Posts Tagged ‘Constitution of India’

‘Licensing journos: recipe for total state control’

22 August 2013

Ravi_pic_ram_leiceL1000002_croppedThe following is the full text of the statement issued by N. Ravi, president of the Editors’ Guild of India, on the proposal mooted by minister of state for information and broadcasting, Manish Tewari, on a “common examination” for student-journalists and a “licence” for journalists to perform their function:

“The suggestion of the Union minister for information and broadcasting, Manish Tewari, that journalists should be tested and licensed to practice the profession is a recipe for the total state control of the media.

“Licensing of journalists is an obviously undemocratic practice that has been condemned repeatedly by international human rights organisations including the Inter American Court of Human Rights. Requirements such as membership of a particular organisation, specific qualifications and licences issued by the government are tools used by totalitarian states to control the media.

“The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 19 (1) of the Constitution and it is open to every citizen to practise it through the media subject only to restrictions on the grounds specified in Article 19 (2).  The reporting of facts and the expression of ideas is the right of every citizen and to require the passing of a test and the possession of a licence issued by the government would be a violation of the very concept of freedom.

“People with varying qualifications, ideas and interests should be allowed unrestricted access in the exercise of their right to free speech through the media.

“Besides, the media deal with the whole gamut of issues touching on the society– from political, economic and social issues to health, religion, art, literature, cinema, music and travel– and unlike in the case of some of the professions such as law and medicine, there is no fixed or identifiable collection of works or coherent body of knowledge on which journalists could be tested.

“In this age of citizen journalists, bloggers and social media and Internet users, it would be ridiculous to introduce any restriction on who should practise journalism even if it were possible to enforce it.”

***

Business Standard has an editorial on the topic:

“Charitably, Tewari’s point could be taken as an opportunity for the media to introspect as to why there are many calls for it to improve the quality of its output. There is little doubt that, as the media space has exploded, much has been produced that is not of sufficient quality or reliability or even credibility.

“Of course, whether this requires a licence-permit Raj to be introduced for journalism is another question altogether—though a reflexive belief in the virtues of control is the hallmark of the Indira Gandhi-loving United Progressive Alliance, which is in so many fields apparently desirous of returning India to the 1980s.

“Actually, it is diversity that should be prized in an open society with free expression, not uniformity and “standardisation”. It is ridiculous to imagine that an examination, however tough, would, in any case, weed out the corrupt and the incompetent. If that were the case, India would have had the most incorruptible and most efficient bureaucracy in the known universe.”

***

Madhavankutty Pillai in Open magazine:

“The exam and licence for journalists is couched as a measure for the benefit of the profession. It comes on the back of the Press Council of India Chairman, Markandey Katju, floating a similar proposal some months ago. Both are symbolic of our great faith in question papers despite overwhelming evidence that it is possibly the worst way to create an institution.

“IAS and IPS officers, the frame that rules India, are selected on the basis of one exam and what it churns out is an effete, morally compromised, characterless group. People with high IQ and a good memory can clear these exams but it guarantees nothing in terms of either integrity, efficiency or common sense.

“Both Katju and Tewari were lawyers and it is probably the Bar Council exam that they have as a model. Which makes what they propose even more ridiculous if you consider the state of the legal profession in India. The standardisation it has created is in the art of perpetually delaying a case, bribery as a legal strategy and the fleecing of clients.

Also read: Poll: common exam, licences for journalists?

A “license” for journalists is not a ‘sine qua non’

External reading: How licensing journalists threatens independent news media

MUST READ: ‘Shankar’s Weekly’ final editorial

18 May 2012

Media freedom in India id est Bharat has never been a more scarce commodity than in the year of the lord 2012.

The fourth estate is under concerted attack from all three pillars of our democracy—the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Organisations mandated to protect media freedom (like the press council of India) are happily chomping its heels. Every day the sound of some distant door closing echoes through the internet chamber.

On top of it all, or because of it all, the sparks of public cynicism about the media and its practitioners (thanks to paid news, private treaties, medianet, and this, that and the other) has become a wildfire, its faceless flames licking the very hand that feeds. Regulation and self-regulation is the mantra on every lip.

(Why, supposedly courageous practitioners of journalism themselves don’t hesitate to intimidate those who expose their warts.)

The illiberalism, the intolerance, the control-freakery that have become a part of the accepted discourse in 21st century India was most evident last week when parliament—the so-called temple of democracy—committed the ultimate sacrilege: a Harvard-trained poet agreeing to remove newspaper and magazine cartoons from school textbooks because they could hurt the fragile egos of faceless mobs back where they go out with their bowls every five years.

The ostensible provocation was a 1949 cartoon of B.R. Ambedkar, the Constitution framer and Dalit icon, drawn by P. Shankar Pillai, the legendary cartoonist, in his now-defunct magazine Shankar’s Weekly that had been included in an NCERT textbook in 2006.

But it was clearly a smokescreen to sneak in the scissors to cut out all cartoons about all politicians in all textbooks.

Shankar’s Weekly shut down on 31 August 1975, the very year Indira Gandhi declared Emergency, on whose back rode a beast called Censorship.

In circa 2012, as her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi thumped the desk when Kapil Sibal eloquently ushered in Censorship without the formal proclamation of Emergency, it’s useful to go through Shankar Pillai’s farewell editorial, which shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

***

FAREWELL

“We started with an editorial 27 years ago. We will end with another.

“The world was different in 1948. The Cold War had not taken the sinister overtones that it later did. The atom bomb was in our midst and there was scare of war. But there was no apprehension that life would be wiped out from the earth in a nuclear holocaust.

“The United States was riding high with sole possession of the atom bomb. Communism was to be rolled back by its strength and Time magazine’s brave words. But monolithic communism was already breaking up. In 1946 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform.

“Less than a year after Shankar’s Weekly was born, Mao Tse-tung took over mainland China, for ever changing the dimensions of international affairs. While Europe was still struggling to get over the aftermath of a ruinous war, Asia stood up for the first time as independent entity.

“Soon after Africa emerged from colonial darkness. The old imperialisms watched uneasily at Bandung and Afro-Asian solidarity. Perhaps there was something in Nehru’s non-alignment after all.

“The world of today is very different. The Cold War is still there but played according to already laid ground rules usually. West Europe has been integrated in a sense, although the sense of nationalism is still strong. Africa by and large has not steadied itself except in one or two countries.

“White supremacy is still unchallenged in South Africa and Rhodesia. Asian politics has become uncertain largely due to Sino-Soviet rivalry. Latin America seethes with unrest, but the CIA and multi-nationals are trying to contain discontent. Economically, the world is somewhat better off than 27 years ago despite runaway inflation and drought and so on. But the quality of human life cannot be said to have shown any qualitative change.

“This is what brings us to the nub of the matter. In our first editorial we made the point that the our function was to make our readers laugh – at the world, at pompous leaders, at humbug, at foibles, at ourselves. But, what are the people who have a developed sense of humour? It is a people with a certain civilised norms of behaviour, where there is tolerance and a dash of compassion.

“Dictatorships cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that wouldn’t do. In all the years of Hitler, there never was a good comedy, not a good cartoon, not a parody, or a spoof. From this point, the world and sadly enough India have become grimmer.

“Humour, whenever it is there, is encapsuled. Language itself has become functional, each profession developing its own jargon. Outside of the society of brother-cartoonists, an economist is a stranger, floundering in uncharted territory, uncertain of himself, fearful of non-economic language.

“It is the same for lawyers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and such-like.

“What is worse, human imagination seems to be turning to the macabre and the perverse. Books and films are either on violence or sexual deviations. Nothing seems to awaken people except unpleasant shocks. Whether it is the interaction of the written word and the cinema on society or not, society reflects these attitudes. Hijackings, mugging in the dark, kidnappings, and plain murder are becoming everyday occurrences and sometimes lend respectability by giving it some kind of political colouration.

“But Shankar’s Weekly is an incurable optimist. We are certain that despite the present situation, the world will become a happier and more relaxed place. The spirit of man will in the end overcome all death dealing forces and life will blossom to a degree where humanity will find its highest purpose discharged.

“Some call this God. We prefer to call it human destiny. And on that thought we bid you good-bye and the best of luck.”

Published on Sunday, 31 August 1975

Hat tip: D.D. Gupta

Image: A facsimile of the front cover of Shankar’s Weekly

On the eve of the 33rd anniversary of Emergency

25 June 2008

The dictionary defines “atrocity” as “the quality of being shockingly cruel and inhumane”. If that is an acceptable definition, what constitutes an “atrocity” against the scheduled castes and tribes?

Is a Lok Ayukta raid against a corrupt SC/ST official an “atrocity” against dalits? Is sacking or suspending an incompetent SC/ST employee an “atrocity” against dalits? Is questioning, criticising , shouting slogans against, or burning an effigy of an SC/ST public figure an “atrocity” against dalits?

Can the media dispassionately write about or comment on individuals and institutions of the scheduled castes and tribes, as they should any other community, without attracting the charge of “harassment”?

In other words, are dalits above the laws of the land? Or are the scheduled castes and tribes taking advantage of the special status that the Constitution of India confers on them?

The answers are blindingly obvious to most, but to the Congress government of Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy in Andhra Pradesh, they are not so. Last night, AP police swooped down on the offices of the Telugu daily, Andhra Jyothy, and arrested its editor (K. Srinivas) and two journalists (N. Vamsi Krishna and N. Srinivas) under section 3 (1) (x) of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.

Section 3 (1) (x) reads:

“Whoever, not being a member of a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe… intentionally insults or intimidates with intent to humiliate a member of a scheduled caste or tribe in any place within public view.”

Their crime?

The Maadiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) president Manda Krishna Madiga had lodged a complaint with the police on 28 May 2008 that the staff of the newspaper had abused him by his caste when they had taken out a protest march the previous day. According to one report, Krishna Madiga “showed the photos where the editor and others were present when the agitators were beating his effigy with chappals”.

The reason Andhra Jyothy staff had taken out the protest march?

Activists of the MRPS had attacked the offices of Andhra Jyothy in Hyderabad, Warangal and Vishakapatnam on 27 May 2008 and vandalised them in protest against an article it had published on 26 May 2008. Two cars were also damaged.

Without naming any Dalit leader in particular, the article in question referred to “hired leaders” and “saleable commodities” who  were only pandering to their interests rather than working for the interests of their community.

MRPS leaders claimed Andhra Jyothy had published the news item “with the specific intent of tarnishing the image of leaders who were crusading for the uplift of the weaker sections for decades”.

Almost a month later, on the eve of the 33rd anniversary of the Emergency, the police came knocking and took away the editor and the two contributors. The charge against the reporters was that they had burnt the effigy of Krishna Madiga and slapped it with chappals during the rally on 27 May 2008.

A police officer is quoted as saying, prima facie, there is “clinching evidence” against all three.

The arrest of the Andhra Jyothy staff comes in the middle of a surcharged media atmosphere in the Congress-ruled State, and the journalists’ bodies are smelling more than a rat.

Ramoji Rao, the proprietor of the State’s largest daily Eenadu, has been the subject of a sustained legal and financial scrutiny. The chief minister’s son, Jaganmohan Reddy, has just launched a multi-edition, all-colour newspaper called Saakshi to take on Eenadu and Andhra Jyothi. And the film star Chiranjeevi, whom Andhra Jyothy is seemingly backing, is slated to announce the launch of a political party soon.

Photograph: Andhra Jyothy editor K. Srinivas being taken away in a police jeep upon his arrest (courtesy Andhra Jyothy )

Also read: ‘A disgraceful assault on media freedom

Cross-posted on churumuri

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