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Is freedom of press a Quid Pro Quo in these times!

By Priti Prakash | PUBLISHED: 03, Mar 2021, 13:23 pm IST | UPDATED: 12, Mar 2021, 15:26 pm IST

Is freedom of press a Quid Pro Quo in these times! These are the times when a Rajdeep Sardesai or a Mrinal Pandey is slapped with sedition charges. When young girls like Disha Ravi are arrested on unproved allegations. When a Mundeep Punia, is rounded up for reporting reality from ground zero. Stand up comic artists (Munawar Faruqui) are jailed for what was not even said. Is it intolerance or setting the nation straight! Time to keep our fingers crossed.

Its not just about the freedom of press in our country, its about the freedom of speech guaranteed by the constitution. And the government is making no bones in sending the message that any form of disagreement is dissent. Otherwise what explains the ED raids lasting more than 80 hours on a channel Newsclick that may or may not have had foreign funding. (As I know 26% FDI in the media is anyways allowed by this government).    

A silent sit in protest was organized at the press Club of India by journalists to convey to the government their point that what is happening is harassment of press. It was organized by various press bodies including Press Club of India, Indian Women’s Press Corp and Delhi Union of Journalists. ‘To question power is the duty of the Press! It cannot be jailed,’ ‘Sedition charges against journalists of long standing is bad news’, ‘Stop criminalizing honest Journalism, End prosecution of journalists,’ ‘it’s the duty of the press to question power, there can be no question about it!!’, ‘Enforce Freedom of the press, Outlaw the targeting of it,’ these placards held by silently and peacefully protesting journalists spoke loud and clear.  It was to tell the government that victimization and harassment of journalist and gagging of free media will only make strong their determination to speak truth to power.

Having started with the farmers protests which were reported in the mainstream media on an everyday basis to the unfortunate Republic Day mayhem in the capital Delhi’s Red Fort journalists have been reporting true stories from ground zero much to the discomfort of the government. Consequent to these reports fake cases had allegedly been registered against journalists including IPC acts like sedition. It is being perceived that fair and objective reporting has been the biggest sufferer in this governments time and that government interference just shatters the democratic ethos of our country. Many veteran journalists called it a dictatorship in the name of democracy, a kind of emergency. No journalist is safe in these times is the underlying sense. Sources say a list of journalists, around 2500, who are not convenient to the government has been prepared by the government. India’s ranking on the Press Freedom index fell two places to 142 out of 180 countries in 2020, according to the Reporters Without Borders annual index. It is likely to fall further.

Is the government hinting that only if one agrees and not question will the press be allowed to not just be independent but also allowed to survive! Also not be branded ‘andolanjeevis’. Many known journalists have lost their jobs for questioning the government. They have been stopped from reporting on earlier protests and now farmers protests. Sujata Madhok, General Secretary Delhi Union of Journalists said, ‘there is a lot of pressure being exerted on journalists through raids, sedition charges. The country needs freedom of press. We know there are some lapdog channels and who are behind them. Delhi has become a barricade city, how long can this go on. Is the government scared of people!’ Madhok added, ‘it is an attempt to silence not one media outfit but all of them. Now the government’s target is online media, the independent media because they want to stifle anybody’s voice who thinks differently to them. That’s not democracy.’

This is what some other eminent protesting scribes had to say…..Freedom of press is being throttled. The same media on whose crutches this government had come to power is now leaving no stone unturned in harassing it. As Rajdeep, whose been the recent victim of tweeting on a farmer’s death, and had joined the protest said ‘’When journalists are charged with sedition then silent is not the option. Sedition, in the manner it is being used or not used needs to be fought, questioned and challenged. Journalists must protest.’’ SK Pandey of DUJ said it is a reminiscence of emergency. PCI President Bagitkar believes this protest will have an effect on those powers who are gagging us continuously under frivolous and flimsy grounds. According to Amarnath of Delhi Journalist Union, ‘this government is out to stifle the voice of dissent’. Rajalakshmi, Deputy Editor The Hindu said, ‘it’s a very insecure government that sits at the Centre which feels that some tweets or some comments on social media or even some opinion or articles can destabilize it. It considers itself so fragile today.’’ Other say it’s a death knell to democracy. A senior journalist sitting at the protest said, ‘That you use the word largest democracy at the drop of the hat when you go out but in reality you are denting the whole democratic process and narrative and it should stop.’

Ashutosh, former AAP member and a journalist said, ‘The raid on Newsclick was to send a message about what we can do, that we can sit at any place for 111 hrs. The message was particularly to digital media who are trying to do objective and independent journalism.’   

In 1975 India underwent its darkest tryst with democracy. As Indira Gandhi declared emergency it spelled the death of all liberties and rights. Press became a dumb lamb. It was meant to be so. Leaders and journalists were arrested and put behind bars so that even a word of dissent was not even uttered.

The fourth pillar of democracy is in danger if questioning, difference of views and dissent is not allowed. This only mean that if the government tries to muzzle free press and expression of views more such silent and peaceful protests will take place. Journalists are out to prove that the pen is mightier than the sword.
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