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Press Council head honcho Markandey Katju warned that “freedom of Press” was not “absolute” and it would be “crushed” if journalists were not serving the nation.
(You can read up on all of his accusations – here. It has cricket and fashion shows in it.)
Let me take up that part of it that made the least sense to me.
His exact quote was –
“Freedom of Press is not an absolute right. The absolute right is the improvement of standard of living of the masses. If freedom of Press helps the improvement of standard of living of masses, then it’s a good thing.
But if freedom of Press lowers the standard of living of people, makes people poorer, then we must crush freedom of Press,”
Excuse me? What?
Now I personally have a deep loathing for most journalists in India. Not only are they simple, sycophantic and more interested in being politically correct than actually reporting the news, but also most of the times they simply report the wrong angle.
However, as much as I want them to improve and change, even I know that they are not here to “improve the standard of living of the poor”. They are paid employees of private companies who tell people what is happening in exchange for money. They are responsible for WHAT they report but they are not responsible for the livelihoods of those they report to.
Heck, if that were the case then the JP Morgan accountant from Bangalore is suddenly responsible for performance of the company’s stock across the world.
There are many journalists who are pro-business, pro-Congress, pro-BJP or pro-something or the other. Similarly there are many, many journalists who are pro-poor.
Bur 60 years filled with tens of thousands of journalists bleeding their liberal hearts all over newspapers, magazines, pamphlets and websites has not improved standards of living by one inch.
Because the Press can inform people, the Press can harangue people, the Press can alarm people. But the Press cannot stop the ‘poor’ from selling their votes to the highest bidder from the appropriate caste and electing corrupt, crooked criminals as their leaders.
On a similar angle, businesses and corrupt politicians have not flourished because they got good testimonials by the Press. No, they flourished because they exploited a corrupt system run by elected officials who got to their post by exploiting voters who didn’t bother to go beyond sycophancy when voting.
In fact, the few times when this veil has been torn down and the naked truth shown to the world, it was mostly done by this very same Press.
Telling the Press that they must work to improve the living standards of the poor is a tenuous connection to make. Especially since most members of the Press spend half their time desperately trying to prevent the ‘masses’ from doing extremely stupid things that will only ruin them in the long term.
The Press usually fails at these attempts but you always have that one idealist who keeps trying.
Telling the Press that they are lowering the standards of living of anybody is an assumption made from fantasy.
If nothing else, by employing lakhs of people – editors, reporters, camera crew, light boys, tea makers, printers, distributors etc, the existence of the Press is improving the lives of these people at least.
The Press is not denying access to the economy to vast sections of the people. How would they even do that if they wanted to? Steal all the money from the poor at gunpoint and replace it with newspapers?
Katju said that the Press was like Hanuman and the people like Ram. Since Katju likes Hindu mythology so much, let me take a Hindu mythological metaphor –
The Press is Veda Vyasa, the man who composed the Mahabharata after it happened.
To apply Katju’s criticism would be like going to Veda Vyasa and threatening him that his right to report on the Mahabharata will be “crushed” because he failed to work towards the victory of one side.
Since this apparently is a difficult concept to grasp, let me make it as simple as possible –
We are not for the ‘masses’. We are paid by the ‘masses’ for our opinion on what happened. We do not pay the ‘masses’ to listen to us.
(PS: If any media house is doing that, I assure you I am a great listener. For the right price I can be the greatest listener of all time. Mother promise.)
The freedom of the Press is a hallowed concept, enshrined by the Constitution and by long-standing practice. The idea behind this idea is that there should not be any restrictions on the coverage of an event by the Press – with caveats like sensitive situations, national security taken into consideration.
Many journalists and media houses don’t care about this freedom and conduct a rigid internal censorship to give preferential coverage to whoever profits them the most
But this freedom allows those rare few journalists to stand up to the rest, stand up to the politicians and report the facts. These journalists, who actually do serve the masses, are the only ones this threat matters to.
So if Katju is actually worried about the masses, he should stop threatening their greatest ally – a free Press.