The freedom of the press in this day and age depends on several factors, one of which being the government in power in a nation, leading us to wonder if it is freedom in the truest sense of the word if there are conditions set to it.
On World Press Freedom Day, it is worth noting that India has slipped further in the press freedom index behind Afghanistan, a nation ruled by extreme fundamentalist militant organization Taliban. India slipped 11 spots from its standing last year to occupy the 161st position. India is also behind Pakistan, which has worked towards bettering their position in the index.
The World Press Freedom Index has been published by Reporters Sans Frontieres, Paris based NGO, every year since 2002. The ranking of a country on the index is based on five broad categories, which are, political context, legal framework, economic context, socio-cultural context and safety of journalists. Of the five, India’s lowest ranking was in the ‘safety of journalists’ category (172), while its best was ‘social indicator’ category (143).
As has become customary of the Centre in the face of criticism, the union government in February last year refuted the index’s rankings saying that it did not agree with the views and country rankings listed in the World Press Freedom Index since it’s published by a “foreign” NGO.
While media has been termed as the watchdog of democracy, in India, it watches on as every pillar is slowly corrupted to the point it cannot sustain the weight of crumbling democracy. The ruling party has successfully managed to control the fourth, arguably the most important pillar, and on that it balances its fragile act.
Put on a leash, a dog can only bark but not bite. And a dog that does not bite is not considered dangerous. That is the scene on national television news channels with a whole lot of barking on a daily basis which ultimately amounts to nothing in terms of meaningful discussion on development, people, their needs or the like.
However, a favourable image of the ruling party has been created and that continues to influence voters even as the works undertaken by them may have failed. That is the power of media and that was identified as the weapon to ride on in a bid to topple long-time favourites who dropped their guard for once and now are fighting for existence.
The government thrives in the absence of an opposition, which has been successfully discredited; its image tarnished by the machine gun called media. And as the watchdog has been put on a leash, there remains nobody to question.
The right to question an elected government has been undermined, to protest peacefully is now a crime with the mainstream media under its control, the government is striving in its agenda to propagate itself as the only real absolute. Religion has become a sword with media the shield and amidst all that the true sense of journalism has been lost.
Of late, there has been a trend to blame the media for everything happening around the nation. Movies and television series put the media in a bad light often blaming it for all the mess. But tell me, sitting in your cozy chairs in an AC-fitted office room of a large MNC, which is your profession, how is it your right to tell me how to do my work when I cannot do the same for you? Most of the major media houses in the country are being controlled and the employees there are merely following orders to earn their bread and butter, just as you are. While you have the privilege of taking to your social media handles to blurt out abuse, we do not enjoy even that freedom.
It is not that we do not want to work for the people, or that we do not want to see a change in how things are going about in the country. But if doing the right thing compromises with our living, it becomes a tough choice for most.
Still, there have been those brave enough in the face of authoritarianism, to go out of their way to question, to bring about a change, only to be silenced forever with a bullet to the forehead. No one deserves to die for doing their duty. Even a soldier protecting our borders, who is ready to face the supreme sacrifice at any moment, does not wish for it.
Radical changes are required and it is true that the media has to find ways to be more independent. Free of the shackles, it can do wonders, change governments if needed. Questioning is a fundamental right and that should be lost on us. Media should question itself that even after wagging its tail to the masters, often it has been left out to dry to face criticism when the same masters had no place to hide. Loyalty should not come at the cost of self-respect.