The media monitoring cells are once again in the headlines due to news anchor Punya Prasun Bajpai’s revelations about receiving threats from bureaucrats after exposing Narendra Modi’s fake claims.

In February 2016, Indian Express published an article about the NDA Government’s plan to establish a media cell that would monitor news channels and newspapers. The unit was named as the National Media Analytics Centre, and the officials working in this cell would keep track of positive and negative coverage given to the government by various journalists. The National Media Analytics Centre’s concept came from the Indian National Security Council Secretariat.

With the help of multiple software programs, people working in this cell mark journalists as positive, negative, or neutral about the government. According to the IE report, the department would also share this data with investigating agencies.

Now, as per senior journalist Madhu Trehan, this cell has become a reality from the concept. In her interaction with former NDA minister Arun Shourie, she said that the three organizations, including National Media Analytics and the New Media Wing, are currently monitoring the press.

Taxpayers’ money is being spent on tracking what journalists write about the government. All the anti-government posts, news articles, news channels, and even social media posts are under the scanner. There are more than 200 people in every cell, and the work of every journalist is marked as neutral, positive or negative. This data is entered into the software, and it shows the exact number of times that every reporter has expressed positive, negative and neutral opinion about the government.  The reports generated by these agencies are going to all ministers, cabinet secretary, and other bureaucrats.

Why is the Government eager to know what every journalist thinks about them? Why is taxpayers’ money being used for monitoring journalists? Why is government classifying and tagging journalists as positive, negative or neutral about the administration? Is the government afraid of journalists who write against their failed schemes and performance?”

– Madhu Trehan

Attempt to crush those who oppose?

Last year, the Supreme Court declared that criticizing the government is not a crime. In spite of this, cops in various BJP ruled states have already started sending notices to the people who criticize the government on social media.

Corporates are buying newsgroups and are influencing journalists. In some cases, even some central ministers have asked journalists to remove articles that expose scams. The country recently saw how Times of India (Jaipur edition) was asked to withdraw its report about possible fraud in central government’s crop insurance scheme.  The same female journalist also received a threat message as per reports.

There is no doubt that action should be taken against channels that are involved in spreading hatred and often indulge in misreporting. But, what’s the point in targeting honest journalists who point out government’s mistakes?

To get an expert opinion on this issue, we interacted with senior journalist Raju Parulekar and Rajiv Bajaj.

Rajiv Kunwar Bajaj (RKB) is the former Vice-President of Sahara India Pariwar. He managed Sahara Samay Mumbai and Delhi news channels. His “RKB Show” has helped him to earn a lot of goodwill.  Currently, he is the chief of Metro News Network in Mumbai.

While sharing his opinion about the NDA Government’s media cell(s), Bajaj said monitoring people’s personal opinion about the government is a logical step.

“This happened even before the beginning of the digital era; Rajiv Gandhi government had honoured me by filing five cases of sedition against me for my coverage related to Punjab, published in Surya India magazine. Later, they withdrew all the cases,” Bajaj said.

“Is this normal? The problem is that there are no benchmarks of normalcy left anymore, especially, when we often witness the complete destruction of all civilized debates by inordinately abusive and aggressive news anchors. What does this mean for free speech? Nothing! The Net is too wide, too big, too deeply entrenched to be censored, controlled or prevent the kind of blowback the present establishment is experiencing from its own Digital Terminator! All the efforts of all the tin hats of the present establishment will be able to do nothing to prevent the flood of blowback coming their way. The social media and the internet are extensive. These things cannot be censored. Even China, Russia, and Egypt failed to do so.  India always survives its demons (and its Gods), and always will,” said RKB.

Why just three? They should start the fourth division as well!

“I know about the existence of such units. Why just three units? They should start the fourth as well. The government won’t be able to deter reporters for longer. Journalists would find their way around and keep on doing their job,” said the senior journalist Raju Parulekar, who has closely worked with activist Anna Hazare during India Against Corruption movement.

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