Home Interview Commitment to being truthful missing in modern journalism: Rajiv Lochan Sah

Commitment to being truthful missing in modern journalism: Rajiv Lochan Sah

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By Arun Pratap Singh

Rajiv Lochan Sah is one of the leading opinion makers and civil society leaders of Uttarakhand state, who has been not only associated with the Chipko movement but also actively participated in the statehood movement. As the founding Editor of ‘Nainital Samachar’, he has tried to become a voice for the people of Uttarakhand, especially the people from the hills. He has been vocal on people-centric issues and has been a journalist for over 50 years. He opposes the current emphasis on development, particularly in the hills, and is a strong voice on environmental issues and people’s rights.

He is the recipient of the second Bhairav Dutt Dhulia Award for Journalism awarded by the Karmabhoomi Foundation and will be handed over the award by Prof Shekhar Pathak in Lansdowne on 19 May.  Garhwal Post spoke exclusively with him on various contemporary issues related to Uttarakhand and journalism. Some excerpts:

Journalistic career has been full of struggles

Recalling his over 50 year career in journalism, Rajiv Lochan Sah says that his journey has been full of struggle. In those days, there were not many courses available for journalism. He adds that it has been a journey of self-learning for him and he began his career with limited resources. He adds that all along his five decade long journey in journalism, he has been helped by people of value and substance. He adds that he has been an activist journalist throughout his career and had to face serious threats and risks in this journey. He also recalls that some charismatic leaders like Sundar Lal Bahuguna encouraged him a lot and also guided him on how to reach out to a larger population and to the people who mattered. He also told him to circulate the paper and cuttings to the people about whom the stories were published.

For bigger news publications, statehood movement was an opportunity to improve circulation

Sah adds that newspapers and people from all sections of society played a crucial role during the statehood movement but the smaller local publications played a genuine and sincere role. Leading publications of today, Dainik Jagran or Amar Ujala, were not locally published then. In Kumaon, Bareilly editions of these publications were circulated while, in Garhwal region, the Meerut editions were circulated. The statehood movement played a crucial role in uniting the Garhwal and Kumaon regions and it was because of the movement for a separate state of Uttarakhand that several differences and issues between the two regions were resolved. However, the local newspapers and publications actively participated in the statehood movement which was a people’s movement. Some bigger publications sensed an opportunity to improve circulation in this region, particularly in the hills and started publishing the news related to the statehood agitation. However, instead of focussing on the content, they focussed more on publishing the names of all the people participating in the protests. This worked for them in increasing the circulation but the content was missing. In addition, these publications had different editions for Kumaon and Garhwal and, therefore, the readers from Kumaon did not get enough information about the statehood movement in Garhwal and vice versa.

Sah claims that big publications had no emotional attachment with the issues related to the hills and the statehood movement was an opportunity for them to push their commercial interests. He adds that, to counter this and to keep a united Uttarakhand in focus, some people including him started a publication called Uttarakhand Bulletin. This Bulletin published news about activities of, both, Garhwal and Kumaon in the format of a radio bulletin. This became a popular mode. Some international research publications have also mentioned Uttarakhand Bulletin as a crucial mode of public communication during the statehood agitation. The Bulletin also published poetry of poets of the region like Girish Tiwari ‘Girda’, which inspired the people. A publication on similar lines was also launched in Srinagar. The mainstream media merely exploited the situation for commercial purposes rather than actively supporting the agitation, unlike the smaller local publications.

Uttarakhand state did not come up as per dreams of the statehood agitationists

Sah says that, when the separate state of Uttarakhand was formed, some smaller native political organisations did come up like Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD) but in a matter of a few elections, they just faded away. In theinitial years after the formation of the state, UKD did manage to win a few assembly seats but now has little impact. Sah added that some other organisations like Vahini were also launched as an experiment and he was also a part, but did not succeed. Ultimately, despite the fact that the statehood movement was a movement against bigger national level parties like Congress and BJP, the state came under political control of these very parties. The original concept with which the Uttarakhand movement was carried out has just disappeared. Today, Uttarakhand is just a poor second grade copy of Uttar Pradesh out of which it was carved.

Sah says, “We wanted sustainable development. The current model of development particularly in the hills is hardly sustainable. Similarly, there has been over-exploitation of the state’s natural resources like forests. Today we see the forests getting burnt down by fires and destroyed. It is sad to see the Chief Minister getting engaged in road shows and campaigning for elections elsewhere in the country when the forests are burning. By now, emergency should have been invoked in the state to deal with forest fires, but do we see such dedication to protect the state’s assets? No! Of course the rains have controlled the forest fires to a great extent but to depend on rains to control the forest fires is a bad idea.”

In response to a question, Sah agrees that the prevailing forest laws are also responsible for increased forest fires. He says that, traditionally, the local villagers thought of forests as their own collective property and assets and they even risked their lives to control the forest fires. The existing laws have changed the concept of collective ownership and the forest department is too inefficient and corrupt to be able to effectively protect the forests. Traditional knowledge on protection of the forests has been ignored and forgotten since the local people no longer have any stakes left in the forests.

Print Media is itself responsible for its loss of significance

Responding to a question, Rajiv Lochan Sah says technology keeps on changing and now, in addition to the print media, there is also electronic media which is mainly the news channels, the digital media and, even, the social media. Electronic media has the advantage of showing the breaking news live but the print media, even if it is daily newspaper, can only publish news the next morning.  However, the print media itself is responsible for the loss of its significance. While it can’t match the electronic and the digital media by showing news live or in a breaking news form, it could have maintained the quality of its content and carried in-depth content, thereby staying as relevant as ever. This did not happen though. Sah adds that he has mostly run a fortnightly newspaper but has focussed on content and thorough field level investigation. The readers need analysis and background of the incidents which only the print media can provide. But, nowadays, the newspapers rely on official versions of any story and publish these without raising any question. Phenomena like Love Jihad and Land Jihad are deliberately blown out of proportion to create divisions. A recent example is the violence in Banphulpura (Haldwani). The mainstream media chose to just publish the government and the police version of the story and no one bothered to find out what problems and issues were faced by the residents of Banbhulpura, Sah claimed.

Media not doing its job responsibly

Rajiv Lochan Sah feels that, in the past, people had so much faith in the power of journalism that they used to come to the newspaper with the belief that, if their problems are published, they would be resolved by the authorities. It is no more the case. No one goes and does the groundwork anymore to find out whether the government schemes and projects are running well or are useful or not. This basic responsibility is missing now. He says that he would like the young reporters to do the ground work more sincerely instead of just towing the government line. That is rewarding in the form of credibility. The media must question every institution whether it is the executive, the legislature or even the judiciary. However, the situation has worsened even further since Modi came to power. No questions are encouraged by the authorities now. He said that fearlessness is the key to right kind of journalism. He recalled that, during the peak time of his career, he faced lots of legal notices and some court cases as well but that did not deter him from writing what he wanted to write. He called upon the present generation of journalists to be fearless and work harder to give a positive direction to society.

Karmabhoomi Award recalls activism of Pt Bhairav Dutt Dhulia

Karmabhoomi Foundation was established in memory of Founder Editor of Karmabhoomi Newspaper, published from Kotdwar (District Pauri Garhwal) in 1939, and a leading journalist and social activist from Uttarakhand, the late Pandit Bhairav Dutt Dhulia. The newspaper continues its publication every week, albeit in digital mode. The Foundation has set up a Bhairav Dutt Dhulia Award for Excellence in Journalism. It was awarded for the first time, last year. The first recipient of the award was senior journalist Jay Singh Rawat. This year, leading social activist and journalist from Nainital, Rajiv Lochan Sah has been chosen for the award, which will be handed over to him at a function to be held in Lansdowne on 19 May. The award also carries a cash award.

The Dhulia family has constituted a panel to search for suitable names for the award. The award has now become an annual event. While last year the award function was held in Dehradun, this year, Lansdowne has been chosen as the location for the award function. Leading historian and social activist Prof Shekhar Pathak will be Chief Guest on the occasion and he will hand over the award to Sah.