Lack of Media-Coverage of Farm-Law Injustices


Farmers Holding a Poster Critiquing Media (Image Source: The Wire)

Farmers at the Singhu border, are holding banners saying, “Godi Media, Go Back” or “Godi Media Not Allowed”. Whenever approached by a media person who seeks to interview them, the protesting farmers do not hesitate to ask with a no-nonsense look on their face “You are not from Godi Media, right?,”

The term “Godi Media” was coined by NDTV anchor Ravish Kumar to refer to those media organizations that have reduced themselves to becoming sycophantic “lapdogs” of the government. The term is gradually becoming common through usage, and addresses those news organizations or TV channels, that act as mouthpieces of the ruling party.

Aaj Tak, Zee News and Republic TV are some of the channels that have inculcated the wrath and angst of farmers for solely representing the bigoted insinuations of the ruling party. The core cause of resentment among farmers is the feeling and belief, that their voice, suffering and protests are not getting due coverage from the media.

“These media channels come here on purpose and question older farmers very specific questions on the farm laws in a bid to show that we don’t know anything about the reforms. Or they show us as supporters of Khalistan to discredit this movement”, one farmer said to The Wire.

Shakir, a reporter of a mainstream TV channel for a decade, told to The Wire that ever since 2014, mainstream channels-including the one that he works for, have turned into mouthpieces for the government. There was a time when journalism used to be anti-establishment, but that age is now long-gone. Shakir confesses that the views aired by anchors on the channel evoke a great deal of trouble for junior on-ground reporters within the organization, who have to face the anger (and even violence at times) of the protestors.

“The big anchors make a lot of noise in the studio but have enough money for security. They are well settled. But what they do creates a problem for us. Ground reporters are the ones who suffer”

Shakir says that he faced a similar problem during the JNU protests, and anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests as well. Expressing his disappointment, Shakir tells that it takes a great deal of efforts to persuade and convince people that the on-ground reporters do not necessarily share the same views that are aired on the channel during prime-time debates. The situation becomes really precarious for the likes of him, who are genuinely interested in fair reporting.

The anger and distrust of the farmers against the media however, does not appear misplaced when one takes even a cursory glance at the sheer amount of ignorance that the mainstream media (an ironical term, since the content on their platform excludes the voices of nearly 70% of Indian population) has shown towards the implications of the new farm-laws on Indian democracy.

The unfortunate reality of most media-firms in India today is that they act as nothing more than profit-driven firms, and they have forgotten to put the needs and interests of citizens over those of corporations.

There has been a steady and relentless demonisation of farmers in all of their papers and channels with baseless allegations and insinuations- rich farmers, only from Punjab, Khalistanis, hypocrites, Congress conspirators and more…

“The fault in this whole episode,” says an editorial in Indian Express. “lies not in the reforms, but in the way the farm laws were passed, and the government’s strategy of communication, or lack of it,”

“The primary tasks before all governments,” says Times of India in its editorial is “Undoing the misconceptions among farmers of the MSP’s impending demise…” After all “The centre’s reform package is a sincere attempt to improve private participation in the farm trade. Hopes of doubling farm incomes rest on the success of these fledgling reforms..” And reforms like these would also correct “harmful distortions in India’s food-market”.

An editorial in Hindustan Times goes to the extent of saying, “There is sound rationale for the move(the new laws) and farmers will have to recognise that the reality of the laws will not change,” It furthermore lectures the farmers about the need of being sensitive, and accuses them of “flirting with extreme -identity issues “ and aligning with extremist rhetoric and action.

While the government might be struggling regarding which band of conspirators to accuse the farmers of allegedly representing, these editorial writers are perfectly clear about whom they are supposed to represent, and at whose behest to function.

Meanwhile, provisions of the new farm-laws have rendered the proposed economic reforms immune to any legal challenges by the judiciary.

“No suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central government, or the state government, or any officer of the central government or the state government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder”

While there have been other laws that exclude civil servants from prosecution for carrying out their legal duties, this one goes a few steps further ahead, and rewards immunity to all those who in respect of anything, are supposedly acting in good faith. They cannot be taken to courts or prosecuted for partaking in any crime, if they committed the act in ‘good faith’, or plan to commit in future in a likewise manner.

If the abovementioned extract from Section 13 of the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Act was not already clear enough, Section 15 of the same act further endeavours to erode any legal recourse in the courts available to citizens suffering from injustice of any kind.

“No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter, the cognisance of which can be taken and disposed of by any authority empowered by or under this Act or the rules made thereunder”

It is not that far-fetched to guess, based on the intent of the government revealed through the farm-laws, that the corporate giants whom the farmers are protesting against would be awarded complete legal immunity, for all their ‘acts of good faith’.

It is not just farmers who are barred from suing. No public interest litigation can be filed against these individuals or groups apparently constructed to be acting in “good faith”. So, the law actually affects NGOs, farm-unions and any concerned citizen, by barring their access to legal recourse.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement transfers judicial power to the executives. Section 19 states that:

“No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any proceedings in respect of any dispute which a Sub-Divisional Authority or the Appellate Authority is empowered by or under this Act to decide and no injunction shall be granted by any court or other authority in respect of any action taken in pursuance of any power conferred by or under this Act or any rules made thereafter,”

An alarmed Delhi Bar Council has asked in a letter- “How can any litigation having civil consequences be given for adjudication to structures involving administrative agencies, controlled and run by executive authorities?

Article 32 of the Constitution, that guarantees a right to constitutional remedies and is considered a part of the basic structure of the constitution, comes directly under threat by this declaration of section 19 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement.

While farmers are protesting in a peaceful and organized manner, the actual economic impact of the farm-laws upon their well-being, and the threat that it imposes upon their sustenance and livelihood is not being highlighted by any news channel or media organization, for even the least prejudiced ones among them place their discussions within the framework of the establishment and its captive experts and intellectuals, whose discourses are far distanced from the daily, lived realities of farmers.

It is a question worth asking, that why was the government in so much haste to push through these reforms in the midst of a pandemic, when several other issues plaguing the nation demanded much more urgent attention.

It is difficult to believe that the assumption that the farmers and labourers would be unable to mobilise themselves during a pandemic was not at the forefront of the haste with which the ruling party has shoved down these draconian laws down their throat, blatantly privileging the interests of profit-driven private corporations over those of farmers, who were already struggling to sustain their livelihood, in light of the fact that barring Punjab and Haryana, farmers from other states do not even receive the listed MSP for the crops that they sell.

The one committee report that every farmer in the country knows of, is the National Commission on farmers- known as the MS Swaminathan report, that suggested to set the MSP for each crop at a 50% higher value than the overall comprehensive production costs.

In November 2018, a lakh of farmers had gathered near the parliament in Delhi to demand implementation of the key recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Report, which had also been a part of BJP’s 2014 election manifesto.

The farmers back then had sought a special session of Parliament to discuss the agrarian crisis, and sought a debt waiver, guaranteed MSP, and many of those very things that constitute the demands of the current farmer-protests. Back then, they had been from 22 states and 4 union territories, not just Punjab.

Clearly the farmers’ protest does not just signify a demand for a repeal of the farm-laws. Before the laws were put into effect, the agrarian situation had already been precarious. Apart from resisting sure-shot pathways to added misery, the farmers are also attempting to throw light on the erosion of basic rights of citizens to constitutional remedies and legal recourse, that would be brought about by the farm-laws, something that the ‘mainstream media’ is choosing to remain silent about.

The farmers may not be as articulate in their speech as the privileged anchors within the newsroom, but they are still doing a better job at defending the basic structure of India’s constitution, and democracy itself; something that elite channels and news organizations dominating the media landscape of India are miserably failing at.



References:

https://thewire.in/agriculture/narendra-modi-farmers-protest-promises-trust-msp


Did You Think the New Laws Were Only About the Farmers? (thewire.in)


At Farmers' Protest, Field Reporters of 'Godi Media' Channels Face the Heat (thewire.in)








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