Democracy in an Indian context is a game of numbers/votes polled and then a period of long abstinence or being a voyeur in the overtures of the government, by the populace. Free press is an essential attribute to a healthy, functioning and questioning democracy. Media is going through one of its most testing times where the concept itself is denigrating from a few wise men to a collective wisdom and or stupidity of the masses. The jury is out on what goes on from here.
According to Amartya sen “ …in the terrible history of famines in the world, no substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.” This is substantial as far reaching effects of economic policies with vacuous growth and a complicit media may exactly prove the statement right in a negative sense.
James D. Wolfensen stated as the world bank president “A free press is not a luxury. A free press is at the absolute core of equitable development, because if you cannot enfranchise poor people, if they do not have a right to expression, if there is no searchlight on corruption and inequitable practices, you cannot build the public consensus needed to bring about change.”
We undertake a journey on the evolving concept of journalism in an Indian context.
In 1822, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s newspaper, Mirat-Ul-Akhbar was an initiative. This newspaper got printed neither in Bengali, Hindi or English but was in Persian because that was the language of elite at that time when Mughals were around, the court language was Persian. Thousands of good Brahmins learned Persian because they had to get employed in bureaucracy. From the first day of its existence, the newspaper wrote about social reforms, against child marriage, called for widow re-marriage, practically it gave most enlightening thinking of its time on social issues. Dr. B.R.Ambedkar also played a pivot role in Indian journalism by bringing out newspapers named Mooknayak (Mute Hero – 1920), Bahishkrut Bharat (India Ostracized – 1927), Janata (Masses – 1930) and Prabudhha Bharat (An Awakened India – 1956) all of them became the voice of the suffering mass against exploitation. M.K.Gandhi too had newspapers named- Indian Opinion, Young India, Harijan, Hind Swaraj, etc which rationally took holistic view of colonial India. It also gave space to critical views against M.K.Gandhi. Even criticism made by HSRA leader and revolutionary Sukhdev was also published after his martyrdom This shows the highest respect for opposite views. Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, a leader of Indian freedom struggle started a newspaper called “Pratap”. It played a vital role in uprising youth section of society. The most vocal voice against oppression of peasants by zamindars, communalism, etc. He sacrificed his life while stopping a riot between Hindus and Muslims in Kanpur. Along with such stalwarts of freedom struggle, one name which remains untouched, unnoticed is of Bhagat Singh whom many of us consider as just a gun toting nationalist which is a flawed image. During his life span of 23 years 6months, 5 days of freedom struggle, the young revolutionary did prove that the pen is mightier than sword. He came up with best skills of developmental, humanitarian journalism. He was a profilic writer. He wrote for many papers & magazines as Journalist with a broad image of society’s progress. He wrote for Hindi and Urdu weekly papers, Pratap(Kanpur), Kirti(Punjab), Prabhat(Kanpur), Maharathi(Delhi), Chand(Allahabad), Matwala(Kanpur) under pen name of Balwant, Virodhi and had command over five languages namely Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, English, Bengali. What did he write on? With what vision did he use the pen? The answer is in two of his article. First, Communal riots and its solution in which he wrote, “Class consciousness is required to ensure that people do not fight among themselves. It has to be made very clear to the poor, working class and peasants that their real enemy is capitalism. That is why they have to safeguard themselves from its stranglehold. The rights of all the poor – be they of any caste, color, religion or region – are the same. Your wellbeing is in overcoming all these differences and remaining united, and strive to take the reign of power into your hands. With these efforts, you will lose nothing; with these efforts, one day your chains will get cut and you will have economic independence.” http://www.shaheedbhagatsingh.in/hindi/10chapter/3samparda.html
Second, was “Acchoot Ka Sawaal” in which he clearly said, “We are animatedly engaged in a debate whether or not the untouchables are entitled for a sacred thread? Are they allowed to read the Vedas? We whine that some foreign countries do not respect us and the British do not give us equal status. Do we have a right to bemoan all this? http://www.shaheedbhagatsingh.in/hindi/chapter11/17achut.html
Bhagat Singh in 1928 also stood for students to be part of political movement which came into light through his written article “Student and Politics” It is of immense relevance in today’s time when news anchor miss no chance to tag students of universities as “anti-nation” without any proof. Link
Indian democracy’s fourth pillar is just a hoax nothing else, reason lies in its functioning, the issues which it focuses and how it presents the news. In 1980’s there were two important bureaus in every newspaper one was a labour correspondent and the other was agricultural correspondent. Today this concept has eroded. Labour correspondent has been replaced by the Business correspondent who functions as spokesperson for business and provides his/her own narrative on labour news which is being given by PRO of the corporation. An Agricultural correspondent does not visits mandi, fields, farmers, agricultural labours rather covers agriculture ministry and Seed Company as it is related to press release. No newspaper or channel today appoints a full time labour and agricultural correspondent. It means the media structurally considers nation’s 75% populations are not worth talking to. Instead of discussing the reality, grave issues of society, it has just evolved as a narrative manufacturing unit of certain powerful lobbies. Mainstream press and broadcast media coverage has tended to adopt a laudatory tone, keep out or underplay the criticisms and objections, censor the negative political and socio-economic effects, especially among the poor, and provide little space to the voices of robust criticism and opposition, including those raised from the ranks of professional economists. Presently the media is politically free but imprisoned by profit as rightly said by senior Journalists P.Sainath and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. Link
Let’s have a reality check. Mukesh Ambani is the biggest owner of media who runs a network of TV18, CNN-IBN, ETV channels. What is Tata Sky? It is an alliance of the Tata’s and world media mogul Rupert Murdoch which vigorously pushes neoliberalism in its own capacity. During drought condition in Marathawada district of Maharastra, any newspaper did not feel the need to take farmer suicides seriously at least with editorials instead they came up with rational pricing issue of water. In simple terms, privatization of water. IPL got preference over farmer’s concern, why? Was media not capable of emphasizing fully the plight of farmers? No, it was not because IPL is being handled by corporate head of our nation.
Three news channels repeatedly played a doctored video of JNUSU leader Kanhaiya Kumar carrying out vilification of whole university with an open media trial. This just cannot be a mistake It was an attempt hand in hand with student wing of BJP i.e. ABVP. Link
The media also kept mum on issue of “Beef Ban” in Maharashtra, U.P, etc. They did not bother to understand the cattle economy and the loss which people of lowest strata of society are going to face. OBC, Marathas got wiped out who earn their survival on daily basis. A farmer had to watch his cow dying in front of his eyes because he was not allowed to sell it. The cattle traders were hurted. The dalits of Kolhapur were the worst sufferers, as hides were not allowed to come in market. The Kolhapuri Chappal industry, the most famous successful “Make In India” concept got shattered. The recent Beef Ban in UP also gave a blow to the leather industry.Link
Why the NCRB data of farmer suicide do not get a panel of experts who can solve the agrarian crisis?Link
Why the rising unemployment remains an alien issue? http://www.firstpost.com/business/unemployment-at-5-year-high-why-a-jobless-gdp-growth-could-spoil-narendra-modis-2019-run-3043170.html
Nation’s Prime Minister image came up endorsing Reliance Jio in newspaper ads. This was clear violation of The Emblems and Names (Prevention Of Improper Use) Act, 1950 was not a concern for any media house. A private company was allowed to flaunt away with image of nation’s supreme leader for its business profit, unmasks the nexus between corporate and India’s ruling party. Link
Optimism in Indian journalism do exist parallel to shamelessness of present media. The best example of it is journalists like P.Sainath. A great journalist, who managed to bring concerning issues of agrarian crisis, labour dispute to the public’s notice by his intense investigations. An authority on rural India affairs, who also exposed the paid media scam. His voice on persisting inequality resonates and gets counted among the best in world. http://aiiserver.com/aiidev/news/slumdogs-versus-millionaires
His initiative named People’s Archives of Rural India (PARI) which solely focuses the hardships of rural India is a step to expose and treat plight of suffering India. https://ruralindiaonline.org .In Index of Worlds Press Freedom, India has come down to rank 136 out of 180 countries. There is increase in targeting journalists by radical nationalists, whoever stands fearless in support of democratic right of media against authoritarian rule of political class. The insane objective of a particular party to paint whole nation with one color, is just an established totalitarian rule under mask of democracy. Efforts to enrich Indian Journalism in pre-colonial era is not at all kept in mind of present generation of journalists. In no manner legacy of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, B.R.Ambedkar, M.KGandhi, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi and Bhagat Singh is being preserved. There is no crisis of intellect but there’s a crisis of soul. The Fourth pillar of Indian democracy in no more a watchdog against wrongdoing instead has turned out to be a faithful pet of social religious fundamentalists and economic market fundamentalists. As Dr. B.R.Ambedkar said and it ring truer than ever, “Journalism in India was once a profession. It has now become a trade”.