Jignesh Mevani and "that Mic"

Jignesh Mevani Pic Courtesy: Livemint
On Thursday, newly elected member Jignesh Mevani from Vadgam in Gujarat opted out of an impromptu reaction on the sidelines of a public meeting in Chennai. The reason? Mevani spotted a Republic TV mic among other microphones on the table. This led to Jignesh Mevani demanding that the Republic TV mic be removed before he addressed the media. Interestingly, the interaction at first glance appeared as a press conference but as clarified by N. Jayaraman on The Wire, that the interaction was after an event, where he was invited by a study circle.

The incident led to a boycott of Chennai's media which walked off after saying that a politician cannot dictate terms to the media. The boycott raised an important question about who has or does not have access to a media outfit and under what c
ircumstances. The refusal to engage with a Republic TV led to a stormy debate among journalists. Rationally speaking, both sides of the debate have a valid argument and a decision can be arrived at based on which side of the debate you are on.

The Chennai media, unlike it's more affluent counterpart in Delhi, has always been more united when it comes to solidarity. Here too, the solidarity exhibited by other journalists towards one of their own was heartwarming. By choosing to not engage with a particular media outfit, Jignesh Mevani indirectly supports the muzzling of a free press. The silencing of a free press goes against the very ethics of a democracy and a democratically elected leader. In the not so distant past too, Shehla Rashid, the vice-president of the JNU Students Union, heckled a reporter from Republic TV while she was speaking at the Press Club. The Delhi media, unlike their Southern counterparts, did not stand by their colleague.

A free press is built on the principles of mutual respect and divergent opinions. The direction adopted by Mevani is deeply disturbing, especially because of its ability to block out criticism. Yet, as discourse in India has consistently proved, freedom of speech is still a one way street, where dissenting voices are compelled into maintaining silence. Therefore, it is not surprising that other media houses would not come out to support a new channel simply because of the ideological difference.

There is little doubt that the Indian media has suffered and also withstood assaults on free media and free speech. It is, in such a context, that it becomes important to come together to fight against bullying and interference. This would not only ensure that ideological compatriots as well as the dissenters feel worthwhile in a largely fragmented media space are accounted for. Yet, the Chennai media, unlike Delhi, is much more vibrant and proved that they can stand by one of their own, despite differences in opinion. The solidarity exhibited by them exudes a rare charm that we so often fail to observe in the fragmented and competitive media business today. May this herald the beginning of a new innings for media nationally! 

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