“How do you lodge an FIR against insidious intimidation, which is effectively about using instruments of power to create a coercive environment of fear?” Barkha Dutt said in an interview with journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta on Friday.
Dutt appeared on the online video news network Newsclick to elaborate on her claims on Twitter that she had “received chilling veiled threats and “messages” from powerful people in the Establishment” that her family and her are under surveillance and that she would be “smeared and maligned” to stop her from starting new projects.
Many users on Twitter responded to Dutt’s tweets asking why she did not file an FIR against the people who had been attempting to intimidate her. In the interview with Guha Thakurta, Dutt clarified that she had not received physical threats from members of the Bharatiya Janata Party but was being pressured in a more “insidious” manner. “There is the obvious kind of intimidation, where somebody threatens you, abuses you and makes a physical threat,” Dutt said. “But there is another kind of insidious intimidation. It is harder to spot, it is harder to define and it is much harder to place in an FIR. And that is the sort of insidious intimidation that I’m talking about.”
Dutt claimed in the interview that on several occasions in the last year and a half, promoters of television channels had approached her to offer a role as an advisor or a host but each time they backed out fearing the government’s reaction. Dutt said promoters had told her that “the top two or three people in the government and the party” do not like her, referring to the BJP. She went on to state that she had received a call from a BJP member who asked her to “not do journalism till 2019”, to do “something else” and to “sit this one out”.
Dutt said that after a trade website reported that she was launching a new channel, she was visited by a close friend who has links to the BJP and told her that a “section of the party” that has “an influence on the government” had a meeting to decide how to prevent her from appearing on television and was determined to “shut her down”. Dutt claimed that the meeting included questions about who she lives with, how to get details about her bank account and who she is dating.
Dutt stated that the participants in the meeting said, “I hope she understands the severity of the situation, tell her she should get some personal security and tell her she should not take this lightly.”
While clarifying that she was not accusing the entire party of intimidation and that some BJP members had even given her interviews in the last few months, Dutt emphasised that the blame lay equally with the government and with the media industry. “For the last year, I’ve had a very intriguing exposure to how terrified the news media industry is of the government,” Dutt said. “We’ve seen news channels that are supplicant to the government in a way that in my living, adult life, I’ve never seen before.”
Bringing up the difficulty in getting licences for new television channels, Dutt pointed out how Republic TV was the only station to obtain one in period of just three months whereas entrepreneurs like Raghav Behl have been waiting for a year and a half.
Claiming that she, along with journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai and Karan Thapar, had not been “neither forgiven not forgotten” for covering the 2002 riots in Gujarat, Dutt said that while print and digital media had people fighting for it, no industry member has fought for removing the welter of clearances required from the government in the television news segment.
“If the media wanted to stand up to power, it can,” Dutt said.