Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Are we headed for Press Censorship?

By Dilip Awasthi


Are we headed for yet another regime?of undeclared censorship? The question could be discomforting and frustrating too for the believers in freedom of expression. We have seen Indira Gandhi's dictatorial  Emergency and Mayawati's autocratic rule or even Mulayam Singh's  "halla bol" campaign wherein the media was humbled or even made redundant.

Both PM Modi and CM Yogi Adityanath in a big way owe their current towering status to the outright media support they received in their early days. Now that both feel comfortably placed as far as their respective public images are concerned, they have either started taking the media for granted or have become highly sensitive to any criticism coming their way. Both have started showing their fangs now. Either official might is being used against the media or iron curtains are being drawn to keep governmental working away from the journalists' prying eyes.

My sources in the bureaucracy reveal that senior officials have been clearly instructed to interact with media only sparingly. A "Black Hole" situation is being envisaged in the official corridors so that nothing escapes unless the government decides to share it. Officials have been told to hold their lips tight. Any of the policy decisions or instructions from the CM's office are strictly confidential and should not be shared even in bits and pieces with the media. Says a senior secretary" Nothing should leak to the media is what has been communicated." Efforts are being made by departmental heads to ensure that there is no 'adverse' publicity in the media whether it is the law and order front, power crises, farmer woes or civic issues.

To keep the media at bay, other subtle steps are also being taken. Even after six months of 2017, security passes of journalists, which allow them access to governmental corridors, have not been renewed. New accreditations are not being considered. There is a squeeze on government advertisements to make newspaper owners fall in line. Most media owners will willingly do that as they intend to use maximum space for earning revenue through advertisements or even paid news.

As it is a huge credibility question faces the media. The accountable factors include the lack of the will to deeply research issues, have the courage to bring them to the fore, remain objective and call a spade a spade, increasing commercialisation and also a moral commitment to the cause of journalism. If supposedly democratic majority governments decide to bell the institution of journalism, we could be headed for darker days. There is virtually no opposition
in the parliament or the Vidhan Sabha or even outside. If you try to choke the media,  you will have Medi Aarti and Yogi Chalisa playing all over 24 by seven.

But being the optimist that I am, I still hope that better senses will prevail.