Although I was aware of the allegations made against Salman Khurshid and the Zakir Hussain Trust and I also knew there was something about forged signatures of top officials of the Uttar Pradesh government, my first reaction had been: this must be mere politics. A colleague then sent me a clip of the press conference where the Law Minister was clearly warning a journalist that he would take the journalist to court. That prompted me to delve deeper into the issue — and I was horrified. Louise Fernandes Khurshid, the wife of the Law Minister and the person who actually runs the Zakir Hussain Trust, has apparently filed a Rs 100 crore civil defamation case against the two channels Aaj Tak and Headlines Today.
Nothing surprising about that, for every Indian has the right to file a defamation case if he or she feels aggrieved. But what was horrifying for me was the manner in which the promotor of the group who also publishes India Today, Aroon Purie, was personally targeted. It was genuinely shocking. We had journalists asking Salman Khurshid whether he would resign from his post till an independent enquiry clears his name. He blithely replied that he would resign if Aroon Purie, the promotor of the India Today group, also resigned and if there was an enquiry against Purie and his group. Most horrifying: I found hardly any support in the media fraternity for Aroon Purie and his India Today group. Just imagine the extremely dangerous precedent this is setting: so from now on, if any media house were to publish an exposé against any minister, the minister can now lavishly demand an enquiry against the publisher before any enquiry can be set up against the politician.
My concern is not about Aroon Purie and other media owners. I am sure they have the resources to look after themselves. My concern is: if our democracy has descended to such a level where those in power can now brazenly threaten media owners, what will happen to the journalists? Politicians used to always get behind media houses, but it was never so blatant and open. Already, journalism in India seems to be under a kind of siege, and threats can completely destroy whatever independence and guts the Indian media still seems to possess. I have nothing against Salman Khurshid. But surely, my conscience tells me that he cannot be the Law Minister and bully a media house like that. These are truly a truly sad state of affairs. I have always admired Purie for his kind of journalism. His group is not being targeted because of a steamy story on Bollywood heroines, or one on the sex lives of politicians, or for creating “communal disharmony”. Purie is now being hounded for what any media houses and owners should be doing. And that is, to nurture journalism where facts are more important than reputations, where commitment to sincerity is more important than fear of power, and where people in powerful positions must accept that journalists are not allies but potential adversaries. I stand behind Purie. I hope and pray others too will do the same, for the sake of their profession if nothing else.
— The author is a management guru and honorary director of IIPM Think tank