Media is the life-line of Democracy and Secularism. Don’t strangulate it
To be true to my faith, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion. The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise.
– Mahatma Gandhi
“You must cut out this tongue, if you would check my free speech: Nay, even then, my very breathing, should protest against your lust for power”.
– Cicero, the Roman Consul
“In hindsight, I can say, it was the hasty instinct of self-preservation, the act of a weak government, uncertain of its very friends under the influence of its audacity and arrogance.”
– K.B. Ganapathy
“Workers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!”
– Karl Marx (1848)
Time has come for journalists, both press and electronic media, to send out a clarion call to all their fraternity to unite and show solidarity to fight against the Karnataka’s Congress Government which on March 22, 2017 formed a House Panel to restrict what it called the ‘arbitrary’ news reporting.
Needless to say this was a serious threat on the Freedom of the Press and TV news channels. It was a brazen all-party attack on one of the important supporting pillars of Democracy. Hence, the media should come together to fight this evil design of the Karnataka Government. If Karl Marx gave this unity call to workers in 1848, time has now come or the defenders of democracy to give a similar call to the media owners and practitioners of journalism.
Democracy stands on the four strong pillars, known as four estates — Legislature, Executive, Judiciary and the Press, in that order. To deviate, being a journalist for over 50 years, I was inspired to name my house as “Fourth Estate.” Let it be. If any one of these four pillars totters or weakens, its repercussions could be seen on the very functioning of Democracy, which as on today is the only form of Government which is least evil and representative.
Abraham Lincoln, the President of America, during that country’s most defining moment in history with the civil war raging on the issue of slavery, had eloquently but succinctly described in simple words what democracy is and its inevitability for a free world, for a free man, in his famous Gettysburg speech in 1863 — the government by the people, of the people and for the people. If this is the definition of democracy, then to keep it that way the people should be informed truthfully and honestly what the government does. Which is why Star of Mysore has its moto as: ‘We believe comment is free, but facts are sacred’. Which is why the Fourth Estate becomes all important. If you gag the media, you are gagging the Democracy, which may soon degenerate into dictatorship of a political party or into an oligarchy or totalitarianism of the military dictatorship. And with that, man’s most precious fundamental right would be stolen by a few.
Let our legislators know, as law-makers, that this government by the people and of the people is NOT for the legislators to make laws for their benefit alone.
The media should recognise its power and fight for its freedom aggressively and relentlessly. Let us remember the words of Napoleon Bonaparte who said, “A journalist is a grumbler, a giver of advice, a tutor of nations. Four hostile newspapers are more formidable than a thousand bayonets.”
The main grouse of the Legislators is about the “irresponsible reporting” 24×7 by the TV news channels and the press. Sadly many of us, specially those in power, delude ourselves as Angels. But then, as Schopenhauer the great German Philosopher says, “If a donkey looks into a mirror, you can’t expect an Angel to look out.” You can’t blame the mirror which merely reflects the object before it. Press and TV are the mirrors.
It may be recalled that there was, a few years back, a move at the Centre to amend the law relating to defamation in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which is an instrument of harassment, mainly, of the media having provision for two pronged offence: criminal defamation and civil (damages) defamation. I am still facing these cases filed many years ago. This law was the genius of British Colonial rulers to control and suppress the natives lest they may expose the mala fide intention of our rulers and fight for our freedom. And to think that even after Freedom, we keep the same law in the same way is a shame.
Now the Karnataka Government has decided to use its power, with the help of the opposition, all birds of the same feather, to make the media impotent and a mere Gazette Notification of sorts. Already media owners and editors are getting stay orders from many “news-makers for wrong reasons,” obtained from the law courts barring the media from writing or telecasting any news or views about the petitioner in the Court. I am a victim of this kind of Court order about 15 years ago which is still operational and the NGO who filed the case and obtained the “injunction” is still enjoying his “unrestricted freedom” (causing damage and loss to the society) while I am held back from exercising my fundamental right.
I am aware that there are fringe elements in journalism who are extortionists and practitioners of yellow journalism. They join hands, these days, with the unscrupulous RTI activists too. But, the government has no business to paint all media with the same brush. The existing laws, as I mentioned earlier, are powerful enough to rein in the wayward, irresponsible journalists and TV honchos. Hence, there is absolutely no need for new rules and laws to tame the media. If at all anyone is to be tamed, it is the politicians. As Bernard Shaw rightly declared politics is the last resort of scoundrels. Nothing much seemed to have changed since Bernard Shaw said this over a century ago.
Look at what happened to the Air India staffer who was beaten up by a first-time MP belonging to Shiv Sena just day before yesterday. Once a politician assumes power as MLA, MP or Minister he presumes himself to be above the law of the land. I remember Lyndon B. Johnson, American President, once answering reporters, who were badgering him about Why the US was fighting a war in Vietnam, with a simple but arrogant, dirty gesture. The President unzipped his fly of the pant, pulled out his penis and said, “This is why!”
Now, if American journalists could report this, why not Indian journalists report this and other kinds of nasty, uncivilised behaviour of our politicians? And why should our courts pre-empt such reporting by issuing a gag order?
I guess the present step taken by Karnataka Legislature will cause enormous damage to the freedom of the media. And this Bill will undermine the value of democracy further, reducing the life of the people to that which existed under the British Colonial rule.
We are all worried. It is my pious hope the Supreme Court will come to the rescue of the media under the Constitution and if it is not possible, then it is time to amend the Constitution for a great cause such as this. If the Constitution could be amended in a matter related to ‘widow maintenance’ (to rubbish the widow’s right to maintenance) during Rajiv Gandhi’s rule, why not for protecting the freedom of the media, the Fourth Estate of a vibrant, living Democracy?
While the Legislators were baying for media blood, the sane voice came from our Higher Education Minister Basavaraj Rayareddy who opposed the move tooth-and-nail giving cogent reasons. I salute him. The truth is that the Press and the TV are not the ones who misuse freedom as much as the Legislators.
In hindsight, I can say, it was the hasty instinct of self-preservation, the act of a weak government, uncertain of its very friends under the influence of its audacity and arrogance.
Tail piece: Now look at the irony of it all. Yesterday noon a dozen politicians from a neighbouring Taluk came to our Mysooru Mithra office in a SUV and created a ruckus; shouting, gesticulating and intimidating our editor so much so the other staff had to rush to his rescue fearing matters might go out of hand. It was clear, these people acted at the behest of a higher Power.