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World sees press freedom in India under strife as sub-editor denied leave in newspaper

New Delhi: Close on the heels of many recent unsavoury incidents that were seen to imperil press freedom in this country, a sub-editor of a well-known newspaper has been denied leave that he had applied for earlier. This is also viewed as yet another incident in the series of increasing frontal assaults on the independence of media professionals in India, so much so it has compelled the venerable Washington Post to come up with a stinging editorial titled inevitably, “India’s Press Under Siege — Part 2”.

The sub-editor, working for a newspaper whose owner regularly fuels at a Reliance petrol outlet, has not been granted leave and his application for the same has been declined saying that he was still in his probation and as such granting leave for 10 days, which he had sought, was against the corporate policy of the company.

The sub-editor was part of the ‘desk’ handling the business page, on which, it should be pointed out here, news of many corporates including Reliance are featured.

Terming the incident as ‘unfortunate’, a source close to the sub-editor said that he was now left with no other option but to either call in sick due to ‘unexpected loose motion’ or kill his non-existent granddad on the morning of the day he wanted leave, which of course, Modi government or Nehru government, continues to be the most trusted method to avail leave in most organisations.

Meanwhile, reacting to the developments in the industry, Rajdeep Sardesai tweeted, “learnt that even leave applications are decided by corporate policies in a newspaper. Acche din aa gayi? Shub Rathri”.

Columnist Rupa Subramanya, writing in her blog, pointed out that the sub-editor’s leave application was filed as on May 1, 2014, when the UPA was in power. “This will disprove whatever Neha Dixit may plan to write on the said incident,” Rupa said cryptically.

Another journalist Kanchan Gupta tweeted, seemingly apropos of nothing: “Huh! Who brought the anti-defamation bill in 1988?”

This also led to flurry of fevered exchanges on twitter between senior journalists having opposing ideologies, leading to even more impassioned verbal volleys exchanged between the foot soldiers of right wing and its opposite camp. The journalists, amidst ‘lol’s and ‘hahaha’s, as usual eventually agreed to disagree over rounds of beer whenever they get to meet, in London or in some suitably posh club in India, but the foot soldiers, who have no London or club to go to, are still fighting among themselves.

Even as Indian media persons went into expected delirium over the developments, Washington Post in its editorial recalled the famed words of L K Advani, “one of the founding members of the Right Wing and ultra-national Bharatiya Janata Party” during the Emergency period when much of the Press caved in under State-imposed censorship. “You were merely asked to take leave, but you chose to quit the business totally”.

The Editorial went on to say: “Control of media people seems to be back with a vengeance in India, this time imposed not by direct government fiat but by powerful corporate owners who control the government, too”.

“Only recently, heavyweight journalist couple Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose had to quit their respective top editorial positions in Network 18 (the company that runs the CNN-IBN news channel), and this had to be a major attack on the independence of media, because it is well established that a husband and wife team at the helm in the same organisation make for thorough professionals”.

“Last year, another Editor Siddharth Varadarajan was forced to give up his post when the owners of The Hindu after ganging up against each other, eventually ganged up against him and took back control of the paper. The ouster of Siddharth was indeed a major blow to independent journalism. For, Siddharth was the ‘best professional editor in India’, described by no less a person than Tunku, who took a bold stand against family equations getting in the way of professional journalism. Tunku had spoken in his capacity as the world’s best known brother of Siddharth.”

(Disclaimer: When a newspaper owner’s — the guy who funds the paper and pays the employees their salaries — views gets reflected in the publication, it is interference. When an editor’s — the guy who is just a salaried employee — personal ideology or whims find their way into the paper, it is editorial policy. And it is so sacrosanct that the State and the Constitution should protect it at all times)

(Disclaimer: Actually, there is no need to worry about divergent views being drowned out in Indian media. Fear not, there is Arnab Goswami. He has multiplicity of views, most often in the course of a single sentence itself)