This is not a run-of-the-mill comment on the khaki community “seeing red” in the roses proffered on Valentine’s Day, nor on the predators lurking in public parks ready to pounce on courting couples they project as being in a “compromising position”. It is worse, institutionalised. In its arrogance, the National Investigation Agency decided to prescribe a code for journalists ~ suggesting that to qualify as professionals they must adhere to the very standards that has caused the policing agency to be bracketed with the CBI as political weapons of the ruling party of the day.

In a charge-sheet filed against a video journalist of Kashmir, the NIA has gone where even VC Shukla dared not tread during the Emergency of 1975-77.The charge-sheet, recently made available to the Additional Sessions Judge, lists the “moral duty of a journalist” and questions the credentials of the suspect ~ it would be improper to opine on the merits of the specific case ~ saying “had he been a real journalist/stringer by profession he may have performed one of the moral duties of a journalist which is to cover the activities and happenings in his jurisdiction. He had never covered any developmental activity of any government agency, any inauguration of school building, hospital, bridge, statement of any political party in power or any other social developmental activity by the state government or government of India.”

That statement is reproduced in detail because it points to a dangerous mindset. Perhaps one that helps explain the path to success taken by subservient officials ever-anxious to please their political masters. The framers of the charge-sheet would never have heard journalists proudly assert their right to play “an adversarial role”, or why the media is deemed the “fourth estate”.

The charge-sheet also listed as journalistic duties the social work done by the Army and paramilitary such as blood-donation camps etc ~ by that token AIR and Doordarshan would be hailed as media maestros for when last did an AIR news bulletin not commence with the words, “The Prime Minister said…” Editors drafting those bulletins, unlike their counterparts in newspapers, never have to struggle for “intros”. Yet the issue is not the media, but what gives the NIA the right to lay down what makes a professional journalist; it is an investigative agency, not the Press Council.

Surely the charge-sheet in a case pertaining to terrorist-funding in J&K was not drafted by a lowly sub-inspector or inspector, and approved by a senior? This concept of professional journalism assumes ominous significance in an atmosphere in which people who think independently are dubbed “anti-national” and charges of sedition are indiscriminately slapped. Both Rajnath Singh and Smriti Irani need to enlighten their underlings that a free Press is not a rubber-stamp, nor an extension of a propaganda machine.