UP acting against the journalist who did the Mirzapur-school mid-day meal expose hurts governance and press freedom
The shame that children in a government school in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, being routinely denied their due by being served critically nutrient-deficient “meals”—if one can call them that—of roti and salt, instead of the regular meal plan under the mid-day meal scheme, should have stung the state government into taking immediate corrective measures. Instead, it chose to file a trumped-up case against the journalist who first highlighted the gross negligence of governance.
Even though the UP chief minister ordered a probe into the matter, and two teachers, in charge of the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme, have been suspended, the whistleblower journalist, Pawan Jaiswal, has been booked for criminal conspiracy, cheating and defaming the state government. Not only does this make the state government seem vindictive and suppressive of criticism but also sets a precedent of harassment for whistle-blowing.
But, the fact is UP is no outlier. For all the flaws in the world press freedom rankings, India’s position in the index has not changed significantly over the last six years, rising from 140 in 2013 to 133 in 2016, only to fall back to its current 140. While fake/biased news has seriously damaged the credibility of journalism in India, with public interest journalism, like Jaiswal’s, under attack from those in power, India runs the risk of being perceived as much worse in terms of press freedom than it actually is.
The Editors Guild of India has condemned the action against Jaiswal, but unless the public forces those in power to rein in their tendency to suppress criticism, cases like this could become all too common.