Media and Freedom of Expression
By: Vidya Bhushan Rawat
A journalist friend yesterday asked me about India’s status in the World Freedom Index. I said, there are three kind of them in India at the moment. One who are cheerleaders of the ruling establishment, who bark day and night, and are ready to ‘create’ a new story about the ‘enemies’ in their studios. They are happier lot and do not need anything except abusing, though, The second are those who are part of the Bania-Brahmin media, were secular a few days back but dont want to antagonise their bosses, hence their focus is mostly Congress, Rahul Gandhi and other opposition parties. They will critique all these parties , failure of Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh, Mayawati, Tejsvi and so on. This category of ‘intellectuals’ love Indian ‘democracy’ and ‘constitution’. The third one are those who are openly critical of the ruling party and the government. They also do ‘missionary’ journalism and are trying to ‘rebuild’ Congress and ‘left’ parties. Some of them, also gave illusion to us about new icons, from JNU and elsewhere. They campaigned for Kanhaiya Kumar too,
Frankly, media was always like this but the difference is that Prime Minister Modi is an expert. Having ruled Gujarat for nearly 12 years, Modi has with him the whole network of the Sangh Parivar and thoroughly communalised and polarised ‘intellectuals’ but whenever any government had the brute majority, such things happened. You see 1975 when Indira Gandhi had imposed emergency, number of newspapers had totally surrendered except for a few exceptions. Rajiv Gandhi brought the Defamation bill in 1986-87 and the media was divided that time but there was some shame left as the media would defend its fraternity. . In Tamilnadu, J Jayalalitha, in Bihar, Jagannath Mishra, in Karnataka the JDS government all have been ruthless against the government.
The fact is that media in India is on the deteriorating side. I can vouch with my little knowledge that such degradation is the biggest in last one decade when media is just protecting the corporate interests. English language dailies in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and even Bangladesh are standing up to their government and asking questions. The vernacular media, particularly the Hindi, Gujarati one are thoroughly casteist and has communal color in its reporting and editorial. Now, they convert fake news into a more real news than the news.
The media also reflect our society. With active social media, now every one think he or she has become ’empowered’. The empowerment is in the form of personal abuse and vitriolic in the most vulgar forms. We dont even wait to get a confirmation from the person. So it is a free for all. You abuse and then debate on the abuse. So, an abuse is having debate but not outright condemnation. It is not that the rightwing trollers are solely responsible for this the fact is that so-called secular-liberals too pedal such lies and encourage the same kind of people sometime presenting them as journalists.
The personal life stories of politicians and their sex scandals are always work of many tabloids in the western world. In India, the media normally keep away from it, unless there is a huge political price. Because all of us have many ‘lives’ other than visible political life, the fear of getting expose put pressure on the media. Politicians will go to any extent to ‘punish’ media persons who report against them. They will call to the owners of the media houses or their editors to stop stories. Now, the division is clear. We know who can publish story about whom and who will reject them. Columnists and authors too write according to the ‘color’ of the paper.
Dissent is the essence of democracy but we are too offended by smaller dissents too. In fact, right to offend too there in the liberal secular democracies and people enjoy it but we cant do it and those who do it, will do it for their perils. The problem is that we all never bothered about institutions. Individuals want to become famous and would like to be seen as ‘messiah’ against an ‘oppressive’ regime or leader. Such thing dont work in long term. You cant become a ‘great’ expert with one good or bad tweet or with one article but these days this happen. You have to speak otherwise you will be out of the biradari.
There are no categorical answer to this. The Supreme Court judge who gave order of unconditional release of Prashant Kanojia, a journalist arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police on alleged defamation of Yogi Adityanath had a different take on meme made by a BJP worker on Mamta Banerjee who he ordered release but with an apology. What does it mean ?
Why cant there be a consistency in our judgement ? Why cant the Supreme Court issue certain guidelines on these issues so that they become law of the establishment particularly at the time when governments dont act. And with some small reprieve, we go to sky, hailing our judiciary and law knowing fully well that in any other cases of similar kind, the court or other judge can be entirely different. Why should our laws be hostage to individual interpretation. Why cant they be simple and applicable to all in the same way but then this confusion is deliberate and give lawyers work to be in the news too.
India need a robust civil society and a media which respect human rights and which does not jump to the conclusion before the story is finished. It is time that we focus on bringing the real issues of the people then discussing netas and their private life which they definitely have. And if you have any categorical information related to this, i can bet, a tweet will not be able to do justice to this. A tweet can not replace the value of a news story. It can at most create sensation but will only make you vulnerable. We need to think before we tweet and dont spend our time and energies in things which serves no purpose.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He can be reached at [email protected]