Free Speech Under Attack? Punya Prasoon Bajpai sacked.

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Activists, journalists, lawyers and academics are concerned that Freedom Of Speech is fading away from our country with every passing year. This is because the Current government made sure that nothing is important but their own opinion and people who share it. If anyone says otherwise, they are shut down or banned from posting opinions anywhere possible. The power of free speech is allowed only when we agree with what they say or believe in. In short, the government is working hard at silencing the voices that disagree. Unfortunately, the nation once again became witness to this undemocratic rule with Punya Prasun Bajpai joining the list of renowned media personalities of India resigning on the pretext of facing intimidation for running stories critical of Prime minister Narendra Modi and his administration. He offered his resignation to ABP News within a few months joining it and it seems unlikely that he will take back his resignation.

Punya Prasun Bajpai is a known face in Indian media. He began his Journalism career with Lokmat Samachar in Nagpur almost 2 decades ago. He was a news anchor and Executive editor at Aaj Tak and primarily used to host weekday show 10 तक. He had recently joined ABP News and used to host the show Masterstroke. What is more bizarre here that whenever his show was to be aired, the channel would be blacked out for that period. Many viewers had claimed that they were facing difficulties in watching the programme alleging a deliberate intervention by the government. Hence, it is no secret that his opinions did angered the government.

Journalist Rohini Singh tweeted, “The media in India is facing it’s BIGGEST existential crisis today. This will be one of the most shameful chapters in the history of Indian journalism.” Journalist Akash Banerjee tweeted sarcastically, “So @milindkhandekar finally quits…This is what you call a #Masterstroke by the powers that lord over India…” Delhi government’s media advisor, Arunoday Prakash wrote, “got the prize of not putting the show Masterstroke off air or what? Are you so scared of a 30-minute show Modiji? Not done. We are living in a democracy sir.”

Bajpai’s reported resignation follows the stunning resignation by ABP’s editorial head and managing editor, Milind Khandekar, who announced his departure from the channel on Wednesday night. His short tweet had read, “14 years & 8 days later it’s time to move on. Today was my last day as Managing Editor @abpnewstv . Thank you for being part of my journey so far.” His resignation sparked off reactions on social media as the government’s critics blamed the decision to the channel’s recent coverage that had angered the Centre’s Narendra Modi government. Not too long ago, Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyawardhgan Singh Rathore had reacted angrily to the channel’s coverage on Chhattisgarh suggesting that the PM’s interaction with local women was choreographed.

Abhisar Sharma, another popular journalist with ABP has also been asked to go on ‘long leave’. Sharma has been one of the fiercest critics of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has been highlighting the shortcomings of the Modi government through his reportage and video blogs. Moreover, at least three senior editors have either left their jobs or have been asked not to report to work at various influential media outlets in past months as they faced threats with physical harm and abuse by Modi’s administration. Sagarika Ghose, a columnist and wife of news anchor and consulting editor at the India Today group Rajdeep Sardesai also said she is viciously trolled for any criticism of the administration. Ravish Kumar, is another face of the Indian media that does not need any introduction. He, too admitted for constantly harassed and threatened by pro-government activists. Bobby Ghosh, the editor of the Hindustan Times also quit last September shortly after Modi met the owner of the newspaper. It is believed that Modi was unhappy with Ghosh’s editorial policies.

Meanwhile, in the Annual World Press Freedom Index released on Wednesday, India is now 138th-ranked in the world out of 180 countries measured. Earlier, India was 136th in the same index two years back and ranked 80th out of 139 countries surveyed when the index started in 2002. It now stand lower than countries like Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Myanmar. Reporters Without Borders keep track of instances of Indian Journalists being killed because of they expressed on their show or what they wrote about the government. “At least three of the journalists murdered in 2017 were targeted in connection with their work”, it said.” The brutal murder of Gauri Lankesh itself speaks the truth. Of course, there are journalists like Swapan Dasgupta (member of Parliament and a political columnist who supports Modi) and G.V.L.Narasimha Rao (spokesperson for BJP) who by all means defy the allegations of media intimidation by the BJP government. However, we all know the truth that the Modi-led BJP do pressurises, manipulates, misguide and shun all those voices, which seeks to be independent of the government. All of this will end badly for a developing nation like ours if we don’t act now to protect our Freedom Of Speech. A place where we are compelled to comply with establishment will not last long!