Editor-in-Chief of Bihar

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Editor-in-Chief of Bihar

Post by Rashmun on Tue Aug 01, 2017 2:34 am

“This is undeclared censorship,” says Dr Raihan Ghani, a veteran Urdu journalist of Patna. “I joined this profession in 1978, but I have never seen this kind of censorship before.” Dr Ghani is himself a victim of this censorship. As Chief Editor of a local Urdu daily, Pindar, he had been writing a front-page column, ‘Doh Tuk’, since March 2004. But in May 2007, one of his pieces enraged Nitish Kumar, and the paper’s proprietor had his column dropped, him demoted to Managing Editor, and his name removed from the print line.

“In that column,” Ghani says, “I had written against the misuse of religion for winning government favours. I had criticised a local Muslim religious leader, Syed Shah Shamimuddin Ahmed Monami of Khanqah Monamia, for reciting the Fatiha (opening words of The Quran) at the funeral of Manju Singh, the wife of Nitish Kumar. There is nothing wrong in a Muslim cleric reciting the Fatiha at the funeral of a Hindu. The only problem was that all other Muslim religious leaders had boycotted the funeral, as Nitish Kumar had turned it into a political event. I questioned Monami sahib because instead of demurring like other clerics, he chose to participate in such a politicised event of the JD-U and BJP, and that too, for obtaining some favour of the government.”

The response to that column spelt trouble for Dr Ghani. “The very next day,” he recounts, “I was called by the proprietor of my paper. He told me that the government was quite unhappy with me and that the state Minority Commission Chairman Naushad Ahmed wanted me ejected from my post. Soon, I was sidelined, my designation was changed from chief editor to managing editor, my name was replaced by that of the proprietor in the printline, and my column was stopped.”

Frustrated, in February this year, Dr Ghani resigned. “If you are not ready to crawl, you won’t be able to get a job in [Bihar’s] Urdu press these days,” says he, now jobless, “The Urdu press has never been a good place to work, but under Nitish Kumar’s regime, it has become worse, and things are no better in the state’s Hindi press. I remember the Emergency, when there was declared censorship. Under Nitish, it is undeclared, and this makes it even more dangerous for democracy. The truth is being suppressed like never before, and the entire media is being pressured to build and burnish Nitish Kumar’s image.” Proprie- tor AK Ehsani has a different spin on the story. He says, “I had already decided to make him Managing Editor; it had nothing to do with the column.”

Why did the owner of Pindar act against Dr Ghani at the government’s behest? The answer is clear from information gathered via a series of RTI applications filed by Patna-based activists, Purandar Sawarnya and Shiv Prasad Rai. What emerges is an ugly game being played by Nitish Kumar in the distribution of government advertisements—being wielded as a tool of control.

According to the RTI responses, in 2006-07, Pindar got advertisements worth just about Rs 1 lakh from the state government. In 2007-08, after Dr Ghani was gagged at the start of that fiscal year, the paper was rewarded generously: its revenues from government ads soared to Rs 24 lakh. Nitish Kumar’s largesse apparently rose in step with the paper’s willingness to please him. In 2008-09, it drew nearly Rs 40 lakh from such ads, and in 2009-10, about Rs 48 lakh. Asked for his comments on this rise in the paper’s fortunes, Ehsani simply says: “I don’t believe these figures.” Still, discerning readers can perhaps attest that Pindar remains in no mood to lose its gains by rubbing the CM the wrong way.

That paper’s is not an isolated case in Bihar. Such pulls and tugs have attended other dailies as well. And in a state with so few private sector ads to go round, the government remains an outsized source of earnings for the media. Operating from such a position of strength, the Nitish Kumar government seems to be using its ad budget as a way to transform newspapers into courtiers.



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