2 Editors Forced Out in A Year: EPW Trustees Assault Article 19 and Media Freedom
KAMAL MITRA CHENOY
NEW DELHI: The Economic and Political Weekly is highly regarded as an international journal publishing articles of various shades of social sciences. From the earlier days in the 20th Century, EPW was increasingly widespread with readers and contributors in India and abroad. Even in the times of the National Emergency in the 1970’s, the EPW editorials and articles were a clarion voice supporting democratic values and liberal and progressive tendencies throughout the world.
Many of us have over the decades been a bit casual in our responsibilities to EPW, including the impact of authoritarian intervention in the press. We however, have had two major disruptions. A little more than one year ago, C.Rammanohar Reddy had to resign as the editor of EPW as a consequence of pressure from the trustees. I do not want to expound on this matter as it has been extensively debated and commented upon.
But the current episode involving the trustees of EPW and their attitude towards the highly respected editor Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, has evoked shock and uproar which even more deeply questions the manner of the functioning of trustees and their almost complete control over the EPW.
The trustees are trustees representing the Trust, not superintending academics laying down rules for the editor. The fact that within two years two prominent editors of EPW have been sacked is profoundly disquieting. The trustees are not supposed to operate as a governing body deciding on matters of legal notices, which they have equated with court action, to the creation of posts and the removal of two highly respected editors in this short time.
In the current environment, the exposure of illicit activities by big business is a matter of national concern. Thakurta, exposed this in his book “Gas Wars,” on the loot of natural gas in the KG basin. Legal notices were sent but no court order was served.
As far as the Adanis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is concerned, it is well known in academic and business circles, that some 400 Indian capitalists have stashed untaxed proceeds in banks in the Panama area as brought out by the International Consortium of Journalists. Various political dignitaries like the former PM of Iceland, PM Nawaz Sharif’s family and a prominent figure in Russia have been under investigation and the Iceland’s former PM has resigned. Nawaz Sharif’s family is facing court action.
On the other hand, the fact of hundreds of Indian capitalists being shielded in this matter by the Government of India by suppressing the media, is a very dangerous phenomenon. This is the time for EPW to be assertive of civil society and constitutional rights. To weaken the media and the editors may be considered tantamount to turning a blind eye to the loot of national wealth
Some one year after the EPW editor C.Rammanohar Reddy was forced out as editor of EPW by the trustees, which we hoped would be unprecedented and a lesson for the EPW trustees, a much greater assault on Article 19 on the Freedom of Speech and Expression has been violated by the EPW trustees including several from whom this appalling behaviour was not expected.
Firstly, an article criticising crony capitalism by the highest politicians and industrialists in the land should always be exposed. Paranjoy Guha Thakurta has earlier exposed the scam on the KG Basin, which was very well received, an example to all those seeking to expose the theft of national wealth and the gross misuse of power. It was widely appreciated.
Now Thakurta as editor of EPW is forced out by the trustees on grounds that he (1) has subjected the trustees to court action. But what has been threatened by the Adanis is legal not court action. (2)Thakurta hired a lawyer to protect not only himself but the ideals to which EPW has been long committed.
The trustees sharply criticised him for taking legal advice without their permission. Thakurta has conceded that he should have cleared this with the trustees but such action was part of due diligence and the protection of EPW. The trustees variously suggested (a) that the editor should not have a byline. (b) There should be a co-editor. (c) The trustees were unable to distinguish between legal and court action.
If reputed journals are cowed down by legal action how will they function as votaries of freedom of speech and expression? And how will any committed editor function?
There is a pattern here following from the C. Rammanohar Reddy episode. First, the trustees want to sharply diminish the powers of the editor. So the editor should be supplemented by a co-editor. Later, to end up with the formula go-editor; two editors gone in a relatively short time, who is next? This is simply an attack on Article 19 and will further ensure more attacks on the freedom of the press.
Simply put, this is abdication of responsibility by the trustees, a sharp deviation from the secular and progressive principles for which the EPW is internationally renowned. In a word, the trustees have failed the very large community of EPW readers and supporters, causing not only the journal but Article19 to be even more vulnerable in the current atmosphere of authoritarian attacks on the media.
As a friend of a number of trustees, I among others feel deeply saddened and gravely concerned about the institution of EPW. Even at this late stage, the trustees must reconsider and put freedom of speech and expression in the forefront, irrespective of whatever motivated threats are being cited. Both the EPW family and the outspoken elements of the media deserve no less.