TRUMP’S TRYST WITH CONTROVERSIES CONTINUES EVEN AS HE ASSUMES PRESIDENCY

The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bit modified and extended.

The controversial businessman and President-elect Donald Trump is US President now with the White House as his official and residential address for at least the next four years, a distinction that makes him unarguably the most powerful person on the Earth.

But true to his controversial past, his tryst with controversies has continued unabated and has, in fact, seen two major controversies in just two days after his inaugural on January 20, 2017.

Donald Trump has had a bad reputation when it comes to respecting women. He has made several gaudy, bitter in taste sexist remarks against women with women even accusing him of sexual assault. His reputation on this front is sullied to the extent that news outfits run even ‘Donald Trump sexism tracker’.

It was natural then that millions of women protested against Trump, not just in Washington but in many cities in America and across the world. According to an ABC news report, ‘more than than 600 rallies in 60 countries around the world’ were held. Reuters headlined the worldwide women protests as ‘unprecedented’. They were all there, mocking and denouncing the new US President, as the Reuters report put it.

But Donald Trump, in his trademark style, a hangover from his past, chose to berate women again. Tweeting from his personal Twitter handle (@realDonaldTrump), Trump mocked women protesters, “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote? Celebs hurt cause badly.” Though he later tweeted to say that even if didn’t agree, ‘he recognized the rights of people to express their views’, he left an impression that protests didn’t matter for him.

And it seems Trump has chosen people like him to represent his administration. After the inauguration ceremony, Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that it was the most watched inauguration ever of any US President, a false claim that fell flat with contradictory figures. According to Nielsen data, Trump’s inauguration with 30.6 million eyeballs ranked behind Ronald Reagan (1981-41.8 million), Barack Obama (2009-37.7 million), Jimmy Carter (1977-34.1 million) and Richard Nixon (1973-33 million).

But Trump, in his familiar style, tried to belittle his predecessor Barack Obama again tweeting “Wow, television ratings just out: 31 million people watched the Inauguration, 11 million more than the very good ratings from 4 years ago!”. Clearly, he was trying to shield behind a selective set of information, picking up what suited his purpose.

Both Trump and his Press Secretary have slammed the media for being preferential and biased for showing truth behind the numbers. Trump thinks media is dishonest when it says that Barack Obama’s inaugural in 2009 had more people in attendance. Going a step further, his Press Secretary Spicer threatened to ‘hold the press accountable’ blaming that ‘some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting’.

If it is the beginning, let’s see what happens next. If Trump and his administration can’t handle media coverage on his inauguration, imagine what would happen when it comes to media carrying in-depth policy analysis of Donald Trump’s stated priorities where he said he would go against the established norms, be it Obamacare repeal or nuclear proliferation and military expansion or climate change protocols or trade protectionism or the US intervention in the geopolitical affairs.

©SantoshChaubey

US JOURNALISTS SET RULES ON ACCESS TO TRUMP’S ADMINISTRATION, AIRTIME FOR NEXT FOUR YEARS

The article originally appeared on India Today.

US President-elect Donald Trump has been livid over many issues and people and the US media is one of his main targets. He has slammed media left, right and centre, going as far as to mock a disabled journalist and threaten to keep media outfits away from the White House.

Now, just two days before his inaugural, the US Press Corp has come out with a strongly worded open letter, published in the Columbia Journalism Review of Columbia University, to set things in a perspective for the next four years clearly spelling out that who will be the boss saying while “Trump has every right to decide his ground rules for engaging with the press, they have some, too. It is, after all, their airtime and column inches that Trump is seeking to influence.”

The open letter by a body representing US journalists, asserts, “We, not you, decide how best to serve our readers, listeners, and viewers. So think of what follows as a backgrounder on what to expect from us over the next four years”.

The letter categorically rebuts Donald Trump’s regular slanderous assualts and threats against media. Addressing Trump it says, “You’ve banned news organizations from covering you. You’ve taken to Twitter to taunt and threaten individual reporters and encouraged your supporters to do the same. You’ve advocated for looser libel laws and threatened numerous lawsuits of your own, none of which has materialised. You’ve avoided the press when you could and flouted the norms of pool reporting and regular press conferences. You’ve ridiculed a reporter who wrote something you didn’t like because he has a disability”.

The journalists body, through its open letter, sets rules on access to Trump’s administration, off the record statements, airtime, objectivity and cultivating and embedding news sources in the government for the next four years or in best case scenario, for the next eight years, if Donald Trump gets the second term.

Journalists say that Trump may deny them access but it will be a challenge that they will relish. The letter clears it out that ‘access is preferable, but not critical’. They say ‘attending background briefings or off-the-record social events’ will be their sole discretion and they deserve the right to give or deny airtime to Trump’s spokespersons.

They lay out terms for the quality of coverage that will be driven by objective truth. Newsworthiness is must, but not without facts. And they warn Trump they will have upper hand in covering how his policies are carried out, even if he seeks to control information.

US journalists recognize where they have failed and credit Trump to highlight it and emphasize the need to ‘regain trust’ and say that “they’ll do it through accurate, fearless reporting, by acknowledging their errors and abiding by the most stringent ethical standards they set for themselves”.

But they blame Trump of trying to create a division in the journalistic fraternity and even trying to cause family fights. The letter says those days are over now as ‘the challenge of covering Trump requires that journalists cooperate and help one another whenever possible’. The letter reiterates on its role in making the US a great Republic and expresses gratitude that “forced them to rethink the most fundamental questions about who they are and what they are here for”.

©SantoshChaubey

WHY CAN’T OUR POLITICAL ESTABLISHMENTS ACCOMMODATE VOICES LIKE KOVAN?

While striking down the Section 66A of the Information-Technology Act, the Supreme Court bench had observed, “It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right.”

The Supreme Court decision on March 24 this year officially declared a ‘draconian’ law finally draconian.

The observation focuses on ‘balance between right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on right’, here in the context of the freedom of expression, and rightly so because the law enforcing agencies have had a pretty bad track record in that.

The SC bench of J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman said, “If Section 66A is otherwise invalid, it cannot be saved by an assurance from the learned Additional Solicitor-General that it will be administered in a reasonable manner. Governments may come and governments may go, but Section 66A goes on forever. An assurance from the present government, even if carried out faithfully, would not bind any successor govt.”

Going by the bad precedent set by the law enforcing agencies, the apex court rightly refused to trust the words of the country’s political establishment.

Because the political administration has time and again acted so – with incidents like cartoons and Facebook posts being the reasons for charges like ‘sedition’ and follow-up arrests. Flurry of such cases and the widespread outrage over them were the central reason behind the SC’s decision on 66A.

But what about the concerned Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)?

66A was obstructing the freedom of expression with incessant cases of its misuse, and the right logic was put forward that anything of serious nature causing some serious offence could well be handled by the concerned Sections of the IPC.

What about the misuse of the concerned Sections of the IPC?

There is a long list and yesterday’s arrest of a Tamil folk singer, S. Sivadas or Kovan, for writing and propagating songs with ‘allegedly derogatory’ lyrics on Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, has not come as a surprise.

Yes, but as it is to be, and as it is, the anger and the outrage is pouring all across – including from the political establishments anti to Jayalalithaa.

Activists or people like Kovan or many like him, like, for that matter, Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra who was arrested for circulating emails with cartoons of Mamata Banarjee, the West Bengal chief minister, are not known beyond their immediate field of activity or their immediate geographical spread – before their unjust arrest.

They have every right to criticise anyone within the democratic norms. The Constitution gives them this freedom.

But who takes guarantee of ensuring that when the administration acts on the contrary, compromising the rights given by the Constitution?

Courts have to intervene then like the top court did with Section 66A. But it doesn’t happen in a day and the struggle with the controversial IPC Sections takes years for saner voices to prevail, like we saw in Dr. Binayak Sen’s case.

Why can’t our political establishments accommodate voices like Kovan or Ambikesh Mahapatra or Binayak Sen or many others who have a different conscience than our ruling establishments?

What about culture of tolerance in our political establishments?

This May, the Kerala High Court observed in a case, “Being a Maoist is of no crime, though the political ideology of the Maoist will not synchronise with our constitutional polity. The police cannot detain a person merely because he is a Maoist, unless the police form a reasonable opinion that his activities are unlawful.”

This and other similar court observations follow from a landmark observation in 2011 given by the Supreme Court while granting bail to Dr. Binayan Sen. The court had said, “We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathiser. That does not make him guilty of sedition. If Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography is found in somebody’s place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harbouring them.” (Here ‘materials’ means Naxalite/Maoist literature.)

If Kovan has done anything that goes against the state then his arrest can be justified but not on the pretexts like his songs are maligning the image of the state’s chief ministers or he is openly criticising the state sops selling liquor/alcohol – especially when ‘prohibition’ has become a sensitive issue across the country.

Kovan’s case reminds me the Marathi movie ‘Court’, India’s official entry to the Academy Awards (Oscars) this year. In the movie, the main protagonist is jailed time and again as police links his anti-establishment songs to the ‘alleged’ suicide of a person, even if there is evidence on the contrary.

Here are links to Kovan songs. I don’t understand Tamil but I am free, and rightly, to express my solidarity.

Shut down TASMAC and Amma TASMAC (Tamil songs – TASMAC is the Tamil Nadu government outfit that runs the liquor shops in question.)

And here is a photograph, sourced from Twitter, showing S. Sivadas or Kovan performing his art.

Kovan-Twitter

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/