In boycotting all programmes on OTV, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) has shown itself as petty, intolerant and vengeful. In the bargain, it has lost, in one stroke, its hard earned reputation as a party that has largely allowed the media to do its job even when it has faced criticism.
Why did the party that rules with such a thumping majority stoop so low? Why did a party that claims to be the darling of the 4.5 crore people of Odisha become so unnerved by what a mere TV channel is doing or not doing? What provoked it so much that it didn’t mind putting its reputation at stake and doing something that no previous party in power in the state has done? I am afraid in doing what it has done, the BJD has unwittingly lent credence to what the channel and Mr. Baijayant Panda have been saying (and what the ruling party has been denying) for several weeks now: that it is Mr. VK Pandian, the Chief Minister’s private secretary who calls the shots in the ruling party.
Let us go back a little in time. In the run up to the Bijepur by-election, the BJD had lodged a formal complaint with the chief electoral officer (CEO) accusing OTV of peddling ‘paid news’. The clear, obvious provocation on that occasion was a series of tweets by Mr. Panda asking questions about Mr. Pandian’s alleged meddling in the affairs of the BJD. Anyone who knows the definition of ‘paid news’ could make out that it was a very serious charge to press against a media house, especially one that is the leader in its field. For the uninitiated, mere bias does not constitute ‘paid news’; it has to be backed up with concrete, irrefutable evidence of a ‘quid pro quo’ to qualify as one. And to the best of my knowledge, no proof of any such ‘quid pro quo’ involving exchange of money has been presented by the BJD to prove its allegation till date.
Even after leveling such a serious, unsubstantiated charge, the BJD had no problems sending its spokespersons to panel discussions – till today, that is. So, what changed? One does not have to be a trained media watcher to know that it was the story run by the channel recently that raked up a serious allegation of bribe-taking against Mr. Pandian when he was Collector of Ganjam 10 years ago. Without going into the merits or the propriety of the story, I have to say the proper course for the state government would have been to deny the allegation in the shape of a press release. Alternatively, the BJD could have held a press conference – as it has done in to defend the government in many cases – and rubbished it since Mr. Pandian, as a government officer, was bound by rules not to respond to the charge in person. Better still, it could have just boycotted the channel, like the BJP has done in case of another channel, without going to town about it. That’s why I think the BJD decision to boycott OTV has only helped deepen the impression about Mr. Pandian’s role in the affairs of the party.
With most of the media houses on its side, the BJD could very well have ignored the OTV’s alleged acts of omission and commission. And with most of the people presumably on its side, the party had precious little reason to fear a TV channel, even if it is No. 1 in Odisha. Why should it get so perturbed by what it calls the OTV’s ‘partisan’ coverage is beyond me. Why did it have to abandon its stellar record as a party that has shown the maturity and magnanimity all these years to take criticism in its stride now? [As someone who has written consistently against the BJD, its President and its government, this columnist can vouch for it.] With its unprecedented decision today, the BJD has certainly not enhanced its commitment to the spirit of free speech, which is the bedrock of democracy.
It is possible that for all its bravado in public, the BJD is apprehensive that support for it is shrinking. Alternatively, today’s decision can be explained away as a sign of an arrogance that comes with being in power for too long; an arrogance that cannot brook any criticism.
Either way, it does no credit to the BJD.
(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV's charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)