Many have been exercising their right to freedom of expression. But not everyone is under attack. The attacks are reserved for those who want to use this Constitutional freedom to help build a society envisaged by the Constitution.
The Constitutional provisions can be used in two ways – one, for building a society in keeping with the real intent of the Constitution and two, to perpetuate the unequal social order that prevailed before the promulgation of the Constitution. For instance, one can use the freedom of expression to make the voice of the farmers heard. Or, one can use it to protect the interests of the corporates.
Journalism is of two kinds – journalism of truth and journalism of the corporate media houses. It is wrong to categorize the media into “mainstream” and “alternative”. The word “mainstream media” is the coinage of the companies that use the protection offered to them by the Constitution to do the business of journalism. These companies are a part of the social-political-economic establishment. Mega companies have gobbled up thousands of small newspapers and magazines. They have deep pockets and control the market and the technology. In 1857, there were 475 newspapers of different languages in the country. Today, can anyone name even 20 newspapers? And a majority of them are products of major media houses.
In the recent past, we have witnessed the targeting of scores of aware and active citizens working in different areas – from educational institutions to labour trade unions. While some have been arrested, others have booked in false cases or threatened or their homes and offices have been raided by government agencies. Some have been attacked physically, others through technology. Whether a person will be attacked socially or politically, whether his economic interests will be hurt or whether he will be physically eliminated is determined by the area of their work and their stature. But punished you will be if you dare to tell the truth or expose a falsehood. You may get into trouble merely for posting a satirical comment on social media.
Farmers have been staging massive protests on the borders of Delhi since 26 November 2020. As their movement gathered pace, those who tried to bring their problems to light came under fire. Many of them were arrested, many had to face raids. It is clear that the ruling dispensation is using the penal provisions meant for dealing with criminals to silence those who are exercising their right to freedom of speech and expression.
It is no secret that the present ruling party’s ideological masters are not enamoured of our Constitution. The present regime likes only those provisions in the Constitution which can be abused to attack its critics. It considers anyone who does not cooperate as its enemies and treats accordingly. It has a special liking for courts that help protect its interests and regularly rewards the judges involved.
These are challenging times for those who want to use their right to freedom of expression. This applies to journalism, too. Media companies peddle the truth as the powers that the powers that be see it. Other journalists, who realize that they have a role in shaping society in accordance with the Constitution, stand by the truth of society.
If you pay attention, you will see that the government loves the journalism of corporate media houses because they are dependent on the government for their economic interests. However, it is the scores of active media set-ups and independent journalists that are a real headache for the government. It is impossible to control all of them. So, an example has to be made of a few of them to make others fall in line. One arrest and clear message goes out to everyone, just as it was meant to in the case of Eklavya. When Eklavya managed to learn the archery on his own, his thumb was severed to warn all those who were planning to acquire knowledge as to what awaits them.
Is it even thinkable that Mandeep Punia, who was covering the farmers’ protest, was arrested because he didn’t have an identity card? The Constitution does not confer any special rights on journalists. Every citizen has the right to freedom of expression and every citizen can be a journalist. It is not at all essential for a journalist to carry an ID card. If someone says that he or she is a journalist, that should be enough. The corporates have converted journalism into a “licensed profession”, with them as the licensing authority. Those who do not have the licence issued by them, those who work independently, are portrayed as phony non-professionals.
The fact is that journalists of corporate media houses are advertisement-collection agents for their companies. Vineet Jain, the managing director of Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), which owns the Times of India, had told an interviewer that they were into the business of advertisements and that the news was merely the means. Here, ‘advertisement’ should not be merely read as the promotion of a product. It means a share in the business. That is why while the people are becoming poor and being pushed into destitution, media companies are getting richer. Would it be wrong to conclude that these companies have also contributed to the impoverishment of the masses?
Democracy is the political capital of a society. It cannot be the concern of corporate media houses who have a finger in every pie with the sole motive of profit. They differentiate democracy from dictatorship only when their economic interests are affected. Society is worried about democracy and comes together to strengthen it but there is no instance of the corporate media backing a societal endeavour for protecting democracy. History of journalism is testimony to the fact that the journalists and journalism set-ups that suffered, that made sacrifices were those that did not eye a share of the business. During the British rule, the companies which were into the business of journalism licked the boots of our colonial masters. They have achieved remarkable success in preserving until today their character of crawling before whosoever wields the power.
It would be pertinent to recall what Dr Ambedkar had to say about newspapers:
“To give the news uncoloured by any motive, to present a certain view of public policy which it believes to be for the good of the community, to correct and chastise without fear all those, no matter how high, who have chosen a wrong or a barren path, is not regarded by journalism in India its first or foremost duty. To accept a hero and worship him has become its principal duty.” This was the time when the British were ruling India. What he said about the media then, applies even now. He said, “Under it, news gives place to sensation, reasoned opinion to unreasoning passion, appeal to the minds of responsible people to appeal to the emotions of the irresponsible.”
He also said, “Lord Salisbury spoke of the Northcliffe journalism as written by office-boys for office-boys. Indian journalism is all that plus something more. It is written by drum-boys to glorify their heroes. Never has the interest of country been sacrificed so senselessly for the propagation of hero-worship. Never has hero-worship become so blind as we see it in India today. There are, I am glad to say, honourable exceptions. But they are too few, and their voice is never heard.”
It is said of Northcliffe that he had pioneered a model of journalism in which democratic rights were used as tools to promote the interests of the newspaper proprietors rather than to protect democracy.
Ambedkar also noted how politicians took the help of big industrialists to establish their dominance. “Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the Public.”
What is the way out? Building a large number of journalism institutions that are pro-democracy, each of which is focused on a limited area, and proper training of journalists with social development as the objective.
(Translation: Amrish Herdenia; copy-editing: Anil)
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