On the face of it, it's an old problem which Keralites have ceased to solve or failed to solve or have no time to attend to. In this particular case, it's an issue no Indian can solve easily, without changing the Constitution of India. Of course we have changed it at least a hundred times.
The country has established charge of running the nation to three pillars. They are the parliament, the executive and the judiciary. The parliament cannot pass any law which does not abide by the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court has to decide if anybody challenges a law passed by parliament whether it violates the Constitution. The judiciary cannot violate the constitutional law. The executive has to implement the law passed by parliament. That is how the nation is going on.That's where Bhim Rao Ambedkar earned his fame.
In this three-tier government comes an institution called the fourth estate. Its role is definitely below the role of the three pillars but going by standards and morals and the people's will, it is considered a very important pillar. Whether it is considered or not, journalists make very good use of it, some for unauthorised usage of state and national affairs and some for a few drinks which will boost their acknowledgement in society. Some complain about the same group taking undue advantage of the governing system, a few who want it to be treated as a fourth estate servants of politicians, some who dislike all this and want them to be abolished because these four institutions are borrowed from elsewhere.
Recently the Kerala government issued an order which created an uproar among the media. It restricted entry of journalists to the chief minister's office and imposed restrictions on meeting the other ministers. On the official programmes, press meetings inside and outside the government secretariat and entry to the public relations department were all restricted. The media directly seeking responses of the chief minister and other ministers at airports, railway stations and guest houses was also included.
Sorry to say that this is an indication of Pinarayi's attitude to the media which is confounding. In this he follows Prime Minister Narendra Modi it seems. Narendra Modi hasn't held a press conference. Pinarayi Vijayan too. He thinks the media, at least a majority of them, are convinced that he is too arrogant. The media hasn't reacted to his thinking, one should say. This is in sharp contrast to former CMs and other political leaders.
In response to a question by a Congress leader, CM said the government order will be amended. Probably some journalists think it will be withdrawn. But the promised amendment hasn't come as yet. Maybe we will have to wait till Kerala resolves the Sabarimala issue which has become a non-issue much to the chagrin of the BJP.
Many Keralites think the move was aimed at a new media discussion to divert attention from the Sabrimala agitation which is ending. Pinarayi hoped that people would put it on the backburner. After a bacchanalia people would have done it.
Almost the same event happened in Rajasthan where chief minister Vasundhara Raje during her tenure tried the same which later she had to withdraw. The same thing Jayalalithaa tried too, I think. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried the same a few months back on the argument that there was a lot of paid news in newspapers. Finally the centre had to withdraw it. And the CPM in Kerala was on the agitation against Vasundhara Raje's move against the press! In Kerala they were silent when almost the same kind of move was made against the press. Pinarayi too has said the notification will be amended. It shows that the three were on the same foot!
The issue needs to be thoroughly discussed and debated. How can people who call themselves fourth estate members plead for the same treatment as members of the three pillars, the judiciary , the executive and the parliament? How can members of parliament, mostly illiterate or members of assemblies consider themselves superior?
Let the panjandrums of the press discuss this threadbare.
Till then Modi, Pinarayi and Vasundhara Raje, and the entire political establishments decide this issue of how journalists should be treated. Let us wait for the judgement. Let we the people think of not too many or too little restrictions on the media but politicians should on their part think of not considering ban on poor journalists for political needs.
That is not the politics that Kerala as a state which is far ahead of other states needs. Pinarayi Vijayan should think about it. The earlier the better.
The freedom of expression should not be curbed. Those who say it is being attempted should have a look at Indira Gandhi and her doings and how Kerala media supported it or ignored it for fear of their business. Let it not be forgotten so that the next generation will not have to be ashamed of their predecessors role.
- P C Punnen, Senior Journalist.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author).