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Guest Column: How suppressing media backfires

13-November-2014
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Guest Column: How suppressing media backfires

A lip service is paid to the free media. But in practice, no Government likes free and unmuzzled newspapers.  They follow the policy of setting a terrier to tame the watchdog.

“Indira is India, India is Indira" was coined by a sycophant. This equation of Indira Gandhi with the nation - or at any rate with the nation's best interests - was often made by Mrs Gandhi herself. The Emergency was declared, she claimed in that broadcast of November 11, 1975, because, "we felt that the country has developed a disease and if is to be cured soon it has to be given a dose of medicine, even if it is a bitter dose.”

In March 1976 Archer visited India and met Mrs Gandhi. His notes of the interview reveal a ruler with resolve. "I have to keep India together," she said to him, "that is an absolute must ... Total freedom (of the press and public opinion) will be fatal for India."

Obviously, she did not believe in a free media or freedom of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution. But for the unpaid watchman, that is the free media. The Commonwealth Games, Adarsh housing and the 2G scams  and  Railgate  would not have been exposed, or doctoring the Coalgate scam report by the then Law Minister. Two Ministers of the then ruling party and one of a coalition partner had to leave their jobs for their part in the above scams. Beyond that nothing happened to the two Ministers, nor  was any other legal action taken against them.

In October 2011, a re¬tired Supreme Court judge, was ap¬pointed chairman of the Press Council. He, in one of his vocalizations, called journalists ig¬norant and the media unrelia¬ble and worse. He wanted more powers for the Press Council of India, including powers to block government advertising to punish "erring" media. Heavens have not fallen in the United States, with the Provision in their Constitution to by including a clause in the Constitution that the Congress shall not make any laws abridging the Freedom of Press. Even assuming that the Government succeeds in muzzling the Press, what will it do with Inter¬net, mobile and social media -all instant "news" sources of doubtful veracity or even true.

Expectations of the public from media are far too many to be counted. Public expects advice on how policing, banks, military, should be run how marriages should be conducted, how the legislature should function and how it should make our life comfortable, what kind of hygiene should be there and how the roads should be kept clean. It should roast people who are responsible for the lapse. 

We forget that there are no perfect people and each one of us, has some faults. Why do we forget that media is run by human beings?  Journalists have been lampooned and one writer Hélder Câmara said that, “In the developed countries of the capitalist world, the mass media are beginning to become businesses, and huge businesses at that. The freedom of journalists is now becoming, in most cases, a very relative thing: it ends where the interests of the business begin... In socialist areas, it is enough to recall that the means of social communication are the monopoly of the party.” 

These people forget that a balance needs to be struck in every walk of life. If a newspaper does not earn, how it will pay to the journalists and writers and staff, or even publishing cost. All our life and transactions, or business or even media is about  balance between the good and the bad, the highs and the lows.

The author is former director, CBI. 

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