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Commitment to veracity lacking in modern journalism: Rajiv Lochan Sah

By Arun Pratap Singh

Rajiv Lochan Sah is one of the leading opinion makers and civil society leaders in the state of Uttarakhand, who has not only been involved in the Chipko movement but also actively participated in the state movement. As the founder and editor of ‘Nainital Samachar’, he has tried to become a voice for the people of Uttarakhand, especially the people from the hills. He has spoken out on people-oriented issues and has been a journalist for more than 50 years. He opposes the current emphasis on development, especially 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, presented by the Karmabhoomi Foundation, and will be presented the award by Prof. Shekhar Pathak on May 19 in Lansdowne. Garhwal Post spoke to him exclusively about various contemporary issues related to Uttarakhand and journalism. Some excerpts:

The journalism career has been full of struggle

Rajiv Lochan Sah recalls his over fifty-year career in journalism and says his journey has been full of struggle. There weren’t many journalism courses available at that time. He adds that it has been a journey of self-education for him and he started his career with limited resources. He adds that in his five-decade 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 has faced serious threats and risks along his journey. He also remembers that some charismatic leaders like Sundar Lal Bahuguna encouraged him a lot and also guided him in reaching out to a larger population and the people who mattered. He also told him to distribute the paper and clippings to the people about whom the stories had been published.

For larger news publications, the state movement was an opportunity to improve circulation

Sah adds that newspapers and people from all walks of life played a crucial role during the statehood movement, but the smaller local publications played a sincere and sincere role. Today’s leading publications, Dainik Jagran or Amar Ujala, were not published locally then. In Kumaon, Bareilly editions of these publications were distributed, while in the Garhwal region, Meerut editions were distributed. The statehood movement played a crucial role in uniting the regions of Garhwal and Kumaon and it was through 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 state movement, which was a people’s movement. Some larger publications sensed an opportunity to improve circulation in this region, especially in the hills, and started publishing news about the state’s agitation. However, instead of focusing on the content, they focused more on publishing the names of all the people who participated in the protests. This worked for them to increase circulation, but the content was lacking. Moreover, these publications had different editions for Kumaon and Garhwal and therefore the readers of Kumaon did not get enough information about the state movement in Garhwal and vice versa.

Sah claims that major publications had no emotional connection to the issues related to the hills and that the state movement was an opportunity for them to further their commercial interests. He adds that to counter this and to keep a united Uttarakhand in the picture, some people including himself have started a publication called Uttarakhand Bulletin. This Bulletin published news about the activities of both Garhwal and Kumaon in the form of a radio bulletin. This became a popular mode. Some international research publications have also cited the Uttarakhand Bulletin as a crucial form of public communication during the state’s agitation. The Bulletin also published poetry by poets of the region such as Girish Tiwari ‘Girda’ who 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.

The state of Uttarakhand did not come into existence according to the dreams of the state agitators

Sah says that when the separate state of Uttarakhand was formed, a number of smaller indigenous political organizations emerged, such as Uttarakhand Kranti Dal (UKD), but after a few elections these simply disappeared. In the first years after the formation of the state, UKD managed to win some seats in the parliamentary assembly, but now has little impact. Sah added that some other organizations like Vahini were also launched as an experiment and he was also part of it but it did not work out. Despite the fact that the state movement was a movement against larger parties at the national level such as the Congress and the BJP, the state eventually came under the political control of these very parties. The original concept by which the Uttarakhand movement was executed has just disappeared. Today, Uttarakhand is just a poor second-rate copy of Uttar Pradesh from which it was cut.

Sah says: “We wanted sustainable development. The current development model, especially in the hills, is hardly sustainable. Similarly, there is overexploitation of the state’s natural resources such as forests. Today we see the forests being burned and destroyed by fires. It is sad to see the Prime Minister getting involved in roadshows and campaigning for elections elsewhere in the country while the forests are on fire. By now, a state of emergency should have been declared in the state to tackle forest fires, but are we seeing such commitment to protect the state’s assets? No! Of course, the rains have controlled the forest fires to a large extent, but it is a bad idea to depend on the rains to control the forest fires.”

Replying to a question, Sah agreed that the prevailing forest laws are also responsible for the increase in forest fires. He says local villagers traditionally viewed the forests as their own collective property and assets and even risked their lives to control the forest fires. Existing laws have changed the concept of collective ownership and the forest department is too inefficient and corrupt to effectively protect forests. Traditional knowledge about forest protection has been ignored and forgotten because the local population no longer has any interests in the forests.

Print Media is solely responsible for its loss of meaning

Replying to a question, Rajiv Lochan Sah said that technology keeps changing and now, in addition to print media, there are also electronic media, namely news channels, digital media and even social media. Electronic media has the advantage of showing the latest news live, but the print media, even if it is a daily newspaper, cannot publish news until the next morning. However, the print media themselves are responsible for the loss of their meaning. Although it cannot match the electronic and digital media in delivering the news live or in the latest news format, it could have maintained the quality of the content and provided in-depth content, keeping it as relevant as ever. However, this did not happen. Sah adds that he has mainly run a fortnightly newspaper, but has concentrated on content and thorough research at the field level. Readers need analysis and background on the incidents that only the print media can provide. But today newspapers rely on official versions of any story and publish them without raising any doubts. Phenomena such as Love Jihad and Land Jihad are deliberately blown out of proportion to sow division. A recent example is the violence in Banphulpura (Haldwani). The mainstream media chose to publish only the government and police version of the story and no one bothered to find out what problems and issues the residents of Banbhulpura were facing, Sah alleged.

Media does not do their job responsibly

Rajiv Lochan Sah believes that in the past, people had so much faith in the power of journalism that they came to newspapers with the belief that if their problems were published, they would be solved by the authorities. It’s not the case anymore. No one anymore does the preparatory work to find out whether government schemes and projects are running well, useful or not. This fundamental responsibility is now missing. He says he wishes the young reporters would do the groundwork in a more sincere way, rather than just toeing the government line. That pays off in the form of credibility. The media must question every institution, be it the executive, the legislature or even the judiciary. However, the situation has deteriorated further since Modi came to power. No more questions are now encouraged by the authorities. He said fearlessness is the key to the right kind of journalism. He recalled that during the peak period of his career, he faced many legal notices and some lawsuits, but that didn’t stop him from writing what he wanted to write. He called on the current generation of journalists to be fearless and work harder to move society in a positive direction.

Karmabhoomi Award remembers the activism of Pt Bhairav ​​Dutt Dhulia

The Karmabhoomi Foundation was established in the memory of the founder and editor of the Karmabhoomi Newspaper, published in Kotdwar (Pauri Garhwal district) in 1939, and a prominent journalist and social activist from Uttarakhand, the late Pandit Bhairav ​​Dutt Dhulia. The newspaper will continue to be published weekly, albeit in digital mode. The Foundation has instituted a Bhairav ​​Dutt Dhulia Award for Excellence in Journalism. This 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 presented to him at a function to be held in Lansdowne on May 19. The prize also includes a cash prize.

The Dhulia family has formed a panel to look for suitable names for the award. The prize has now become an annual event. While last year the award ceremony was held in Dehradun, this year Lansdowne has been chosen as the venue for the award ceremony. Eminent historian and social activist Prof. Shekhar Pathak will be the chief guest on the occasion and he will present the award to Sah.