A passing phase, or are ominous dark clouds gathering overhead?
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is a name that is well known in media circles. His is a familiar byline in print; his is a familiar face on television. He is a journalist and editor of stature and repute. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he studied in La Martiniere, Calcutta, the city where I grew up. Paranjoy would probably have become an economist or an Economics professor if he hadn’t decided to become a journalist – he graduated in Economics from St Stephen’s, Delhi, and went on to earn a master’s at the Delhi School of Economics. But Journalism gained (it got a top-draw investigative reporter) and, am sure, Paranjoy did as well (nothing can compensate for the satisfaction derived as a journalist in exposing wrong-doings/ corruption).
It is said that it was the Emergency of 1975-77 that motivated Paranjoy to become a journalist. And, no doubt, it must have been the Emergency and all the things that were wrong during the period that goaded him to become not just an ordinary reporter, but a hardcore investigative reporter. That then, is the background of the man who has been a journalist for forty years now, who has earned his spurs.
In April last year, the Sameeksha Trust, which publishes the Economic and Political Weekly, hired Paranjoy as editor-in-chief to replace C. Rammanohar Reddy who was editor of the publication for a decade or so. Reddy resigned; his was not a happy exit as some reports have suggested. However, there were no ripples as such then. Rammanohar is the son of C.G.K. Reddy, Business manager of The Hindu who helped found the Research Institute for Newspaper Development in 1979. Rammanohar, too, has had a close view of the Emergency, with his father (CGK) being arrested in 1976. In an article (When Friends Disappeared) he had written for The Hindu some years ago, he mentions how the “memories of the summer of 1976 in Delhi occasionally still send a chill down my spine”.
Paranjoy’s resignation now has created more than just ripples. There’s been a lot about it in the media; prominent figures like Ashok Mitra and Ramachandra Guha have written about how he was unceremoniously shown the door (you can read all of it on The Wire website). It all really boils down to an article being taken down (from the EPW website) at the behest of Sameeksha Trust and the editor’s position being compromised, the editor being badly let down. Yes, there might have been some administrative matter that Paranjoy didn't handle the right way and which the trustees didn't like, but letting go of an editor this way is definitely not on.
When the Trust appointed Paranjoy as editor-in-chief, the trustees must surely have known
his background as an investigative journalist. His report (he was part of a committee set up by the Press Council of India) on ‘paid news’, for example, had created a storm seven years ago. He had written books – on crony capitalism and the Ambanis (no less), and how corporate entities were affecting reportage and democracy.
So, did the Sameekhsha Trust bow down to pressure from the powers that be or was it due to the fear of litigation? In any case, it’s not something you would expect from the trustees – all people of eminence – of such a respected journal like the Economic and Political Weekly. You would expect a journal with such pedigree as EPW to stand up and be counted. But not in this fashion.
Harsh words have been used in some of the articles that have appeared (Murdering a Great
Journal, etc), but suffice to say that what has happened at EPW is deeply dismaying and does
not augur well for healthy and robust journalism. The least the Sameeksha Trust can now do is to provide its side of the story and try to clear the air, appoint another editor of stature, never again bow down to pressure or succumb to fear of any kind, and restore EPW's lost glory. Indeed, as freedom shrinks and a climate of fear is created, it’s hard times for investigative journalism. And on the 70th anniversary of our Independence, the portents are not all that good.