Journalism systematically losing democratic values even as Modi regime’s pressure tactics erode media freedom

Media is said to be the fourth pillar of democracy, but in India it has ceased to perform that task. In the present time its prime task has been to behave like a subservient to the powers that be

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Arun Srivastava/IPA

Integrity and credibility of the media has degenerated to such an extent that now the police, not the judiciary, will issue its diktat and seek clarification who has given it the right and whether it enjoys the privilege guaranteed by the Constitution to criticise the government and question its action.

Gone are the days when media was revered and taken seriously by the people of the country. Even the ruling elite would find it difficult to ignore its comments and observations in the matter of national importance. Earlier the editorials of the leading newspapers were supposed to be the guiding principles for the government of the day. Now, all that is consigned to the past. Now, the media has ceased to be a serious observer; instead it loves to perform the task of a court jester. Naturally a king or his police would not like him to scrutinise their actions.

The situation has denigrated to such an extent that any journalist mustering courage to assert his fundamental right and tell the police on its face, “It’s my right. I’m not obliged to answer you”, invites its wrath and faces the threat of being slapped the charges of sedition. What is really shocking is the helplessness of the judiciary to act decisively and show the police its right place.

For quite some time we have been witness to the helplessness of the judiciary in upholding the democratic spirit. The police and politician nexus has created a situation where an honest and upright journalist finds it difficult to operate.

In recent past, a number of such incidents have taken place. The latest has been slapping of sedition charge against Vinod Dua for questioning some of the actions of PM Narendra Modi.

A closer look at the development would make it clear that the purpose of the police has been resorting to this strategy for silencing the critics. It has succeeded in sending a message to the journalist fraternity to refrain from asking questions and criticising the ruler.

It is not a tough proposition to find out that a journalist is not a terrorist. What he writes and speaks, he does in the national interest. In fact,a journalist is more nationalist by his conviction and commitment than a politician. The politicians swear by the Constitution but they seldom adhere to its tenets and the ethics. We have seen how the top politicians of the country speak blatant lies to protect their images and prestige. It hurts when the judiciary, even after being aware of the designs of the politicians, police and their cohorts aimed at penalising a journalist, shuts its eyes to the reality.

Nevertheless, the journalists are to be held responsible for creation of this situation. They have meekly surrendered their dignity and prestige before politicians. Their lust for power and material gains conjures them to become their sycophants. Media is said to be the fourth pillar of democracy, but in India it has ceased to perform that task. In the present time its prime task has been to behave like a subservient to the powers that be, carry out the diktats of the political system and take care of the vested interest of the politicians.

Media has always remained vulnerable to the political manoeuvrings and abide by the desires of the politicians, but during the last six years it has lost the penchant to stretch its spine and ask questions. Indian media by nature has been centrist and always worked to protect the centrist ethos of the system.

In modern times, the media has undergone a sea change. It has, however, not come as a surprise. The globalisation and economic reforms obviously had its impact on the character of the media. The profession of journalism has become commercialised. It has acquired the character of a capitalist enterprise.

After the Narendra Modi-led government came to power in 2014, the media brazenly abandoned its role. The change has been quite swift; from conscience keeper of the country, media became a product and with the ushering in of Modi government it changed its character to promoter of the personal and political interest of its masters; protector of crony capital.

There is a general perception that the coronavirus pandemic marks the end of romance with market economy and individualism. But this is wrong. It has acquired the worst silhouette during the period of the corona. The media has become the instrument of perpetrating jingoism and turn the society towards authoritarianism. This also exposed the crooked approach of the media towards the poor people, especially the daily wage earners.

The bestial character of TV channels got exposed in the wake of outbreak of corona. Its insinuation against Tablighi Jamaat points to its rotten mind. Post-Tablighi meet, a competition ensued amongst the TV anchors to use nasty languages against Muslims and divide the Indian society. Never in the past has media played such a dirty role. At the instigation of their godfathers and masters, they launched the denigrating campaign against the Muslims. They were projected as intruders.

The dimension of the media crawling could be understood from the simple fact that India ranks 142 out of 180 countries covered in 2020 according to the World Press Freedom Index report put out by Reporters Without Borders. In 2019 it was ranked 140. The report observes that globally there is a “crisis caused by growing hostility and even hatred towards journalists”. In the case of India it is the subservient character of the journalists and the owners that has been basically responsible for this ignominy. Prostrating before the rulers for some material gain has been the motivating factor.

The media has been a hazardous occupation only for those who dared to put question to the rulers and opposed their anti-people actions and policies. These people have to face physical attacks, threats and trolling in the foulest language, mental torture and lack of adequate legal relief, what is usually described as the professional hazards. It is bunch of the dedicated and committed journalists who face the ire of the rulers. In sharp contrast a large number of journalists indulge in sycophancy for getting favours from the politicians and rulers.

Unfortunately, they are the persons who decide the destiny of India and the nature of democracy that India practices. The most significant proficiency they possess is that they can twist any development, even a frivolous incident into a high decibel Hindu–Muslim conflict. They have mastered the art of engineering and spreading hatred.

It is really painful to witness media abandoning its moral task of safeguarding democracy. Everything undemocratic and which is against the spirit of federalism gets priority on the TV channels. The panellists are simply summoned to be debased and insulted. Media has come to realise that anything which is basically democratic in nature is detrimental to the interest of their masters.

Democracy is not just about ‘being’ a system and how a nation is organized. It is much more about it ‘becoming’ inclusive and accountable to those who constitute the nation. The fact of matter is that democracy has lost its relevance. Media has acquired the status of being a product which has simply financial value and no democratic relevance.

Modi who had given the “Mauni PM” (silent PM) jibes to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the 2014 general election, has himself been averse to interact with the media. This simply underlines his deep averseness and hatred for media. He knows that the media men are wretched guys and lack morality.

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