The action of CBI to freeze the accounts of Jagathi publications and other related companies which run the Sakshi newspaper and Sakshi TV owned by Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy is being termed as an attack on the freedom of press by several journalists and journalist unions as well as by the management of Sakshi. (read M S Hussain’s blog here)
The main allegation against the owner of this media group is that money which was raised through dubious means got routed into establishing and managing this newspaper and TV channel group. The section under which CBI sought to freeze the accounts of the related companies is Sec 102 of CrPC of the IPC which deals with recovery of stolen or suspected to be stolen property under which a police officer is empowered to seize any goods/property which he may have reasonable suspicion of being either illegal or acquired through dubious means. Which is what the charge against Jagan is about.
So, can this action of CBI be construed as an attack on the freedom of the press?
To answer this question, one has to look at the role Sakshi has been playing in shaping the political career of Jagan. At a time when Jagan is posing a serious challenge to the political hegemony of the two main political parties in Andhra Pradesh – the Congress and the TDP, at a time when bypolls to 18 assembly and one Lok Sabha seats are just days away – the move by the CBI has the potential to cripple (if not completly shut down) the operations of the Sakshi media, on which Mr Jagan is so heavily dependent to propagate and further his political cause. Hence it does smack of a political motive from the so-called independent investigation agency. In fact, the angst of Jagan and his supporters seem to stem more from this angle than the actual act of freezing the accounts of this media group.To that extent, one has to question the action of the CBI and it does not bear good tidings in future for the freedom of press or free speech in general as guaranteed under our Constitution. (read Y S Jaganmohan Reddy’s blog here)
But a more disturbing angle in the whole saga is the seemingly obvious link between the investments made into this company or media group by people of dubious origin or vested interests. And one has also to take note of the fact that this media group has blatantly been propagating Jagan’s political cause. Which makes all democratic thinking individuals wonder whether this is a done thing.
It is everybody’s right to defend oneself and to present an alternative opinion. But here you have whole vehicles of mass communication like a newspaper and a TV channel working 24×7 to further the political cause of a single individual. Does this fall under the freedom guaranteed under the Constitution? Every person who has the capacity to spend unlimited amounts of money to mould public opinion through establishing a newspaper and a TV channel (never mind how and where the money is coming from) will then end up doing that and that will indeed be a mockery of democracy.
So what is the solution? The answer lies in more transparency with respect to the operations of the media. It is time for all media houses to declare their sources of income/investment, their balance sheets on an annual basis, come under the RTI act, open themselves up to more public scrutiny, have a neutral body like the Press Council of India vouch/certify the integrity of the funds/individuals who wish to become promoters of companies running media houses.
It is time now to clean up their act. Otherwise, actions like that of the CBI will generate no sympathy for the media houses. This can be a precedent for attacking the media in future and the division in democratic voices will only embolden the State in carrying out more such attacks. Therein lies the real danger, therein lies the real threat to the freedom of the press.
Also read : Tenali Rama `interviews’ Chandrababu Naidu : `From the beginning, I am very clear, says Naidu’