To be honest, nothing could be worse than this. When the news and details first came out early this month that the Government was planning to bring in a Broadcast Bill, the media was dumbfounded by its intent and ramifications. There was deep concern cutting across the industry – print and television – that the Government was bent upon muzzling the country’s free press.
What comes as a bigger surprise is that the current UPA Government is led by a respected and enlightened academician-politician. And the political machinery is led by, ostensibly, a liberal with a European cosmopolitan mind. Yet, one after the other, Dr Manmohan Singh’s government has bumbled and sullied its hands with policies too archaic for a 21st century emerging economic goliath.
First came the controversial 27 per cent reservation policy. When the State has not been able to ensure access to school education to all children in the multitude of villages in rural India after almost six decades of Independence, one of its senior ministers had the gumption to foist a crippling reservation policy. Whatever happened to meritocracy? Without universal schooling, how will reservation help?
And now, another senior minister in Dr Singh’s Cabinet has pulled out a totally uncalled for Bill that is draconian, to say the least. How does one justify the fact that we pride ourselves as being the largest functioning democracy on this planet? What a contradiction – a democracy that tries to gag its media!
Sensing the outrage in the media, exchange4media had carried out a poll in three parts a week ago. The groundswell of emotion against the proposed Broadcast Bill is something that the Hon’ble I&B Minister and his boss, Dr Singh, can ignore at their own peril. The Congress took a long time to overcome the taint of Emergency. They would be better advised not to tread that path again in any form.
e4m poll findings
The first mailer in exchange4media's 'Speak Out on Proposed Broadcast Bill' poll had asked: Is the ghost of Emergency coming back to haunt Indian democracy by way of muzzling the Media? A preponderant 86 per cent of the respondents said "Yes", 7 per cent said "No", while another 7 per cent was not "Sure".
The second mailer in the poll had asked: Is the Government attempting to arrogate draconian powers to muzzle the Media in order to put an end to stings and corruption scandals being aired freely on TV channels? Once again a majority of the respondents - 86 per cent - said "Yes". The remaining 14 per cent thought otherwise.
The third mailer in the poll had asked: Is it right to penalise successful TV channels, through legislation, for garnering more than 15 per cent of the country's total viewership? Ninety per cent of the respondents said it is not right to do so, while the remaining 10 per cent found nothing wrong in this objective.
Some comments from respondents:
It would not be fair to identify the respondents, but some of the comments are an eye-opener. Here are a few comments from the first poll. Said Ajay: "… It seems that the powers that be want to bring back the days of Emergency." Another comment: "Any fool can tell what the government aims at doing vide this Bill. It basically means that politicians and their chelas, and also the bureaucracy, are scared of the media."
Commented Prasun: "This seems like an attempt to throttle the media so that they do not expose the wrong-doings of politicians/bureaucrats…they should look at ways of cleansing the system…" Ashwin observed: "This government is so full of itself. They have lost touch with ground realities…"
The second poll also brought out similar sentiments from the readership, which is convinced that the Bill is aimed at muzzling the media. Among the comments were: "The government cannot monopolise the Right to Investigation", and "The present rules are sufficient and the Indian media is an example the world over of its fairness in reporting." Some comments were very harsh on the leadership too.
Respondents to the third poll overwhelmingly protested against any move to curtail a viewer's right. "How can the government control my viewing?" asked Mary Ann. Said Richa: "There is no need to monitor channels. DD is boring… it makes one feel like a 'dehati'". Said another respondent: "It is against the will of viewers because it (15 per cent cap on a channel's viewership) will restrict us from watching our favourite channels."
Heed the message
Somewhere in these comments and percentages is a potent message to the Government: Let the four pillars of a good democracy thrive. The media being one of the pillars, do not shackle it and thus weaken the system. And the people of this country rightly feel that the media in India - print or broadcast - has always been fair and responsible.
Mr Dasmunshi, please pay heed and be pragmatic. You have grown up and thrived in this system. India is not Pakistan, so eschew authoritarianism. Respect the democracy that has given you a calling, otherwise you may be undone by it.