Subservience of people’s interest to commercial interest in the Fourth Estate must stop, if democracy is to be salvaged from the pernicious grip of plutocracy, emphasized veteran journalist Subhas Chandra Pattanayak while inaugurating the annual function of Athgarh Prahari.
Athgarh Prahari, a rural newspaper published from Athgarh in the district of Cuttack celebrated its sixth anniversary on the day of Makara Samkranti, observed in Orissa as a day of solidarity amongst agro-based communities.
Enkindling the ceremonial candle, Sri Pattanayak called upon the working journalists to consolidate their class strength to retrieve their lost freedom from the fiefdom of the media merchants.
Capitalists who need freedom to multiply their profits by using newspapers and audio-visual networks that they own, must no more be allowed to project that freedom as ‘Freedom of Press’, he said.
Rare Chapter of Journalism in Orissa
Felicitating posthumously the legendary journalist Surit Ranjan Pattnaik, who was born in Athgarh, Sri Pattanayak dwelt on a rare chapter of journalism in Orissa that may be termed as the single most remarkable battle of Press for freedom from owner’s fiefdom.
In a flashback he said: Surit Pattnaik was reporter of the daily Kalinga, founded and possessed by Biju Patnaik, the first mafia then in rise in Indian politics, who was using his chief-ministerial position to further his fortune from trade and industry in the early sixties, last century. One of Surit’s reports went against TATAs. Biju summoned him to his chamber and rebuked him for having written against TATAs and demanded an explanation on why had he written the story that may mar his rapport with the industrial tycoon. In utter wrath Biju further asked Surit to file a fresh story depicting the one he had published as a product of misconception and to remember not to write against TATAs in future.
Slap on Biju’s Face
Surit paid Biju Patnaik a patient ear as an employee ought to pay to his employer and then told Biju the like of which had never been told in India to any newspaper owner by any working journalist till then.
He told Biju in no uncertain terms that as owner of the paper he was a trade operator when as a reporter he was a conscience-keeper of the society. He made it clear that he was a working journalist and under the working journalists(Condition of Services and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, he was answerable only to his editor, not and never to the owner.
He also told Biju that as a journalist he was a sentinel of Freedom of Press which he cannot allow to be diminished under Press owner’s over-lordship. It was a sharp slap on Biju’s face.
Man Mohan Mishra’s uniqueness as Editor
This enraged Biju so much that he summoned the manager and ordered him to dismiss Surit summarily under charges of insubordination. Editor Man Mohan Mishra supported Surit and condemned managerial intervention in the matter of reporting and Biju got such a thrash that he preferred to pretend to have accepted the norm of Press Freedom by desisting from taking any action against Surit. But the issue did not die; it went on simmering, till at last Kalinga was closed down by Biju Patnaik and beyond, till the owners in mainstream media succeeded in misappropriating Press Freedom donning editors’ robe, as in Hindustan Times K.K.Birla replacing B.G.Verghese.
Profit motive of media merchants ruins the Press
Dwelling on how subservience of public interest to profit motive of media merchants has spread since those days, Sri Pattanayak bared the tricks the Press owners play against Free Press. One such trick is obliterating or dismantling the designation and status of journalists as envisaged in and defined under the Working Journalists Act. Sudden and arbitrary change of Nalapat’s designation from Chief of Bureau (a category of working journalist defined under the Law) at Delhi to that of Political Analyst (not at all defined under the Law) by the Times of India is an instance, he said. He pointed out how for having refused to render extra-professional help in securing release of Asok Jain, chairman of the Times of India group arrested then for FERA offences, H.K.Dua, the celebrated editor had to be summarily dismissed in 1998 by use of an offending method of replacement of his name with that of Executive Director Ramesh Chandra showing him as in additional charge of Managing Editor in the print-line of the paper. This trick of obliterating law-defined categories of working journalists and creation of undefined desks in editorial wing is not only playing havoc with editorial independence but also subjugating journalism to business. And such a situation is helping plutocracy to consolidate, he alleged.
Pointing out that the recent Supreme Court Judgment in the matter of Laws put under the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution of India has failed to stir public mind because a plutocratic Press is not showing due diligence in weighing the judgment on the matrix of the necessities of the poor, deprived and disadvantaged people, Sri Pattanayak called upon the working journalists to change this scenario. People have a right to know every aspect of every act of management of their Country and therefore, the Press must be salvaged from the grip of plutocracy and restored back as people’s Press. When a Plutocratic Press reduces people’s right to a non-entity and transforms information to a commercial commodity, which is happening in India, Pattanayak pointed out that a People’s Press educates the people in the matter of how best to manage their affairs through their informed participation in democracy.
Surit Pattanayak the unseen Polestar
When K.K.Birla snatched away for himself the robe of editor of Hindustan Times from B.G.Verghese in the seventies because he refused to compromise with editorial independence or when H.K.Dua was summarily dismissed in the late nineties because he did not agree to misuse his journalistic position for securing release of the times of India Chairman from FERA prison or earlier when Dilip Padgaonkar had to relinquish the position of Editor in Times of India in early nineties in favor of the management man Gautam Adhikari taking over as Executive Editor, or when a principled person like Nalapat was dismantled from the position of Chief of Bureau to be stashed in a out-of-category post of political analyst, had the working Journalists defended Press Freedom like Surit Pattanayak had done defying Biju Patnaik, the situation would not have been such precarious, Pattanayak said.
Rural Press must coalesce with rural people
In the prevailing climate, as people in the unorganized sector like the victims of Kalinga Nagar land grab have been making their supreme sacrifices to safeguard their collective interest, working journalists must unite to thwart away the plutocratic over-lordship on Freedom of Press, he said, putting emphasis on rural people making a coalition with rural newspapers run by rural journalists whom corporate culture has not yet corrupted. People must help rural newspapers in building up a People’s Press so that their own interest does no more suffer a blackout, and the Country is saved, told Sri Pattanayak while calling upon the local intelligentsia that predominated the audience to take leadership in this regard.
Prahari reaching more people: Narayan Das
Sri Narayan Das, self-employed Editor of Athgarh Prahari (AP), in his welcome address, presented a detail picture of how local interest has been best served by his paper and how for that reasons only, its popularity has spread beyond Athgarh. The AP has its circulation in 13 out of the 30 districts of Orissa and day by day its circulation is increasing and he said, he was sure, his paper will reach the rest of Orissa within two years.
Closer to the people
Ratnakar Beura who has been representing Orissa’s premier newspaper Samaja at Athgarh for last three decades, told the audience that AP is closer to the hearts of the people of the locality than the mainstream papers of Orissa because people find “their news” more accurately and elaborately in its pages than in their’s.
Mainstrem media hand-in-glove with money-grabbers
Veteran social worker Biswanath Sahu alleged that the funds provided for development in budgets are being looted by the executive. Mainstream media being hand-in-glove with the money-grabbers, the modus operandi of the executive is kept willfully secret from the people. Rural newspapers like AP run by self-employed journalist are therefore the only forum available to the people through which they can develop their collective barricades against corruption and save the country.
Social activist Basanta Kumar Sahani warned people of impending danger from mega as well as minor industries to rural environment. Rural newspapers free from influence of the industrialists as they mostly are, are the best weapons available to people to safeguard their interests, he stressed.
Posthumous Honor to Surit Pattanayak
Chief Guest Sri Pattanayak presented the citation of posthumous honor to Surit Ranjan Pattanayak, which the daughter of the late scribe Ms. Jayanti Pattanayak received. Surit Ranjan had breathed his last on 21 December 2005.
Felicitations were also given to educationist Narayan Panda for poetry, advocate Bimbadhar Raut for essay, Journalists Partha Sarathi Patnaik and Sujit Rashmi Mohanty for rural reporting. Ms. Babita Pattnaik read out the citations.
Journalist Satchidananda Panda presided.