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Guest column: Vigilantes mix up nationalism-patriotism with politics of power: John Thomas on World Press Freedom Day

04-May-2017
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Guest column: Vigilantes mix up nationalism-patriotism with politics of power: John Thomas on World Press Freedom Day

When we read of international media associations rating India’s press freedom as the lowest in a decade and a half, it rankles—especially when I have prided in India’s media freedom, comparing my experiences of several years of reporting and writing in countries where press freedom is curtailed, and also having to report and write for media markets ever mindful of how the idea of freedom varies in those countries.

So, what has changed in India? One readily visible change is the level of intolerance of news and views that are at variance from the official version.

Anyone in authority, whether governmental, business, religious or social, wants others to read, hear and see only what they wish. That is natural. But there has always been a private acceptance that everything you want to convey will not be conveyed and not the way you want it.

Lately, that assumption has been questioned and various people in power or are behaving as the limbs of those in power, have been vocal in their objection to those who don’t see and therefore don’t present news and views their way.

The free availability of internet and the false sense of security or anonymity that social media provides, have helped growls to grow into threatening roars. Add to that, the gumption to take vigilantism to a physical level and even in cases through legal and financial means.

Activism to set the media right has been made out by some as an extension of the outrage over a variety of perceived transgressions of Bharatiya sabhyata, which in the convenient interpretation of these vigilantes, mixes nationalism/patriotism with politics of power.

This is the atmosphere of fear and intimidation that has found expression in the kind of narratives being created in the media. That is what is causing the observers abroad to theorise that our press freedom is under threat like never before.

(The author is a media watcher and trainer in Bengaluru)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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