Our civil society must shout more loudly!

The AP and Karnataka cases remind us our intolerance of open mind!

What education, what liberal values, and what civil society we can be proud about?

Open mind is what education is supposed to teach and inculcate. But in India we are yet to travel far. Our education is to give us the power of the mind to welcome criticism and give us an open mind. If education is all about closing our mind, then, what is all our education and culture amount to? Not much, sadly!

Our civil society is still pretentiously elitist and timid. Stray dogs bring the crowd to the streets but not the detention of and a newspaper editor! This is our value system?

Indian press, both print and electronic media, is growing fast. Press will always be an inconvenient force in a democracy. Under dictatorships, press is always suppressed and in a democracy the press is supposed to be free, in spite of the many occasional inconveniences to the ruling government. We have seen however, there are some bizarre cases of ruling government unleashing illegalities in the nature of intimidating the inconvenient press. In TN, there used to be some ugly incidents. The Hindu editors and publishers once had to run for cover and only the Supreme Court could give them their freedoms!

Now, in AP, the most powerful press baron, Ramoji Rao had to run from pillar to post when the state government sought to probe his finance company. That was seen as an assault on his powerful press empire. Sometimes monopoly power of a press establishment could be misused. Is that the case in the present instance of Enadu publications? No fellow press man can come forward to ask such questions.

But surely the press establishment, the many press councils are there to ask such questions and they should. The Supreme Court asked whether the press establishment that runs a chit company has the lenience to ask not to enquire into his business dealings.

Yes, there is always the conflict of interest in running a commercial business empire that also can own press establishment. In TN, there is now certainly some undesirable developments, the ruling party and the government is also seen as part of a flourishing press empire, in this case the television empire that conducts daily propaganda of an unhealthy nature in favor of  a highly partisan government which is seen as vindictive when it comes to Opposition parties. So also the press empire also extends to government powers, one member of the family is also the Union Information Minister.

There can be many variations to the theme. The press has to be seen as unfettered to be able to command respect and credibility.

Unfortunately, as the Indian society and polity is evolving there are certain serious distortions in the press and the government establishment relationships. The democratic traditions are certainly are seen eroded when the big press is favored by the ruling establishment to muzzle public opinion in so many subtle ways. The big and powerful press establishments get their men and women invited to travel with the PM and the President whenever they undertake elaborate foreign visits. Thus, the big and powerful press establishment seems to influence public opinion in favor of the ruling establishment.

So there is this peculiar phenomenon of the big fish and the smaller fry in the press ownership in India, the press ownership is also growing in a more undesirable, monopolistic and commercially more anti-public interest, there is a sort of conspiracy of suppressing the voice of the poor and the weaker sections in favor of the powerful and patently anti-people economic development models as exemplified by the emergence of monopoly capitalist path the country is currently witnessing.

Now, the point here is that when it comes to state action in curbing press freedom there are some ugly developments as we witnessed in Karnataka recently. An editor in Mangalore and his wife were arrested on March 3rd and even after more than a week they were not granted bail. That sounds a bit obnoxious. The Home Minister M.P. Prakash, who is also a writer and an intellectual has observed:”A ubiquitous and a cantankerous press has to be tolerated by persons in authority in order to uphold the right to information and expression”.

One can’t add anything more than this observation by a person in authority to warn to those who might hold contrary views regarding the press freedom. All the more so when it comes to nurturing tolerance in a free society and a democracy. Certainly, there is room for observing more tolerance and a more enlightened administration of justice. The editor and his wife were not in good health and they were admitted to the hospital. That in itself might be reason enough o enlarge them on bail. Granting bail in such cases, more so when it concerns freedom of the press is a minimum courtesy.

This is seen not as any observation on any authority. This observation is an expression of a state of affairs that prevails in our society. Somehow, we with all tall talk of tolerance, diversity of opinions, we remain a highly intolerant society, highly irrational people, we are yet to learn tolerance and secular values and also respect differing opinions.

The state of press freedom is still very backward; we don’t take pride in the vigor of our society’s capacity to welcome differing opinions.

Our very education system, our cultural values and our religious tolerance are all part of how we tolerate and welcome a vigor free press. Free press is part of our liberal education values.

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