Indian media try to blackball ABC reporter in bid to suck up to Modi

Chamchagiri is a Hindi word that refers to the practice of flattering or appeasing a superior or a person in power. It is the best way to describe the manner in which Indian media are prostrating themselves in order to blackball Australian journalist Avani Dias and portray her expulsion from the world’s biggest democracy aka India as being due to every other reason apart from the inability of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to accept a little criticism.

The manner in which journalism in the country has changed since 2014 when Modi first took office is very accurately portrayed in this Al Jazeera video.

Dias was denied a visa after her program Sikhs, Spies and Murder: Investigating India’s alleged hit on foreign soil was aired on the ABC ‘s weekly Foreign Correspondent slot in March.

A publication known as OpIndia is now trying to claim — in an article without a byline — that Dias returned to Australia because of a new job and her wedding. This is bulldust of the finest variety. I doubt you can get it in any other country, but India has an over-supply given the number of cattle wandering around on the streets.

Dias had applied for a job with Four Corners sometime back, but she was committed to covering the Indian elections and only then returning home to join that section of the ABC. I know this for a fact, not from some second-hand hearsay.

OpIndia describes her as an anti-India journalist. One is not sure what this means: was she expected to drape herself in the Indian tricolour? She was not trying to curry favour with Modi or his chanchas; she was there for a reporting job. That trade is something very rare in India these days; that Al Jazeera video will tell you why.

Dias was young, but an excellent reporter. And this testimonial comes from a hardened old fart, someone who has worked for the Indian Express (during the time of Ramnath Goenka), the Deccan Herald, Khaleej Times in Dubai and later with The Age in Australia. Dias was best of breed; she did straight reporting and that is something Modi hates with a passion.

One can gauge his angst when questioned, by the fact that he lasted only three minutes in an interview with Karan Thapar, a very senior Indian journalist who was at that time working for CNN in India. You can see that interview on YouTube and it shows clearly that the prime minister has an extremely thin skin.

OpIndia cites as a reference a website known as The Australia Today; there, an Indian by the name of Jai Bharadwaj, claims Dias was “an inexperienced Sri Lankan-Australian journalist working as a foreign correspondent for the taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation” who had “returned, driven by a new professional opportunity and personal milestone, rather than any alleged intimidation by the Indian government”. One is not sure what taxpayer funding has to do with the whole thing.

Bharadwaj cites a number of reasons to account for his conclusions. All of them are dead wrong. Whether Dias was getting married or not, whether she had a fresh job offer or not, she was committed to covering the Indian elections – which end only on June 1 – and then effecting any changes in her professional life. She was not interested in leaving the country at this stage.

Here is some of the bulldust that Bharadwaj filed: “The Indian Australian diaspora criticised her reporting on Ayodhya for factual inaccuracies. She was schooled on social media, but Avani Dias refused to understand what she was doing wrong. A person with information in the International News department of ABC told The Australia Today that the Editor of International News had a confidential report from the ABC India team that Avani Dias had burnt bridges and made the relationship with most stakeholders toxic.”

He should just listen to the four podcast episodes that she produced in her series Looking for Modi. It is high-class reporting and once again this comes from a grey-haired guy who has done the lot in journalism. Reporters always burn bridges – else they are known as PR specialists. Dias was not sent to India to play the role of a public relations operative.

OpIndia, which has few links to substantiate its claims apart from links to its own site, refers to Dias as a ‘journalist’ attempting to cast aspersions on her professionalism. And it says: “She lamented returning to her home country just a day before the first phase of the elections in India. Thereafter, her employer ABC News published a controversial article claiming that Dias received a phone call from the Ministry of External Affairs and was notified about the denial of her visa extension.” The truth is that India held off on her visa long enough to ensure that a troublesome reporter, who had started making waves, would have no option but to leave.

“The publication said that MEA informed the ‘journalist’ that she crossed a line with her propaganda-laden YouTube video, which suggested that India was somehow involved in the assassination of Canada-based Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”

The claims about Indian involvement in the assassination of Nijjar came from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, not Dias. She was merely reporting events. Let us remember that a Sikh activist in the US accused India of transnational terrorism after the US foiled a plot to kill him. OpIndia conveniently omits any reference to this. As does the great Bharadwaj.

Bharadwaj also claims one of the foreign correspondents working in India told The Australia Today that “whatever little interaction I had with Avani, she lacked the depth to be reporting in a complex country like India”. His article is bereft of any links; apparently he is like Moses on Mount Sinai.

No names are mentioned, but then innuendo is the name of the game in India. I reported there for eight years and I know the way the game is played. It was well before the advent of Modi and journalists were not trying to suck up to the powers-that-be as that would have been a sure way to look foolish.

OpIndia makes no secrets about where its loyalties lie; at the bottom of the article is an ad for Special coverage on Ayodhya Ram Mandir, the temple that Modi inaugurated some weeks ago in a bid to mollify Hindus ahead of the election. The Babri Mosque that stood on the site where the temple now stands was razed by a Hindu mob in 1992, an event that led to a great deal of consternation within the Muslim community.

Payback for this arrived in 1993 when the Bombay Stock Exchange was bombed, allegedly under the direction of Dawood Ibrahim, a smuggler who then took refuge in Dubai. India has never been able to extradite him and he lives there in style, travelling around the emirate in a Rolls-Royce.

Exactly what these websites get from the government is unclear. But it is clear that they have one agenda: discredit anyone who goes against government dogma. That so-called journalists have stooped so low is pitiable. It underlines my contention that India is no longer a democracy; it is a fundamentalist Hindu authoritarian state where the media pees in its pants every time Modi passes by.


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