Paritosh Joshi: Independence and Free Media

16 Aug,2012

By Paritosh Joshi

 

Constitutional Law is assumed to be arcane, dense and generally beyond the comprehension of anyone except the most learned of legal minds. And yet, some of the most soaring, inspiring expressions of humanity’s pursuit of a higher ideal, the greater good, a more just world are to be found there. Here are two splendid examples:

 

“WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:

JUSTICE, social, economic and political;

LIBERTY, of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;

EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;

and to promote among them all

FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949,DO HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION”.

 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

 

84 words in that first quotation, the Preamble to the Constitution of India (and it was only 82 before Indira Gandhi imposed ‘SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST’ upon it vide the Forty Second Constitution Amendment Bill, 1976) and a mere 45 in the second, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. Look at how emphatic both are on the matter of Free Speech.

 

Why should this be so? Jurists aver that all other fundamental freedoms can be logically derived from Free Speech. Conversely, truncate Free Speech from the rights enjoyed by the citizens of a nation-state and you have an inevitable path to oppression and tyranny. The Scottish essayist, Thomas Carlyle in his book On Heroes and Her Worship cites the British Parliamentarian Edmund Burke as the progenitor of the phrase “Fourth Estate” to describe the Press. The quote that has passed into common usage is: “There were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all”. The importance of this Estate grows exponentially as private and state power expands in a rapidly growing Socio-Economy. By ensuring that the reader or viewer is kept abreast with the latest developments in the world around them and, in particular, calling out malfeasance, misdemeanour and mischief in high places, the media keep untrammelled might in check.

 

How well are we inIndiadoing on this front?

Not very, one has to say, with the greatest regret.

 

Doordarshan, set up with an ambitious charter of achieving everything from “Catalyst for change”, “Promote National Integration” all the way through to  “Create values of appraisal of art and cultural heritage” has now been reduced to an anamic copy of private Hindi GE channels. So much for our much vaunted “Public Broadcasting System”.

 

And have the private broadcasters covered themselves with glory? Let’s look at news in India’s most widely spoken language: Hindi. With a potential audience footprint running into several hundred million people, the genre must surely recognize its indispensable role in protecting the rights of this, often disadvantaged, class of viewers / citizens. What do they actually get? A puerile confection of tabloid sensationalism, GE quasi-reruns and an endless barrage of news pablum.

 

Can we be hopeful that things can or will change? Yes. For the strangest reason.

 

The promise of BARC to give us a wider and deeper understanding of the needs and interest of the television audience. And its other promise of shifting the inventory valuation from a relative currency (CPRP) to an absolute one (CPT). As broadcasters receive a more fair value for the product they sell, their need to be incessantly strident to get audiences or perish trying, will be replaced by greater sobriety and a renewed focus on creative quality.

 

66th Independence Day Greetings to all my readers and their families!

 

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