call but for the fact that he is a minister. Just do that little bit of noncooperation and see the effect.

There is no country in the world in which official pronouncements are given as much space and prominence as in India. You should publish them in the classified advertisement page. Instead, you should republish what Alt-News, what SM Hoax-Slayers, what fact checkers - what these sites are excavating by comparing the claims of the government with the facts? Today, papers republish these tweets - of Sharad Yadav, of Narendra Modi, or so and so forth. Arre, usme kya wisdom rakhaa hai? Utne hi space me aap batlaaiye ke Alt-News ne aaj kyaa chhaapa. Us se jo truth hai, vo baahar aayegaa. (What's wisdom is there in their tweets? In that same space, you should publish what Alt-News has published today. The truth will be exposed then)

By now you know their (government's) techniques. One of their techniques is that if something inconvenient happens today, they say start another story just now....Don't become instruments for distracting your viewers and your readers. Keep their focus on the main story. That is very important that you don't do their work.

Redouble the work which is annoying the government. The best guarantee to you that you are on the right track is that the government is annoyed with what you are finding out. I think Aroon Purie has a slogan there, "news is what the government wants to hide, everything else is propaganda". You should excavate that.

In the end, please remember we have only three protections. One is our own solidarity. Second is the court. Therefore, give great prominence to every step the government takes to undermine the judiciary. It is very necessary. And the third is the protection of our own readers and our viewers. Therefore, even as I was saying, use Twitter and Facebook, but that is to inform the government. But do not become Twitter handles yourself. You must go into the depth of facts of those issues that are life and death issues for the reader, so that when the hand is raised against you, the reader feels that the hand has been raised against him or her.

And finally I believe that not a year will not pass now when it will become even more impossible to acquire and disseminate information through normal mainstream channels or media. Therefore it is very important that all of us turn to the youngsters who have mastery of hacking, of bypassing government censors, of using internet creatively to acquire information and disseminate information. If the Chinese can bypass the Chinese state, then certainly we should be able to do it. Please make your contacts now and set up such groups of Indians here or Indians abroad to bypass the censorship of the government. If finally, they are able to control everything, don't despair. Because, as I said earlier, firstly, everything passes. The other fact is that when they control the media completely, then the people will see the great distance between what they are being made to swallow through the media and what is happening in their own lives. And this government, which worships cows, will be left holding dead cows.

Thank you very much, all the best to you in your fight. Thank you.