On Press Freedom And The Question Of Safeguarding ‘National Interest’

“The meaning of national interest is survival—the protection of physical, political and cultural identity against encroachments by other nation-states.” – Morgenthau  (German-American political scientist).

National interest is a vague term which has been continuously used by policymakers and politicians, and it includes many aspects of the well being of any nation. Various factors contributing to national interest are economic development, security, boundary disputes, social harmony and well being, societal development, and many more. As there is no particular definition for national interest (neither the factors which can contribute to it are stated anywhere), it becomes tough to find out if anything or any action negatively affects the interest of the nation. But then, some actions can be easily be understood if they are against it. For example, any Indian website presenting the PoK in Pakistan on its map, especially when many people follow the website, can create chaos and violence; hence disturbing the harmony, and as a result, it is against national interest.

The media is the fourth pillar of any democratic society, and its work is to disseminate information and inform the policymakers about the requirements and problems faced by the people of the state. There are some rules and regulations which are put up by the Press Council Of India on the press to formulate ethics and morals in the content disseminated, and one of its most important factors is paramount national interest. It suggests that the press should maintain caution and restraints when information which can potentially jeopardize, endanger or harm the paramount interest of the state and society. In such case, reasonable restrictions are imposed by the law over the freedom of speech. When putting up serious allegations, sources must be mentioned. If the article consists of any sensitive issue which can defame the whole nation, it should be thoroughly investigated and proved by the news agency before its publication.

Recently, the press council of India moved the Supreme Court to hear a petition filed against restrictions on communication facilities in Jammu and Kashmir by Kashmir Times executive Anuradha Bhasin. Bhasin’s chief grievances were “loss of circulation, readership and ultimately the loss of earning”. The PCI  has sought a crucial point; it has already put up rules and regulations which prioritize self-restraint by journalists on the issues of ‘paramount national interest.’

In 2011, PEMRA (Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) had misapplied the code of conduct and indict four TV channels which covered a terrorist attack, for “provoking anti-national sentiments among viewers by sensitizing the events unnecessarily.” Their statement claimed that “some news channels did not realize their journalistic responsibility and ethics towards society, institutions and country. Some news channels even went overboard in maligning the role of security agencies, armed forces and state institutions.”

Army and security forces are considered to work for the national interest as they protect the land and its people from any external force. When the rules are strict, then it becomes hard for people to speak up against the wrongs done by these protectors, especially when they don’t have any proof. One such incident is the alleged rape cases against the men in security forces in Manipur. In this case, the army gave its men a clean chit and the state government refused to conduct its own probe on which the Supreme Court bench of two, Justice Lokur and Justice Lalit asked the Manipur government, “is there a tacit understanding between you (the state) and them (the army) that you won’t conduct any sort of probe? Here is a 13-year-old girl who worked at a rubber farm. There was no allegation that she was an insurgent. Two people came and raped her. She narrated this ordeal to her mother and a sister, then commits suicide. Have you decided that let the army come and rape anyone, what can we do?”

With such statements, the Supreme Court has emphasized that in a democratic country, armed forces cannot be above the law. The most questionable thing is why doesn’t the media inform the masses of such facts when its job is to solely disseminate the message? The reason behind this particular case can be that the army people or the men in uniform are not to be questioned as they supposedly work for ‘national interest’. If some citizens question them, they are called anti-nationals. But one shouldn’t forget that each citizen is as Indian as any army personnel, and their rights are important too. To criticize and find out who the wrongdoers are in society, whosoever they may be, is also an action in the direction of national interest.

The West political atmosphere must be brought into focus here. We need to observe how they handle the concept of nationalism; the media questions and criticizes Mr President for various actions, but it does not have any negative impact on the state, and its people or the national interest. Criticizing what’s unethical is never wrong and if we don’t not criticize, we can at least ensure dissemination of credible information so that people can decide what they find right or wrong. Media, on the other hand, should just report what is happening without any agenda.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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