Media bodies have slammed Union minister VK Singh’s statement that an attack on African nationals in the national capital was a “minor scuffle” blown up by news organisations.
On Sunday, Singh tweeted: “Why is media doing this? As responsible citizens let us question them and their motives.”
Singh was deputed by his senior colleague Sushma Swaraj to reach out to African students after envoys of several African nations protested against growing racial attacks in India.
The Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA), a television editors’ body, condemned the former army chief’s comments. BEA secretary NK Singh said the minister is in the habit of making this kind of “absurd statements which are not in consonance with the spirit of democracy.”
“We would advise the Prime Minister to give lessons in Indian Constitution to the minister,” Singh was quoted as saying by PTI.
He said news organisations were independent and the incidents of growing racial intolerance were detrimental to the image of the country and to the ‘Make in India’ programme, which the Narendra Modi-led NDA government was pursuing.
Former editor HK Dua told HT the minister’s comment was unwarranted. “Instead of showing sympathy and assuaging the feelings of those attacked, he has used the word ‘minor scuffle’, which looks like he’s taking it lightly.”
Dua, who has also served as a media adviser to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said unlike the external affairs minister Swaraj, who has “acted wisely”, Singh has erred by dismissing concern over the attack, given the repercussions it can have on relations between India and African countries.
“If our students get beaten up abroad, will we like it if it is described as a minor scuffle?” he said, adding: “Blaming the media is an old habit (for him). He has a testy relationship with the media, but now is not the time to score points with them.”
The minister’s comments about the media have been created controversies in the past, with him coining the term “presstitute”, a play on the word prostitute to show disdain for news organisations.
Commenting on the minister’s uneasy relation with the media, senior journalist and media critic Sevanti Ninan said: “It’s bad enough that you have a minister who tweets like a troll, as The Hindu said about him on an earlier occasion. It’s worse that a minister in the MEA thinks the reporting of racism against foreign nationals is the real problem -- not the racism itself. And sides with the police in downplaying it.”
The minister’s comments drew a sharp reaction from Seema Mustafa, editor of The Citizen and a member of the Editor’s Guild. She said the minister’s comments were “reprehensible” and “justifying the unjustifiable”.
Mustafa also criticised the minister for failing to assuage the students. “…Fortunately India is still not a military cantonment. Instead of addressing these issues to the media, he should address these to the African envoys who are very unhappy about the attacks on their citizens.”