Sunday, 12 January 2014

Freedom of Press - a misnomer

This is something I spoke on in a recently held conference.....

                                     FREEDOM OF PRESS

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I consider it a huge honor to be able to address this august gathering of eminent people at the International conference of Jurists. The topic I have been given is something close to my heart namely freedom of press. 

Before joining the legal profession I had joined a national daily The Times of India as their reporter and contributed whatever little I could to this noble profession.

I feel as a journalist you can cover a whole lot of issues which in normal circumstances you would never be able to do and as a journalist you can attempt to solve a large number of issues which affect the common man and a whole multitude of people.

Now coming back to the topic in what context do we read the expression freedom of press? If we see the behavior of press generally across news channels, across newspapers we find that the press has the freedom of expression in what they say or what they express.

The press has the freedom to comment upon generally all issues connected with governance and mis-governance which is associated with the same term.

Today the press has in fact become a beating stick for various forums both political and non-political with which they can settle scores. 

Without naming any particular media house or newspaper if one looks around carefully and is intelligent enough to discern which political party is latching on to which media house it's not difficult at all to find out.

Yet today I find that the maturity expected with the amount of freedom the press has got today is not visible. You can see journalists misusing this freedom without any issues at heart and sometimes it pains you to see them being used like that.

What one media house might see its power to influence public opinion would appear to be a misuse of the freedom of press to another person.

Unfortunately the media does not exercise this freedom available to them under the Constitution of India in the manner in which they are expected to do that.

Some people might say that it is more of a revenue consideration which prompts a particular media house to say what it does or to propound a particular ideology. Yet today in the name of freedom of the press atrocious things are being done which nobody would have thought of a couple of years ago.

Every night at nine o'clock if you look around you on various TV channels you will find the same story running on two or simultaneously more channels. So is that a coincidence or a planned convenience is a thing difficult to say.

As soon as elections are announced you have various election polls coming up where one party or the other is always projected as having the upper hand and you're left wondering whether this was done as a matter of deliberate convenience or is there any truth to it. Sometimes the same agency is doing the polls for two or more channels.

Then we have personality projections where a particular personality is being projected again and again so that ultimately a public perception is built up around the personality and carried forward by them.

On the other hand you also have a negative personality projection which has just the opposite effect of running down particular personalities so much so that a public perception is again built up against the personality and the image lingers on.

The freedom of press is actually a misnomer in these modern times and the press also knows that it has great power among its readers and viewers. Question remains that should this power be used with a certain amount of circumspect restraint and caution or just squandered away aimlessly.

Whatever be the outcome the press certainly has a very important part to play in developing society and building a strong public opinion so everyone needs to take their job seriously if the public opinion has to be balanced.

The media also has to understand that with freedom comes a lot of responsibility which can't be taken for granted and this freedom has to be exercised with the utmost humility at their command.

Even though investigative journalism is fast developing in India, the quality of the Indian Press in many respects leaves much to be desired. Even though, as a result of various wage awards, the emoluments of journalists have considerably improved in the last few years, adequate talent is not still attracted to this field. 

There is also a great deal of lethargy which leads to large scale reproduction of speeches as well as gossip from the corridors of power instead of well organised news. The tendency even of some of our top newspapers to rely on articles from the foreign Press when dealing with world affairs shows a lack of initiative in developing Indian talent for analyzing world problems from the Indian point of view.

The media must understand that it has an important role to play in shaping the destinies of a nation but then a whole lot of responsibility lies on their broad shoulders to bring about this change in a fair and non-partisan manner.

Various social issues can also be discussed freely in the media today and a material change can be brought about in the manner it is sought to be discussed. Various issues like the women empowerment and health-related programs food related issues can all be discussed by the media and a qualitative change can be brought about by them if everything is handled fairly.

Here's hoping that the media will be willing to grab the space available to it in the shaping of a nation rather than seen to be compromising on various issues on the saying of any political forum or party.


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