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Media Liberty & dynamism of Indian democracy!
Opinion

Media Liberty & dynamism of Indian democracy!

Hari Jaisingh

How come the increasing number of media persons are becoming angry targets of the powers-that-be, be it Karnataka, West Bengal, UP and other states of the Union? Is there anything wrong with the way today’s journalists are going about their work? Or, are media persons becoming the targets of growing intolerance to the slightest criticism of CMs and DMs?

As it is, direct communication and information flow from the authorities have virtually got snapped. In this changed political situation, media persons have to bank on second or third rate information sources and certain distortions in reporting in the process are but natural.

Even otherwise, the profession is becoming more of high-profile dhanda(business) than service to keep the people better informed in a sensitive democracy like ours. This is a pity. Nothing can be achieved by shedding crocodile tears. Time has come to think and reflect on the goings-on and look for correctives to keep the dynamism of our parliamentary democracy alive.

Take, for example, the recent high-profile case of Delhi-based journalist Prashant Kanojia and two other journalists working for Noida’s Live India channel. It tells us about administrative excesses of the Yogi Adityanath government.

To say this, is not to deny the growing casual approach of certain set of journalists. I do not wish to get into the details of such cases. But, I must say that the media has, by and large, conducted itself fairly well despite the changed ownership pattern. Today, there are no Ramnath Goenkas around who could take on the mightiest of the land for the sake of “freedom to say” what they wish to convey to the people.

Still, we are thankful to the judiciary for speaking out boldly for Liberty and Freedom of the Press. Recently, the Supreme Court’s bench of Indira Banerjee and Ajay Rastogi directed the UP authorities to release Kanojia and two others on bail and advised CM Yogi’s government to be “magnanimous” as it was a “glaring case of deprivation of liberty”.

The bench rejected the State’s plea and questioned the lower court’s decision to send the journalists behind bars for 11 days. It said that “something is so glaring here that the court cannot hold its arms and ask the petitioner to go to the high court”. Liberty is guaranteed under the Constitution and it is sacrosanct and non-negotiable, asserted the bench.

The Supreme Court message is wide-ranging and applicable to all areas of governance. It is a virtual warning to the authorities: to take the Constitution seriously and look and reflect on its clear provisions on the freedom of media. This freedom cannot be subjected to any senseless authoritarianism that goes against the basic norms of democracy.

In this context, I must say that the ills and limitations of democracy need not be forgotten. It is a great leveler, socially and politically. It has made the poorest of the poor conscious of his power, even though such power is normally exercised once every five years or so. This may be good enough in a society which prefers to crawl at a snail’s pace rather than move speedily.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi knows this reality fairly well. He knows that each promise made by him creates a new awareness of rights and wrongs. It also sharpens the assertiveness of the have-nots, the tribals and the scheduled castes and tribes. The Muslims have their own pockets of unrest. No wonder, the Indian polity, more often than not, presents a picture of a split personality divided on grounds of caste, religion and community.

Viewed in this light, we have a long way to go to PM Modi’s vision of tomorrow ---- of two sets of people --- those who are poor and those who can help alleviate others’ poverty!

Notwithstanding all its functional handicaps, democracy has helped to sharpen the rough edges of common sense among ordinary people, even in rural areas. Awareness is the key to the success of a democracy. As it is, modern communication network has supplemented traditional channels, like Itihas and Puranas, Harikathas, folk theatres, folk songs, folk messages and religious discourse.

I must say that the Indian media has acted as a watchdog of democracy. It has reported cases of miscarriage of justice. It has exposed the wrong inflicted on the weaker sections of society. It has exposed some of the mightiest persons for corruption and scams. The press, in fact, knows how and when to pounce upon the authorities to safeguard its freedom and the people’s right to information.

India’s media persons, by and large, understand their responsibility to inform the people and make them realise the rights and wrongs of the powers-that-be. Still, it has a lot more ground to cover in order to ensure its broader understanding of arrogance and one-track mindset of the authorities.

The challenge is: how to make the media in today’s changed political atmosphere a “rich marketplace of ideas and right information flow”? In this regard, I wish to say that the battle of ideas and communication must continue. We have to ensure that the latest communication technology should reach every nook and corner of the country. This is the only way to demolish past prejudices and mental barriers among different politico-ideological groups. This will help to improve the quality of the country’s democratic life.

I am of the view that thinking persons must not be indifferent to the ugly facts of development and governance. It is a pity India’s intellectuals are getting increasingly politicized and communalized. In this situation, truth becomes the first casualty.

Democracy flourishes best when the thinking class leads the people correctly and puts truth, and only unbiased truth, before the nation. The working of democracy, for that matter, cannot be left to the whims and fancies of the manipulators, crooks, scoundrels and black-marketers!

I must also say that concentration of power in a small coterie of the Prime Minister’s office, as a fountainhead of all wisdom, has grown both in size and authority. This has given a blow of the accepted concept of collective responsibility of governments and legitimate distribution of power and patronage among various areas. A centralized system of functioning could be counter-productive and self-defeating. The PM needs to appreciate this fact.

There are, of course, no in-built safeguards against such authoritarian traits, except constant public vigilance by journalists, jurists, public-spirited persons and earthy common sense of common folks. Herein we shall find the vibrant dynamism of Indian democracy.

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The views and facts expressed in the article are those of the writer.