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‘My conscience has started to revolt’: A Zee News producer quits over channel’s handling of JNU row

Vishwa Deepak resigned over what he says were grave lapses in the way Zee News covered the JNU sedition case.

Watching TV coverage of the Jawaharlal Nehru University sedition case can be a study in contrast. While some networks have questioned the portrayal of JNU as a bulwark of anti-nationalism, others have emphasised this perception.

Many quarters have, in the last few days, raised the issue of the way Zee News covered the issue. The media watch website the Hoot carried a piece on Sunday with the headline "How Zee TV fuelled state action against JNU students".

The Hoot report notes, on the basis of the first information report filed by Delhi Police:

The short point is that the police were present [on February 9] when the groups were clashing and shouting slogans, they stayed on the campus until the two sides dispersed, they saw no reason to register any complaint on the basis of the slogan shouting they heard. It is the Zee video which gave them actionable evidence. The implication is that Zee did their recording by being there in time for the action, did it at length, and showed the ‘anti-national’ parts the next day. How did the police come to know of the programme shown? It does not say. Did the channel bring it to their notice?

The Hoot report concludes by calling Zee News programming as amounting to “incitement against the students of JNU”.

Adding to the coverage's criticism, a producer of Zee News, Vishwa Deepak, resigned from the channel on Friday, asking whether it was “in nexus with the Delhi Police?” His letter of resignation went on to note:

Are we the mouthpieces of the BJP or the RSS that we will do whatever they say? The video didn't have any "Pakistan Zindabad" slogans at all – yet we played it repeatedly to spread madness and mayhem. How did we believe that some voices coming out of the dark belonged to Kanhaiya and his companions? Due to our biases, we heard “long live Indian courts” as “long live Pakistan” and working on the government line, brought the careers, their hopes and aspirations and families of some people to the brink of destruction. It would have been better if we had let the agencies do their jobs and waited for their conclusions.

Last week, three office bearers of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarathi Parishad in Jawaharlal Nehru University had announced their resignation from their designated positions in the organisation.

Here is a rough translation of the full letter Vishwa Deepak posted in Hindi on his Facebook wall.

We journalists often question others but not ourselves. We decide the responsibilities of others, but not our own. We are called the fourth pillar of democracy but are we, our institutions, our thinking and our methodology democratic? This question is not mine alone but is being asked by everyone.

The way the Jawaharlal Nehru University Student’s Union president Kanhaiya Kumar was framed in the name of “nationalism” and, after a media trial, was proved to be an anti-national, is an extremely dangerous trend. As journalists, it is our responsibility to question the powers that be, not move step in step with the powerful. Whatever good and beautiful has been achieved in the history of journalism is the result of these questions.

To question or not to question is the personal choice of every individual. However, for me, the personal is political. There comes a time when one needs to to chose between one’s professional responsibilities and socio-political views. I have chosen the latter and due to these disagreements have resigned from my organisation Zee News on February 19.

My resignation is dedicated to those lakhs and crores of Kanhaiyas and JNU-ites who will keep on struggling and sacrificing for their dreams.

***

My resignation letter to Zee News

Dear Zee News,

After a year, four months and four days, the time has come for me to leave you. Although I should have done this earlier, if I don’t do this now, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.

What I am about to say is not a result of anger, irritation or emotion but is a well thought-out account. Along with being a journalist, I am also a citizen of the country in whose name the poison of blind “nationalism” is being spread and the country being pushed towards a state of civil war. My responsibilities as an Indian citizen as well as my professional duties is to stop this poison from spreading. I know this is liking trying to cross the ocean in a boat but I still want to make a start. I am therefore resigning from my post as a protest against the role we played in kindling and then promoting a campaign of blind nationalism which used the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar as an excuse. I request that this letter be accepted without making the issue one of personal enmity.

In any case, the matter isn’t personal at all. It is one of professional duty, social consciousness and, finally, one of patriotism. I regret to inform you that that as a result of being a part of your organisation, I have failed many times as a journalist on all three counts in the last one year.

Post May 2014, ever since Shri Narendra Modi has become the Prime Minister, more or less every newsroom has been communalised – but the situation at our organisation is even more appalling. I apologise for using such grandoise vocabulary however there really is no other word for it. Why is it so that the news is written by giving it a Modi angle? The aim in writing the news is to push the Modi government’s agenda.

I have started to seriously doubt whether we are journalists at all. It seems like we are nothing more than the government’s mouthpiece or contract killer. Modi is the country’s prime minister, he is my prime minister but as a journalist I am unable to swallow any more Modi worship. My conscience has started to revolt against me. It’s like I am ill.

Behind each news story is an agenda, behind every news show is an effort to show how great the Modi government is and behind every debate is the attempt to shoot down Modi’s opponents? Nothing less than words like “attack” or “war” is acceptable to us. What is all this? When I stop and think about it, I feel like I have gone mad.

Why were we made to be so immoral, unethical, and despicable? After having studied from the country’s top most media institute and having worked in esteemed institutions such as BBC, Aaj Tak and Deutsche Welle, Germany, my journalistic capital has now been reduced to people calling me a “Chhee (yuck) news journalist”. Our integrity has been blown to bits. Who will take the responsibility for this?

How much should I say? A continuous campaign was run against Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, and is still being run. But why? Basic policies which helped the people, like those of water-electricity and odd even scheme, were also questioned. It is fully within one’s rights to disagree with Kejriwal and to criticise him, but Kejriwal’s assassination is not a journalist’s right. If I start compiling a list of negative stories run against Kejriwal, then it will fill several pages. I want to know whether journalism’s core values of “neutralism” and honesty towards the viewers have any value or not?

This is what happened on the issue of Dalit scholar, Rohith Vemula’s suicide. First we addressed him as a “Dalit scholar”; then as a “Dalit student”. That’s still fine. But at least they should have written the news properly. The role of ABVP leader and BJP’s Bandaru Dattatreya in driving Rohith Vemula to commit suicide is still surrounded by dubious questions (everything is clear). But as a media house our work was to dilute the issue and to be their saviour.

I remember when Uday Prakash and other eminent writers started returning their awards on the question of intolerance, we started raising questions about them instead. Let’s just talk about Uday Prakash who is read by millions. He is the pride of the language we speak, the one we use for our livelihood. His work reflects our lives, our dreams, our struggles, but we are trying to prove that this was all a conspiracy. I was hurt even then, but tolerated it.

But now how long should I do it – and why?

I am not able to sleep well. I am restless. Maybe it is the result of a guilty conscience. It is the biggest taint any individual can be marked by: treason, of being a traitor. But the question is, as journalists, what right do we have to give certificates and degrees on being a traitor? Isn’t this the domain of the courts?

Along with Kanhaiya, we made many students appear to be traitors and anti-nationals in the eyes of the people. If anyone is murdered tomorrow, who will take its responsibility? We have not merely created a situation for someone’s murder or to destroy some families but we have created the conditions ripe for spreading riots and brought the country to the brink of a civil-war. What sort of patriotism is this? After all, what sort of journalism is this? 

Are we the mouthpieces of the BJP or the RSS that we will do whatever they say? The video didn't have any "Pakistan Zindabad" slogans at all – yet we played it repeatedly to spread madness and mayhem. How did we believe that some voices coming out of the dark belonged to Kanhaiya and his companions? Due to our biases, we heard “long live Indian courts” as “long live Pakistan” and working on the government line, brought the careers, their hopes and aspirations and families of some people to the brink of destruction. It would have been better if we had let the agencies do their jobs and waited for their conclusions.

People are threatening to rape Umar Khalid’s sister and attack her with acid, they are calling her the sister of a traitor. Think, if something like this happens, would we not be responsible for it? Kanhaiya said it not once but thousands of times that he does not endorse anti-national slogans but he was not even heard once because the mayhem we created was on the government line. Have we taken a serious look at Kanhaiya’s home? Kanhaiya’s home is not a “home” but a painful symbol of the helplessness of this country’s farmers and common people, it is a graveyard of those hopes that are being buried every second in this country. But we have become blind.

It hurts me to say this but I want to say that there are many houses like this where I come from. Indian rural life is equally colourless. Those broken-down walls and already-weakened lives have been injected with the poison of nationalism without thinking about its consequences. If Kanhaiya’s paralysed father dies out of shock, would we not be responsible? If the Indian Express had not done the story [on Kanhaiya’s family], this country would not have come to know where Kanhaiya gets the inspiration to speak for the rights of the deprived.

Rama Naga and others are also in the same state. From modest backgrounds, having struggled against poverty, these boys managed to get a subsidised education at JNU. You can see the confidence in progressing. But those willing to sell out for TRPs have almost ruined their careers.

It’s possible that we don’t agree with their politics or that their ideas are radical, but how did they become traitors? How can we appropriate the work of the courts in judging? Is it just a coincidence that Delhi Police’s FIR has Zee News’ name in it? Is it that we are in nexus with the Delhi Police? What answer can we give the people.

After all, what do we have against JNU or JNU’s students? I believe the modern values, democracy, diversity and co-existence of opposing views has made JNU an eden in India, but now we have begun calling it a den of treason and outlaws.

I’d like to know if it is JNU that is beyond the law or the BJP leaders who stormed into court to beat up a leader of the Left? The BJP MLA and his supporters were beating up a CPI leader on the streets, with the police simply standing by and watching the spectacle. On screen we could see the assault and we wrote ‘Allegations of violence against OP Sharma’. I asked why did we have to say ‘allegations’? I was told this was because it came from ‘upar’ (above). How has our ‘upar’ gotten so low? You can understand if it goes p to Modi, but things have gotten to such a state that we are now saving BJP leaders like OP Sharma and ABVP workers?

I have started to loathe my existence, my journalism and my helplessness. Is this why I left a number of careers to become a journalist? Maybe not.

Now there are only two options before me. Either I leave journalism, or I separate myself from these conditions. I am taking the second route. I have not made any decisions, I am just asking some questions about my profession and my identity. It is a small matter, but this accountability is important. It’s less for others and more for me. I’m quite certain I won’t be able to get a job anywhere else. I also understand that if I had kept at it, I would have gotten close to a lakh. My salary is good but it comes with too many sacrifices, which I’m unwilling to give. I come from an ordinary middle class family, so I know how difficult it is to be without a salary, but still my consciousness will not be stifled.

I am saying again that I don’t have any personal complaints. These are issues of institutional and editorial policy. I trust that it will be understood also in this way.

It is also important to say that if a media house wants to impose its right-wing preferences, individuals should also be free to talk about their own political lines. It is my job as a journalist to remain neutral, but as a person and an enlightened citizen, my path is of the Left which is found not in party offices but in our everyday lives. This is my identity.

And finally, I am thankful for the year in which I struggled within Zee News. It is because of that struggle I managed to make some good friends.

Respectfully yours,

Vishwa Deepak

The letter has been translated and reproduced with permission from Vishwa Deepak. Zee News did not respond to Scroll's various requests for a comment. The channel's editor, Sudhir Chaudhary, however, was quoted by Newslaundry as saying, “On a daily basis people leave and people are being recruited, it is a normal affair. When people leave, they write such nasty letters. This is the organisation’s internal matter.”

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