India Today TV consulting editor Rajdeep Sardesai tries to find a cricket connection every time he opens his mouth or sets out to tweet. And so he did with Hamid Nihal Ansari, the Indian national who went to Afghanistan six years ago and spent the years since then in a Pakistani prison after being held on espionage charges. An engineer, he had gone to Kabul in 2012 for a job. He entered Pakistan ostensibly to meet a woman he had befriended using fake identification papers, and was caught by Pakistani authorities. He returned to India last week.
“What super news! Hamid Ansari, the Indian prisoner in Pak jail for straying into that country, is being released tomorrow. let not innocents be caught in Indo Pak crossfire! Next step: release all fishermen in each other’s jails! Thank you @ImranKhanPTI for listening to a mother!” Sardesai gushed on Twitter.
The truth of the matter is that Ansari was extradited to India but only after the Peshawar High Court had set a two-month deadline for Pakistani authorities to deport him to India after his advocate filed an appeal in court saying the government had yet to take any measures to release Ansari even though his jail term was ending soon. Truth out, Sardesai was trolled endlessly, the kinder ones reminding him, “Sirjee, He is being released because of the intervention of Pakistani judiciary.”
If at all anyone is to be thanked, it is the Pakistani judiciary and the advocate who raised the matter in the court. The Pakistani media also played a stellar role in helping Ansari’s family by getting their story out of India and campaigning for Ansari’s release. The spokesman of the Pakistan Foreign Office, Mohammed Fazal, had tweeted that “Ansari, an Indian spy who had illegally entered Pakistan and was involved in anti-state crimes and forging documents, is being released upon completion of his sentence and is being repatriated to India.”
But the cricket lover in Sardesai just cannot do without a good spin, sorry, yarn.
Once again, hats off to Alt News for relentlessly exposing fake news and morphed videos, whether about Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. The portal observes that of late Gandhi and the Congress party have been “increasingly targeted through disinformation after the recently concluded assembly elections, be it through old videos which are either taken out of context or clipped”. Earlier, Alt News had reported how two separate videos were clipped and juxtaposed to make it seem as if Gandhi had reneged on his promise of a farm loan waiver. This time it’s about a viral video of Gandhi purporting to show he has converted to Islam after the recent poll victories in the Hindi heartland.
In the video, Gandhi can be seen offering namaz along with senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and some members of the Muslim community. It is being claimed that this video was taken after the recent assembly elections. According to Alt News, a Facebook user, Ashish Mehta, posted this video, which has been viewed over 7,000 times and shared over 500 times. The video has been posted with the identical narrative by multiple pages like Modinama, Social Tamasha and India272+. Modinama and India272+ have more than 1.9 million followers, whereas Social Tamasha has over 100,000 followers. Taking these three pages together, the video has been viewed more than five lakh times and has been shared over 13,000 times already.
The Facebook page, The India Eye, which has been caught spreading misinformation in the past, has also posted this video, which has been viewed over 53,000 times there.
Here’s the Alt News bombshell: The link given in the comments section is of a report of December 10, 2016, by the news channel Sahara Samay, in which it has been reported, “After attending a meeting at Shivbaba in Ambedkar Nagar, UP, Rahul Gandhi reached the famous Sharif Kichocha dargah and on the tomb of Makhdoom Sahab, offered tribute” (approximate translation).
The Imphal Times, a leading English newspaper in Manipur, kept its editorial page blank two Saturdays ago. The paper took the unusual step to protest against the arrest of an Imphal journalist, Kishorechandra Wangkhem, on November 27. Others took more conventional routes to register their protests. Journalist unions across the country held silent marches and sit-ins, while the Press Council of India “sought” a report from the state government and demanded that he be released forthwith.
But, far from being released, Wangkhem—who was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA)—was last Tuesday sentenced to a 12-month prison term (the maximum allowed)—under the Act. According to a government order, Wangkhem was detained on November 27 “with a view to prevent him from acting in any matter prejudicial to the security of the state and to the maintenance of public order”. Wangkhem’s crime was, yes, you guessed it, being critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Biren Singh in a Facebook video. Though initially an Imphal court had ordered his release, saying it was “a mere expression of opinion against the public conduct of a public figure in a street language,” he was rearrested under the NSA and lodged at the Sajiwa Jail. The NSA was invoked against him for “offensive” remarks against the BJP, RSS and many Hindutva icons which have become par for the course in much of India. He called CM Singh a “puppet of Modi and Hindutva”, a reflection of the sentiment of most people in the hilly state.
Wangkhem’s arrest is no isolated case. Targeting the media has become the norm for this government and it is this intolerance that has seen India on a downward slide on the international press freedom index. From a ranking of 80 in 2002, India is now ranked 138, one notch below Myanmar and one above Pakistan. Not the kind of company that Modi would want to be publicly seen with.
Fifth Deadliest Place
India has emerged as the fifth most dangerous place to be a journalist. This finding has come from the latest review of attacks on reporters and editors compiled by Reporters Without Borders, known as RSF. Eighty journalists were killed this year, 348 are in prison, and 60 are being held hostage, according to the annual worldwide round-up. The world’s five deadliest countries for journalists include India, Mexico, and for the first time the US where journalists were killed in cold blood although these countries were not at war or in conflict, the report noted. The US is the only fully developed country among the top five, behind Afghanistan (15 deaths), Syria (11) and Yemen (eight). Mexico, currently in the grips of drug cartel violence, had nine. The widely reported murders of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the young Slovak data journalist, Ján Kuciak, highlighted the lengths to which press freedom’s enemies are prepared to go. More than half of the journalists killed in 2018 were deliberately targeted. “Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said. “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.
“Amplified by social networks, which bear heavy responsibility in this regard, these expressions of hatred legitimize violence, thereby undermining journalism, and democracy itself, a bit more every day.”
Free For The Press
J Jayalalithaa’s relations with the media were never anything but frosty and during her many stints as chief minister of Tamil Nadu, it was no secret that she had ordered ministers, legislators, bureaucrats, party leaders and others close to her to keep journos at arm’s length. It therefore came as a surprise to learn that on her deathbed in Apollo Hospital in Chennai, her aides ensured that the army of hacks who covered her two-and-a-half months’ hospitalisation until her death on December 8, 2016, were well looked after.
According to a bill submitted by the hospital before the Justice Arumugam Commission that is probing her death, the total cost of the treatment and other services worked out to Rs 6.86 crore though so far only Rs 6.41 crore has been paid. Of this, the healthcare bill amounted to Rs 1.92 crore while almost Rs 2.4 crore is under various heads, namely, “room rent/food and beverages/engineering service”. But it is the food and beverage services bill for Rs 1.17 crore that raised eyebrows. A break-up of the bill shows that Rs 48 lakh was spent on providing food and refreshments to the media posted outside the hospital. Assuming that there were approximately 100 journalists covering her 75-day hospital stay round the clock, it worked out to about Rs 640 per day per journalist. Which perhaps is a lot more than what a lot of journalists are paid for the work they do.