As correctly articulated by journalists at the ‘Movement Against Media Suppression’ protest march held on Thursday, media freedom is important not only for media personnel and institutions, but for all sections of our society since free expression is correctly described as the mother of all freedoms. It is, therefore, right and proper that other organized sections of society such as trade unions and other civil organizations also participated in the event.
It is the media that gives meaning and substance to the fundamental right to freedom of expression as spelt out in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Our own Constitution also, like those of other constitutions of democratic countries in the world, provides for this right in Article 10 and Article 14 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
Significantly, political parties in this country, without exception, declare their highest commitment to protecting and promoting these freedoms. However, while in opposition they faithfully adhere to their commitments. They begin to love media freedom so much that they vow even to lay down their lives for protecting this freedom. But once ensconced in state power they begin to develop disenchantment with the media conduct. This antipathy increases as media begin to highlight weaknesses and the failure of ruling parties to redeem their election pledges.
Of course, the state media personnel that obsequiously pander to the interests of the rulers become their favourites. These persons and institutions become ideal exponents of media freedom in their view. Their distortions, misrepresentations, and vilification of opponents are often encouraged and even enjoyed by the ruling party. This is the duplicitous way in which political parties conduct themselves.
It is not surprising, therefore, that certain sections of the media too emulate their conduct. The fact that media personnel and institutions in this country are today subjected to much vilification, harassment and intimidation is incontrovertible. True, these features were there in the past too. But in recent times there has been a marked increase in these incidents. The fact that 14 journalists and media workers had been killed in the past two years and several others have been harassed, intimidated and humiliated cannot be denied. The infamous issue of a minister attempting to interfere directly in the affairs of a media institution still remains unresolved.
Since this is a country where good governance still remains confined only to glib talk, abuse of power, position and privileges continue unabated in most fields of activity. Media too cannot remain unaffected. The responsible media, however, should be able to take the country’s present situation into serious consideration in conducting their activities.
There are democratic ways in which the authorities could tackle suspected instances of abuse. No media organization would then oppose such action. It is the illegal and undemocratic manner in which such situations are tackled that irks these organizations. The authorities often take cover under security concerns to check the media in their attempts at exposing corruption and other administrative wrongs. The government, in fact, need not worry much about what they regard as inaccurate reporting and unfair criticism.
If the government’s conduct is above board, unfair allegations and criticisms will eventually be demolished. When the opposition parties criticized the government about its campaign in the East, for example, some sections of the media too echoed it, either because of their loyalty to opposition parties or because of their own convictions. Now that the true picture has emerged, the public could judge the validity or otherwise of the earlier criticisms. What is important, therefore, is the flawless and transparent conduct of the administration.
The operation of the free media could be compared to a stream where the good, bad, ugly and dirt float freely while the public on the banks could watch and make their own judgement. If the areas through which the stream meanders are unpolluted the bad could be reduced to a minimum. Similarly, if the media are to be flawless the political environment has to be kept clean. So the attempt to clean up the media would be fruitless if the environment in which they operate is allowed to remain putrid
18th Feb. 2008