“Liberty of speech means that it is unassailed even when the speech hurts; Liberty of Press can be said to be truly respected when the Press can comment in the severest terms upon and even misrepresent matters..” – Mahatma Gandhi
Mainstream media is the 4th estate of India’s democracy, whereas social media is the 5th estate. Indian democracy doesn’t officially claim “social media” as the 5th estate, because it fears its “anarchic rule of spontaneous order”. I came to know about Jagendra Singh through social media than through mainstream media. Mainstream media is unlikely to make it a quick [prime time] “headlines”, because they are busily celebrating over their loud anchoring and voiceless journalism.
Despite of India’s winning its so-called independence in 1947, many press laws are still draconian, archaic and obsolete. The only thing that has “changed” in India is the skin color of rulers. Ceteris paribus, media freedom remains static too. Anyways, the Shahjahanpur-based journalist who kept a Facebook page that was updated with reports written by him had several posts on the state’s dairy development minister Ram Murti Verma. In one, he alleged that Verma didn’t want another leader to become an MLC and was making political moves to prevent it, and in other posts alleged that Verma and his accomplices were guilty of gangraping an anganwadi worker. He also accused Verma’s men of planning to attack the gangrape victim’s home and even questioned how Verma had accumulated so much wealth. After the posts, Singh was attacked by men allegedly close to the minister on 28 April. Then came the incident on 1 June. Singh was set on fire allegedly by a group of policemen and goons allied with Ram Murti Verma, State Minister for Dairy Development. He battled for life for a week at a hospital, in Lucknow, before he died on June 8. In a dying declaration on video, shot before he breathed his last because of burns, Singh said, “Why did they have to burn me? If the Minister and his people had something against me, they could have hit me and beaten me, instead of pouring kerosene over me and burning me.”
His death has provoked me to also touch upon the status of media freedom in India. I am here to defend the “media freedom”, in general. This doesn’t mean that I am also defending the “celeb journalists” who armchair in their air-conditioned offices and offer speeches on “press freedom”. They are the one who are more compatible to sell media freedom to the government, over a bottle of whisky. As a former journalist, I can confess that I was told to manipulate scripts in my past to solace people’s ignorance. What people see is just as a tip of an iceberg. To tell you recent stories:
In 2001, Tehelka, then a news portal and now a magazine, was banned after it exposed political corruption in India’s defence sector.
In April 2003, The Hindu ran two articles criticizing Jayalalithaa’s actions of expelling and jailing opposition members from the state legislature. Jayalalitha retaliated by filing 17 criminal defamation cases, and ordering 5 senior editors of the newspaper, to be jailed for 15 days each.
In August 2007, members of the right wing political party Shiv Sena vandalized the office of Outlook when it published an article where the party supremo was listed as ‘Villain’. More recently, in April 2012, Jadavpur Univeristy professor Ambikesh Mohapatra was arrested for circulating a cartoon of Mamata Banerjee.
In September 2012, Azhar Kadri, a reporter of the ‘Kashmir Tribune’ newspaper was beaten up severely by the police while covering a protest in Srinagar.
In the Fifteenth general elections, it was highlighted that there were instances of payment of money by candidates to the representatives of media houses to ensure positive coverage. Media is called 4th pillar of a democracy, as I said before. It is a platform to debate, and form public opinions. The politicians, corporate world, the government and the elite use the media platform to influence and form social opinions that are conducive to their interests, which is dangerous. Another major reason why the biggest democracy dropped to the 140th rank in Press Freedom, is because India has been pushing for global Internet governance. The unpopular notion of Internet Censorship continue to be a major obstacle to access to information. The authorities insist on censoring the web and imposing more and more taboos everywhere, which is being criticized by some other countries too. Nota bene the factors deciding the ranking are: 1) legal framework for the media, 2) press environment and self-censorship, and 3) violence against journalists, netizens, and media assistants.
Remember that YOUR government is armed with the power of coercion and it often encroaches upon the freedom of the press by exploiting restrictive laws governing criminal defamation, contempt of court and national security to silence reporters’ accounts of corruption. Figure out. If that doesn’t help, the political parties may even resort to threats and violence. I hope Jagendra’s sacrifice doesn’t go waste, and meanwhile you may google “Centralised Monitoring System” to learn how you’re being snooped by the government.