When the Press shackles...

Turn the pages of a newspaper, surf television channels, visit news websites. What you get to see is plenty of freedom. Everybody is free to say what they wish, in a language they choose to, for a motivation only they might know about.

Together with freedom comes responsibility is not just a cliché. When you celebrate World Press Freedom Day at least understand what is expected of you:

Every year, May 3rd is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.

2014 Theme is: Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda.

How many are bothered about this? Editors who censor pieces and kowtow to masters of varied stripes are talking about press freedom? Even reports are cut to make space for ads, or if they go contrary to what the sponsors might like. Opinion pieces are censored because, again, they will cause problems.

But, whose freedom is this?

The regional press that has a much wider reach and better understanding of people in the villages and small towns, and certainly has an urban audience as well, is largely ignored.

A few months ago, two well-known TV anchors were said to be planning to quit their jobs. The immediate reaction was that they were under pressure. Op-eds in the international press too gave their example even though both had clarified that no such thing had happened.

More recently, a young lawyer collated some Modi myths to be busted; it was published in DNA. A few hours later it was not there. The immediate reaction was that the fascists had started working.

Let us get this clear: the fascists will. There are several examples. Yet, had anybody bothered to call out the newspaper, ask for an explanation? Had anybody bothered to raise questions other than the one that suited the current anti-wave? This is surprising, for nothing in that piece was new or more damning than some that have preceded it. There was no sharp opinion.

Would it not be more proactive to get the newspaper to respond instead of just riding a, well, wave?

We are already on to other stories, other minor ripples.

Is this about censorship?

The media that seeks the right to write has crossed the line several times. Have you noticed that while film stars and politicians are soft targets, industrialists are treated with deference? And what about the media houses themselves? It is rare that a Tarun Tejpal case comes to light, but even here it became a matter of professional rivalry.

I will only be repeating myself when I say that the deals the media strikes with politicians, with corporate houses (if they are not owned by them), with the underworld too will not be outed. Even in the Tejpal case, two factors were important.

1) After the media had given the Delhi gangrape primetime, sexual abuse has become an issue that cannot be ignored. I won't go into the dynamics of how it twists the victim's situation to suit TRPs and advertising.

2) Without in any way taking away from the crime, there was the political-corporate aspect that oversaw how justice was to be delivered.

In the FoE overdrive, there is rarely any discussion about the reporters on the field, especially in sensitive areas.

It is disgusting to read about how some in the press cling onto their peers who might be unfortunate victims of violence. It is time to wake up. Such incidents take place not because the media houses are outspoken and free, but because the perpetrators of violence won't have it any other way. They have targeted even those who are silent and have no media access. If the press wants to act as though it is upholding democracy, then it better learn to practice the freedom across the board within the organisation, and not be selective.

Or they should make their position/agenda clear. To the readers, their sponsors, and their staff and contributors.

Do they have the courage? No. They keep their options open because they want to curry favours. They do not know who will come to power, which industry will have its projects passed, which celebrity will be feted. So, we have a mélange of people of dubious worth featured consistently until such time that they become redundant for the 'free' media.