Bashing the media

Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s recent rant about the media cannot be dismissed as a simple case of foot-in-the-mouth disease.

Several times in the past he has made unwise remarks and even used intemperate language. While these may have justified such a diagnosis, this time the Home Minister has gone too far. His recent threat to “crush elements in the electronic media spreading false propaganda” about the Congress cannot be laughed away as inappropriate or loose talk typical of him. His threat was not an off-the-cuff remark but made before the public. While he may have been seeking to impress his audience by projecting himself as a heavyweight politico who can crush anyone or anything – including institutions - in the country, a home minister cannot talk like a schoolyard bully or a street tough. When the media responded to his threats with stinging criticism, he retreated, going on to claim that he meant the social media and not the news channels, as if silencing the social media is permissible. It is not. Silencing the media, whether social, electronic or media is unacceptable in a democracy. What is more, Shinde boasted too about his control over intelligence agencies and how they were “working silently to place checks on them (elements in the media).” The home minister’s boast about this is deeply disturbing and reason for concern.

Shinde’s need to crush the media stems from his discomfort with what the media is saying about the Congress, its governance, Shinde’s own uninspiring performance as Home Minister, the Congress’ poor chances in upcoming general elections and so on.  Unhappy with the message, he seems anxious to shoot the messenger. That will not make his party’s many problems go away.

Shinde, of course, is not alone in unleashing anxiety-driven tirades against the media. Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, former Army chief V K Singh are among those who have levelled unsavoury and often baseless allegations against the media in recent weeks. Unease with an outspoken media exists across the political spectrum, it seems. Participating in elections alone doesn’t make parties democratic. Just as important is respect for a free media and tolerance of free speech. Shinde and others need to understand that what needs crushing is not the media but a mentality that is intolerant and undemocratic.

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