Arun Kumar**,,

Freedom of expression is one of the essential foundations of our democratic societies, but a favourable environment is sine qua non for flourishing media freedom and pluralism in any country. It is generally found to be restricted through direct political interference using the wings of the state apparatus or through the draconian legislations and also through private and commercial interference by way of concentration of the media ownership.  At the outset it could be said that present day development of the nation is being designed in such a way that it is no longer peasants and other agriculturists, but the industrialists who are regulating the agricultural practices at the moment. In this attack on agriculture by the government, a new group of corporates is trying to capture the agriculture sector and eradicate peasants from it. If crops are only grown in farm houses, then will this increase development? For the capitalist world, it has become a convenient practice to invest into the agricultural sector in order to convert their black money into white. Anti-SEZ campaigns have engulfed the whole country. In Nandigram,SEZ was successfully opposed and ultimately the government was forced to cancel its plan of making one there, but the media was found too occupied to bring the true story of Nandigram to the limelight. Media, which has access to the common mass, has generally been found trying to suppress the news of such movements-million mutinies going on in different parts of the country.  As a result of the attack on agriculture that is being carried on by the government itself, the capitalist group is getting into the shoes of the agriculturists and forcing them out of their land. People who don’t want to leave their land, jungle or villages – jal, jangaljaminare treated like arch enemies by the government and the administration. Migration has increased in villages. People of villages are shifting to cities. And in these cities, the administration is not leaving any stone unturned in compelling these people to go back to their villages.  In all the metro cities, every now and then the government bulldoze the houses of such people in the name of removing encroachments and ‘unauthorised” slums.  The movement that is going on in Mumbai to save the slum areas does not find getting the attention of media. In reality, the situation is that any news relating to any mass struggle in one part of the country, never reaches to the other parts of the nation. This development minded indoctrinated media believes that it is in its interest to suppress the news relating to such movements. In the Hindi-speaking belt, the condition of Hindi newspapers has found to be even worse. It has become like a duty of these newspapers to publish articles which are anti-movements. The situation is such that it seems that every other newspaper, either it has a small area of circulation or a grater one, has taken up the responsibility to publish articles opposing such movements.  The media does not have found to be any reporters to cover news relating to the movements. None of those newspapers have this much of understanding that there should be at least one correspondent appointed who should cover news relating to the sufferings of the agriculturists and one to cover all the stories relating to the movements. Many a times, such situations have arisen when there was no one found to write in favour of these movements.  Newsrelating to movements in non-Hindi regions rarely finds a place in Newspapers.Hindi Newspapers have generally been found wanting to give any importance to the problems and movementsarising in non-Hindi regions of the country. In this scenario, the analytical capacity ofthe Hindi news readers is shrinking day by day.   In recent times, governments have increased the sale of liquor in villages. The demandof alcohol has risen above that of essential commodities like milk. Villages, poor people,labourers spend a big chunk of their income in liquor. Now the question arises, why are people going mad about it? And why is the government so much interested in increasing its consumption? If alcohol is the biggest enemy of the poor, then are there any movement against it?  If there is any movement against it little does its find mention in media reports? It is only because of involvement of liquor brewing corporates and their influence on the media through advertisements and cross-media ownership.  Two powerful ideologies — ultra-conservatism in politics and the free-enterprise corporate ideology — have reached into the newsrooms which had left a chilling effect leading to a situation of “self-censorship’ which has now emerged as a widespread problem. Journalists these days tend to suggest only stories that fit into the accepted norm, which might help explain why most dailies are found to be so vacuous these days.  It was not without rhyme and reason that a famous American author Ben H Bagdikian in preface of his book The Media Monopoly pointed   “Each year it is more likely that the American citizen who turns to any medium… will receive information, ideas, or entertainment controlled by the same handful of corporations, whether it is daily news, a cable entertainment program, or a textbook.”    He declared that the difference between our government and the corporate entity of business is getting harder and harder to delineate. “Corporate news media and business-oriented governments have made common cause.”   One of the dangers in all this is that “…the new corporate ethic is so single-minded about extreme fast profits and expanded control over the media business that it is willing to convert American news into a service for the affluent customers wanted by the media’s advertisers instead of a source of information significant for the whole of society. The rewards of money profit through market control by themselves and their advertisers have blinded media owners to the damage they are doing to an institution central to the American democracy.”  “Modern technology and American economics have quietly created a new kind of central authority over information — the national and multinational corporation. By the 1980s, the majority of all major American media… were controlled by fifty giant corporations.” These powerful information Czars can easily drown out attempts by the less powerful to put forth dissenting viewpoints. “The fifty men and women who head these corporations… constitute a new Private Ministry of Information and Culture.”  Present day Indian media scenario is the same as mentioned by Bagdikianin context of the American media as India too has adopted the same economic policies here too which has its natural bearing on the socio-cultural and political aspects of the Indian society.   Virtually this is the reason as to why the present day Indian media has been found to have developed a pathological hatred towards the system of the wage board. It is because the wage-board journalists deriving strength by the legal cover of Working Journalists Act, Industrial Disputes Act and similar other worker-friendly acts to differ with the view-points of their bosses which they feel going against the established principles of ethical journalism. That’s why the new Indian Corporate Media has introduced the system of appointing journalists on contract and has developed aversion towards anything that is legal including the Press Council of India. It is because on the basis of the strength of this legal cover these wage-board journalists muster courage to defy the illegal and unethical commands of their editorial bosses who generally work on the diktats of their managerial bosses in the news-room of Indian media houses putting aside ethics of journalism and its established norms.  The Press Council Of India too has been discussing this situation since 2003 when MR. Justice K. Jayachandra Reddy was its chairperson. The Pune meeting of the PCI chaired by the then chairman Justice Reddy had observed‘there was no doubt that the freedom of the press could be in jeopardy incontract system where continuance of service would be at whims of the employer.”  PRESS Council Of India also adopted a study report on July 27,2007adopted a report titled “Working Journalists Act vis-a`-vis Appointment of Journalists on Contract noted “Though thejournalists under contractual employment often accept hefty pay packets and also get substantial wage increases, their freedom increasingly comes under a cloud ofuncertainty as soon as the date for the contract renewal approaches.”  It further noted   “it is often observed that there is hardly any option orfreedom of choice available to those engaged in the profession of gathering, reporting, disseminating or analysing news. Such a scenario has also raised crucial question relating to the freedom of press.’   Much water has flown down in Ganges since then but no improvement in the news-room scenario has been found till date which has its bearing on freedom of press in India. Rather  it has worsened further which needs to be tackled forthwith if We as a country want to safeguard the Freedom of Press in the interest of the people otherwise in reality  there would be no Freedom of Press in the country. Is anyone listening?

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*Arun Kumar

**The Writer is a member of Press Council OfIndia

*Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of INVC

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