If You Thought We Had A ‘Free’ Press, This Will Make You Think Again

Posted on July 1, 2015 in Media

By Pallavi Ghosh:

Journalism, for Gandhi, could “be useful and serviceable to the country only when it becomes unselfish and when it devotes its best for the service of the country, and whatever happens to the editors or to the journal itself, editors would express the views of the country irrespective of consequences.”

Image Credit: Wikimedia commons
Image Credit: Wikimedia commons

It is this freedom of speech and expression that the media represents and symbolises in the society. The circulation of information is critical in the formulation of a critical citizenry capable of taking informed decisions in a democracy. However, as the adage goes- truth is ugly and uncovering it can mean dipping one’s hand in sea of ugly truths.

It is not surprising that journalist across the globe face different forms of intimidation. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) suggest that as of December 1, 2014, 221 journalists remain imprisoned globally. Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Barometer for the current year reads as follows-

Information gathering is no cake walk, it involves networking skills given the presence of bottlenecks in the process. To elaborate, news gathering is dependent on the sources or the information holder-say a government official or a research organisation- which leaves the journalist in a curious fix. The choice to share information is with the source, who is never disinterested. Even for a journalist to claim that certain information is crucial and needs to be shared in public interest, the initial information lacks evidence. This dependency comes with its own risk, that is, of unconsciously or consciously becoming the means to attain personal ends for the source or of dealing in half truths. Misreporting or poor reporting, thus, is usually the child of such unhealthy dependency. On the other hand, if the documents are unethically ‘managed’ somehow, even if the information shared qualifies as serving public interest, the journalist faces a potential legal persecution.

But there are also special scenarios like conflict reporting, disaster-related news, crime reporting and government beats that have a lot in stake and generally involve powerful people. The consequences that a journalist has to factor in, takes a ghastly turn whenever sensitive issues are touched upon. Take the instance of Jaikhlong Brahma. It was in July, 2012 that Kokrajhar’s ethnic violence left the entire nation tense as reports said that around 78 people died in the clash. Brahma, who is a correspondent at NewsLive, which is a Guwahati-based news channel, was arrested on September 2 and held for six days for questioning. He was accused of having links with the militant separatist group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). He was charged with allegations such as compromising the national security and integrity of the nation and was denied bail on September 8.

Moreover, Brahma’s instance is not an isolated case. Earlier this month, reports spoke of a TV journalist being attacked by a group because of critical reporting in the Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh; and another was allegedly killed in Lucknow by the police. According to CPJ, around 57 journalists have been killed in India since 1992, wherein 33 of the cases had confirmed motive. The data also recorded the death of three media workers in 2007.

Given the level of muscle power, arm twisting and silencing prevalent in India and across the globe, journalists seem to live in a constant state of threat and danger for uncovering the truth. Why should we be bothered, you ask?

Here is some food for thought in the words of Martin Niemöller

First they came for the Socialists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there
was no one left to speak for me.