The information Czars of the government appear unrelenting in their effort to curb a free flow of information, particularly news they do not deem favourable to Raisina Hill.
Not too long ago it required the Prime Minister’s Office to junk a bid by Smriti Irani to use government-accreditation as a cane with which to discipline the Press.
More recently, a caustic comment from the apex court about the risk of India becoming a “surveillance state”, caused Ms Irani’s successor to backtrack about setting up a technical mechanism to monitor communication on the social media.
And now the Editors’ Guild, somewhat belatedly critics would say, has decried the pressure on a TV channel that resulted in some of its programming being blacked out, and the easing out of two journalists who dared conduct a reality check on some of the highly-publicised schemes of the government.
The Guild has pulled no punches, it has used terms like “throttling” and accused officials of “nefarious activities”, while asking media houses not to be “cowed” into submission by political pressure “The Editors Guild of India condemns the manner in which the right to practise free and independent journalism is seen to be undermined by a combination of forces ~ some media owners’ inability to withstand covert or overt pressures from the political establishment ~ and frequent instances of blocking or interference in the transmission of television content that is seen to be critical of the government,” it said.
“Denying this right and shunning journalists critical of you are unhealthy practices in a democracy. Unfortunately, it can also lead to one-sided coverage. This unhealthy and unfair practice must be avoided,” the Guild said.
“It (government) must also assure the nation that either directly or through any proxies or agencies it isn’t involved in this activity. And if it isn’t, these saboteurs must be brought to book. Freedom of airwaves cannot be tampered with,” it said.
“These undermine the right to be informed and to hold the establishment accountable. This seems a brazen attempt to punish ‘unfriendly’ news channels and silence inconvenient voices,” the statement added.
While the channel in question and the Government have not yet been heard, especially on the troubling issue of airwaves, perhaps never since the Defamation Bill has a government been so forcefully attacked.
Media pressure had caused Rajiv Gandhi and P Chidambaram to buckle over the Bill, but lessons refuse to be learnt. While the NDA leadership will reject all such criticism, journalists insist that varied pressure (including denial of revenue-generating advertising) is being mounted.
And media outlets, particularly TV channels, which follow the official line are being pampered. While the Guild and other watchdogs might deserve to be lauded for their “resistance”, they will be the first to admit it is little more than token. To survive, the Press must also look within – at its revenue model and its adherence to basics in failing to provide all sides of a story.