Imran Ahmed Siddiqui - Journalism in Asia Today
What is your day-to-day task at your publication/organisation?
I work for The Telegraph as its Special Correspondent and am based in New Delhi, India’s capital. I cover crime and India’s home ministry that deals with internal security and intelligence as well as the country’s premier investigative agency, Central Bureau of Investigation. My day starts with reading four newspapers and later making calls to my sources to fix an appointment for the day. At 12.30 the editor meets with reporters and discusses story ideas for the day. After the meeting I go to my beat, North Block, seat of home ministry, where I meet my sources that include bureaucrats, senior police and intelligence officials. At six in the evening we have another meeting where we list our stories which will appear in the following day’s paper.
What is the greatest challenge in journalism today in this region?
What we are witnessing now in India under the Narendra Modi government is an undeclared Emergency. Journalists are increasingly facing a backlash for producing work that raises questions or criticisms of the government or Modi’s party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There are both direct and indirect attempts of the government to muzzle critical media. The government’s policy is one of intimidation of the free press which is clear in various ways. Recently, journalists across the country held protest marches and raised questions on the safety of writers and media after the killing of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh, an outspoken critic of right wing Hindutva politics of Modi. Lankesh’s killing is the latest in a string of murders of ‘rationalist’ writers in India.
How important is journalism in Asia?
The need for investigative journalism is greater than ever but at the same time it is risky considering the environments that are not conducive to critical journalism. Journalism brings transparency into society and aids a democratic decision-making system. Media is the watchdog of society or the fourth estate. A journalist’s job is to oversee the government on behalf of the citizens and expose corruption and lapses while also lending a voice to the voiceless and power to powerless. It plays a major role in informing the public and thereby shape perceptions and thought through the national agenda. At the same time, the commercialisation of media has become a major challenge in many Asian countries.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt from another journalist in Asia?
Journalism is a service and we need to understand the essence of what our readers want and for that we must listen to them and understand what they want.
What do you think is the most important issue/story in your country/region?
India under the Modi government is facing a major challenge – religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased. Attacks against Muslims and Dalits have increased manifold under the new regime. The country is firmly under the grasp of a majoritarian idea and social isolation of minorities is a major concern – this has even left secular Indians with a sense of uneasiness.
What are you most optimistic about as a journalist in Asia?
I am a fairly relentless optimist about the future of journalism especially in India which is a vibrant democracy. I have also great faith in the people of this country and the Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion to every individual and makes no distinction between caste, creed, colour or religion of a citizen. Free speech is an inalienable right, recognised in our Constitution as a fundamental right.
What does it mean to be a journalist in Asia, as compared to the rest of the world?
While the struggle for democracy and freedom of expression has witnessed a massive expansion of independent media in Asia, the attacks on media individuals and the killings have also risen in the region. The governments often show disdain for press freedom and target journalists to send a message across to undermine democracy. What is more shocking is the lack of investigation into the killings and the killers/attackers roam around with impunity. We need to fight for press freedom, journalists’ safety and better working conditions.
Imran Ahmed Siddiqui is a special correspondent at The Telegraph, New Delhi. He covers the Indian government’s home ministry, internal security and intelligence. He was selected for the Asia Journalism Fellowship in 2013.
Journalism in Asia is a collection of portraits and interviews from influential journalists in Asia presented every Monday morning.