Indian newspapers
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Can the press speak? If it does not speak, then is it still the press? But what does it speak? To whom does it speak? These were questions debated at a webinar organised recently by Newslaundry — that audacious news portal that dares call out the most imperious editors of our times. As the editor of The Shillong Times, I have to confess that for the first time in my dozen years of service to this 75-year-old newspaper, I feel a sense of bondage; of not being able to breathe the air of freedom guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution that is destined to secure our freedoms for us.

Am I the only one who feels that I have to correct a phrase here and a sentence there lest it offends someone? There was a time when one could just shoot from the hips when it came to issues that hurt the public cause, of course, bearing in mind that well-rehearsed adage – ‘Your freedom ends where my nose begins’.

Why is the press, which is the fourth pillar of Indian democracy, not given the same status as the other three pillars – the legislature, executive and judiciary? Why are these three pillars today almost sacrosanct and beyond reproach? Why is the press being shown its place time and again by the three other pillars, especially by the executive and judiciary? What are we in the media doing wrong? Are we doing something we have not done before? Will someone point out our transgressions? And by someone, I mean a neutral third party with no vested interest in any of the four pillars.


Also read: Is there a risk of Modi govt using Covid-19 to curb media and freedoms or is it necessary?


The job of the press

Why should the press speak, and freely? The answer to this question was given long ago by US Supreme Court JusticeGeorge Sutherland who said, “For the saddest epitaph which can be carved in memory of a vanished liberty is that it was lost because its possessors failed to stretch forth a saving hand while yet there was time.” This is true of most of us today. We are appalled at the grovelling by a section of the media in India. The primetime panel discussions on TV are orchestrated to sing praises to the Narendra Modi government.

After the Emergency, when Indira Gandhi was defeated in the elections and the Janata Party government came to power,  L.K. Advani—who was the information and broadcasting minister at the time—admonished certain media persons and said to them, “When you were asked to bend, you crawled”.

The irony is that it is Advani’s party, the BJP, which is now drawing the boundaries within which media should operate.

So, are we any better today? And yet we do nothing other than discussing these distasteful episodes amongst ourselves. Each one of us fears to call out these journalistic misdemeanours. So they continue happily, basking in the glory of those who hold the reins of governance today. They enjoy a privileged status because they oblige and brook no dissent against the status quo.

Then there are media houses with no revenue model other than an undue reliance on government and corporate advertisements. Well, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed some ugly facets — this model is unsustainable and not by a long shot. Hundreds of journalists have been laid off, some with not even a package that will see them through for the next six months. They lost their jobs just like that because the media barons never really delved deep into the model upon which their revenues were built. Yes, the pandemic has brought down that house of cards and publications from different cities have just winded up and staff let off. What happens to those voices from the periphery? Is India now going to be a country of a few top metros where only the lives of the metrosexual matter?


Also read: New panel of officials, ‘credible journalists’ to help improve India’s press freedom rank


A long due correction

Why must the press speak? Is that a tough question to answer? Not if one is a disciple of the old school journalism. The press gives voice to the disempowered. At least that is what was drummed into our ears by seniors in the profession. The press should bring before the executive, legislature and judiciary the social, economic and political maladies that the ordinary citizens experience on a daily basis. It is expected that such reports would nudge the conscience of the three pillars of democracy and they would rush in to address those infirmities.

It worked for a while, that is until the Modi government stepped into the corridors of power and decided it was not going to be bothered by a vigilant, questioning, meddlesome media. Period.

So, who is now holding the legislature, executive and judiciary accountable? Well, a section of the media is still doing so, although it’s gasping for air. Conformity is the order of the day. If you don’t conform, you perish. It’s a hugely polarised world we are living in. It’s the Liberal Left versus Radical Right, and most of us are caught in the middle (minus the ideology except to continue to live our lives in some meaningful way, if that is possible). We continue to speak because we still cling to our dear lives and to Freedom of Speech and Expression or its much watered-down version.

There are so many virtues attached to our freedoms and yet, when we are now seeing up close and personal the rapid erosion of those freedoms and the complete politicisation of the law enforcing agencies investigating the Delhi riots, we are stunned into silence. Speaking up extracts a price, but it’s either that or intellectual slavery. The choice is ours.

Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin, in Federalism, Socialism and Anti-Theologian, aptly remarked that “Intellectual slavery, of whatever nature it may be, will always have as a natural result both political and social slavery”.

If at all we are to reclaim our intellectual freedom, then the press has to lead the way. We have a responsibility to correct the infirmities in the three supporting pillars even as we lend ourselves to correction. Yes, correction, not denunciation, because no single pillar of democracy should have overarching influence or control over the other.

The author is a journalist and editor of The Shillong Times. Views are personal.

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34 Comments Share Your Views

34 COMMENTS

  1. I can find a lot of intellectual slavery even among the readers commenting here. Trolls to feedom of expression has become an SOP after 2014. ‘Bhakts in religion leads to salvation of the soul, but Bhakts in politics leads to dictatorship’.

  2. you ask “Why is the press, which is the fourth pillar of Indian democracy, not given the same status as the other three pillars”

    the reason is that this fourth pillar concept was created by the press itself. Original 3 pillars are documented as such in constitution. There is no fourth pillar. Its same as all railway employees suddenly declare themselves as the fifth pillar and then keep reinforcing the idea over a coule of decades. That will not make railways officially a fifth pillar.

    independent press is important for a democracy but calling it a fourth pillar and drawing parallels with legislative, executive or judiciary is uncalled for. You guys are neither elected nor appointed. Common public whose “good” you claim to defend has no say in you being the editor. then why should we treat you as 4th pillar. Press is essential service provided by private enterprise. Thats it.

  3. Interesting to see an article crying foul over lack of space or attention. Could it be the reason that your writing is so terrible and biased that no-one gives a damn about it? Truth does not need a platform it only needs conviction and honesty. Maybe that’s what is missing.

  4. Ms Mukhim is probably suffering from amnesia if could have been breathing freely during Emergency. Also while she writes in The Quint, Scroll In, NDTV etc she seems to be unaware of their political ideologies. And she claims to be journalist. Very strange indeed.

  5. As you sow, so you reap.

    Till 2014, the Leftist pseudo-sickular presstitutes and Urban Naxals of the JNU Tukde Tukde variety ruled the roost.

    Now it’s payback time.

    Selective outrage and Anti-Hindu rants can only be tolerated for so long.

    Go grieve for next few decades. The Majority has woken up. It will be grief for next century.

  6. This is not about freedom of Press.There is no single example cited about the Modi Govt. interfering with the Freedom of the Press.Right up till 2014 Modi was demonised relentlessly by the so called Free Press.But this could not prevent his election with an impressive majority.Naturally he does not give interviews to those in the Press who had vilified him continuosly.He has chosen to directly communicate with the common people through social media and the public broadcaster.As far as frreedom of expression is concerned this is practically unfettered in the social media unlike during the Indira Gandhi Emergency regime of Press Censorship.Even now there are several journalists and publications including the digital and visual media severely castigating Modi personally and politically without attracting any punitive measures from the Government.It has become fashionable to cry WOLF when no such thing exists.The above article is such an example.

  7. Editor’s have two choices accept congrass and anti HINDU illiberals agenda of proselytizers of conversion of HINDUS. Or accept no appeasement policy of MODIJI’s government.

  8. Non-tribals are being hounded, persecuted and victimized in Shillong and elsewhere in Meghalaya over the last several decades. With each passing day, their numbers are dwindling. Those who remain, stay in an environment of fear and intimidation. The all powerful Khasi Students Union calls the shots. Its members indulge in wanton thuggery and vandalism directed against non-tribal residents.
    Ms. Mukhim would do well to speak up and protest against this.

    • About 14 years ago I was holidaying in Shillong. After a visit to Elephant Falls, on the outskirts of Shillong, our car were overtaken by a group a local bikers, all tribals. Our driver was from Agartala. He immediately slowed down the car and kept well behind them. When I asked him why, he said that if he tried to overtake them, they would stop the car and beat him up. Throughout Shillong and Cherapunji, the two places that I visited and even in Shillong Club where I stayed, there was palpable uneasiness or fear among the non tribals. But don’t expect Ms Mukhim to write about this or the ethnic cleansing of the non tribals from Meghalaya. It would be against her selective secularist values.

  9. The moment you sold your Pen, your place as fourth pillar of democracy has been replaced by fifth columnist
    You people do not analyse events in neutral fashion but propagate an ideology, nay, even become an agent for pecuniary gains.
    And that is how the plot unraveled.

  10. To ask questions to government and protest was till 2014.
    Remember all today’s leaders in government the way they used to protest. But Government at that time never said them anti national or Tukde gang, urban naxal etc.
    Suddenly after 2014 you cannot protest , you cannot ask questions to government either on economy, job , petrol price rise as they will some main Media Channels and IT CELL will term you anti national and trolls will abuse you left right.
    Now my simple thing is why after 2014 if we question PM is wrong or hateful or anti national.
    If this is the case then prior 2014 also be termed as hate to that time PM and leaders who questioned prior 2014 should not be considered as urban naxal, anti national or Tukde Tukde gang.

    • Dear Patricia,
      Problems come from people like you who are now minority and we choose not to listen your garbage which is always anti-social and against india.So get lost. JAI HIND.

      • You just proved her point. Being in majority doesn’t make u right. Some rightfully said never underestimate the power of idiots in large groups.

  11. Indian press and beaurocracy have to undergo a catharsis. But time for it is yet to come. Both have to go certain persecution further. We the ordinary citizens are waiting for such auspicious time to come.

  12. Please give specifics of Govt interference. Allegations fall flat otherwise. Seems a completely biased article. One sided. Did the Congress supported govt not harass Arnab Goswami of Republic World – filing 100s of cases across the country and using the police force to harass on trumped up charges. Goons were hired to harass Arnab when he was driving. I am not a fan of biased media – whether Republic or NDTV. Both need yo find yhe middle path. Also i do not understand how the Left is “Liberal” by Right is “Radical” .

  13. Freedom of expression has to cut both ways. With all due respect ma’am (and my respect for you is properly earned and deserved), you seem to display an intolerance of those in media who report differently from you. Over the past 6-7 years, voices have emerged over the left-liberal consensus that was out on a civilising mission for all Indian.

    This is an intellectual challenge to your narrative, not an attempt to stifle you or anyone else. I can safely say, a majority of Indians felt stifled as the media of the old only told us how ignorant, paternalistic, jingoistic, casteist communal all of us were. I am glad that there is now a counter-point to that oppression of the left that was visited upon us for decades. Holding our collective feet to fire for no fault of ours.

    Your angst at these new development should help you feel how most of India felt at the stories that your and your fellow travellers have peddled all these years.

  14. The freedom of journalists to provide news remains so long as journalists remain journalists and provide news. Here is an incomplete list of journalists who are actually ‘journalists’ Patricia Mukhim, Rajesh Ramachandran, Ravindra Kumar, Ruben Banerjee, Vinod Mehta.
    The difference between these and others like Couptaji is that journalists do not make a conscious effort to speak lies or broadcast falsehood. They also make an effort to double check all facts irrespective of how good or highly placed a source may be.
    In Modi’s India, unlike in pre-Modi India, journalists haven’t suffered any obstruction. Peddlers of falsehood have once in a while been challenged on their falsehoods. That is something that is welcomed by the people of India.

  15. Hats off to the author for the courage. Majority of the media houses have become fifth column and have turned meghaphone of those in power.

  16. Indira Gandhi is chastised even today for promulgating Emergency on others advice and after much deliberation. She carried the guilt all along till she lifted it, called for elections, lost, paid the penance and came roaring back to be assassinated by her own security. But now we have men in power who have blood in their hands and who can and does go to any length to meet their needs and ends even if it means abandoning your wife, stuffing your mentor into something called Maha – what? And if you lose in elections by the opposition out, give birth to the 21st century Mir Zafars as in Hemant Bishwa Sarma, Sanjay Jha, Maharaj Scindia and the latest in waiting Sachi Pilot. The killing of democracy is on as also of the economy, justice and salami slicing of the northern frontier land. AND no sign of the false promises of 15 lakhs in every Indians bank account, employment high and development at its peak. When the duo is busy only getting fatter in power naturally service to the land and her people is of no importance. Nothing could be more sad. Such betrayal is just unimaginable.

  17. Is this author living in a Utopian world. Doesnt the author know how the Lutyens media in particular operates since ages. Ultimately the article boils down to criticising Modi and accusing him of stifling 4he freedom of speech. This is a very lazy way out to vent frustration but lack honesty and substance. Can the author put hand on her heart and say honestly that all journalists of today, atleast the leading names in TV and Print are of impeccable integrity ? i am sure not. In the past Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and some lesser mortals have been caught on tape freely talking to top congressmen and deciding on the possible ministerial candidates in MMS cabinet. The way Barkha casually spoke like “I spoke to Ghulam (meaning congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad) clearly showed that her hand was in the cookie jar. Would people ever belive her impartiality thereafter ? Never. Did Patricia raise any questions as to why Barkha and Vir were hobnobbing with the most corrupt political party in the country ? Did she question bith of them on their face ? Surely not. Were Barkha and Vir Sanghvi rendering this brokerage service to the congress for free ? If not what is that they got in return ? And finally was it fair on them to gel with congress so much that it leaves no scope for a opposing view and we all know how pained these two are ever since 2014. Similarly during the cash for vote scam Rajdeep Sardesai had the scam caught on tape but refuse to provide the proof to the investigating agencies. Why ? Because he didnt want the congress govt to fall ? We all know how close Rajdeep is to 10 JP. Had it been a BJP govt Rajdeep would have not only given the tapes to police but also appeared at witness such is his hatred for Modi. Similarly Shekhar Gupta also came out with an imaginary army coup and the story fell flat on its face. There are many other names like N Ram, Sagarika, Arun Poorie, entire NDTV staff who and a whole of others are so blindly anti Modi that keep on churning hate filled anti Modi articles. And if Modi is so bad how has I dia voted him twice, in 2019 with a bigger mandate ? When there are so many compromised journos who have no integrity, ethics and morals why talk of stifling of the media. The media has infact boxed itself into this corner. The blind hatred for Modi has given rise to the us versus them debate. And today it is the militant left versus the nationalist right. Needless to say most journos who have been traditional congress supporters and have lived on its crumbs are supporting the militant and intolerant Left. So Patricia needa to realise that there is more pain for these embedded journos and Modi has got nothing to do with it. The general public has lost faith in them.

  18. Aaj bhi media mein achha kaam ho raha hai. The boundaries are carved in stone, true, but within those, people find decorous ways to make their point. Feel sick to the stomach to see some of the channels. Yeh bhi ek daur hai, guzar jayega.

  19. IT SEEMS TO GENERAL PUBLIC THAT INTELLIGENT MEDIA AND CAG OF INDIA HAVE LOST ITS LUSTURE. VERY UNFORTUNATE.

  20. The media moved away from true Liberal to Left.

    So it is not Liberal Left vs Radical Right. It is now Radical Left vs Radical Right.

    • Exactly, if leftists call themselves liberal, its really a travesty. They are the reason for the radical right’s emergence

  21. Editors in Modi’s India have two choices — speak up or give in to intellectual slavery
    Yes that is how the Editors have aligned themselves, do not see a single editor willing to be highly critical of MODI has the courage to praise him for some thing good without a but to it.
    The speaking up or giving in to intellectual slavery depends on where the money comes from. Fair, unbiased objective assessment is totally missing. If Modi has been elected twice, he must have done something good along with somethings not so good, people take a sum total of it and then decide to vote, speaking up should with due respect to it, just as the intellectual slaves should accept that he can make mistakes.
    But without hesitation both must go after corruption his or of anyone else in public life.

  22. I became a political being, at the start of Emergency declaration in 1975. Since that time, there are two media entities which i have respected and have never disowned them till date and hopefully will continue with them in Future. These two entities are The Indian Express and Mr Shekhar Gupta. You know why? They have been fair and square in their approach to events in India. I have yet to find a single media entity, who have a similar approach. It is not possible, because we all have views on events, based on who we are and various life events that shape us. So just because somebody is a supporter of Modi & his ilk, does not make him/her a lesser being and so also the other way round. Lets not look down upon anybody, nor raise anybody on a pedestal. let every form of opinion coexist. Thats the Indian way or rather the Hindu way.

  23. Crap and the same old anti-BJP/Modi rant. If the writer/journalist/editor has to realise that the rise of the SM has opened up a new avenue of getting views contrary to the ones sought to be peddled by the so-called mainstream media. Can the writer/journalist/editor point out any of his journalistic endeavours that has uncovered the raeson as to why Sonia Gandhi and her clan continue to rule over the INC when it is apparent to all and sundry that this dynasty esp has been selfish, corrupt, anti-FOS etc.?

  24. ADVANIJI IS CORRECT. NOW NEWS PAPERS .T,V,MEDIA AND SOCIAL MEDIAS ARE TARGETTED.
    SO WE ARE LIMPI NG TOWARDS DICTATORSHIP. BUT THE CHINESE AGGRESSION HAS CHANGED
    ENTIRE ATMOSPHERE. NOW WE ARE DEPENDING UPON U S A AND WESTERN COUNTRIES FOR
    SUPPORT AND WEAPONS..

  25. I’m not clear on the issue at hand. Is it the on going battle between of right vs left? Is it govt interference in journalism? Is it the business model? Is it the age? The battle is on for the soul of journalism and we find this article which unfortunately does nothing more than crib and lament at Modi govt and how they’ve stifled the media. Yes, Modi govt has ensured certain journalists do not get interviews, there was that APB fiasco as well and yet I’d challenge that this would not happen (probably not as openly) during the congress times; so the crux of the issue is that Govts will always “interfere” with the “free press”; the press needs to understand that the minute it’s a business, it looses some of that grandiosity which this article espouses. the battle for what does journalism mean is being fought, you need to train your guns on the competition that’s winning this battle, understand that in today’s age everything is doubted and if you’re not with me, your against me. A conversation can happen between two people and not a “panel” and panels are what we have. Entertainment has taken the forefront over and so trps matter, in this climate, the print with its pitch for subscribers and promise of “journalism” and not entertainment is well liked (by citizens, regardless of political bias), why aren’t more media houses looking to go this way? Is TRP or clicks the only revenue model? If yes, then the “good old days” of journalism as mentioned here are dead, cuz no media house is going to report on issues that don’t get the clicks or the trps and so plz stop lamenting on Modi and govt, play the game you’re in.

  26. Always been impressed by this lady. The Khasis in Meghalaya do not like outsiders and are very parochial. But this lady through her newspaper has always fought for the ‘truth’, others rights and greater integration.

  27. Looks like I have lot of spare time today so I will respond to this ‘freedom of expression’ cabal.

    Going through the article I did not find any specifics. As a journalist the fundamental prerequisite to opine for.

    The only reference is of emergency which is a real life example of trampling on democracy, liberty and freedom.

    With current dispensation author fails to mention one single instance restriction of freedom of expression.

    Secondly her assertion that they could write freely has twofold answer. Aam aadmi is waking up to the propaganda peddling as journalism as practiced by this author.

    Social media has put aam aadmi seconds away from opining as well as fact checking.

    A quick google on author led me to articles on quint scroll ndtv which confirmed my initial hesitation and jump to conclusion instincts.

    But if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it is a duck. In your ‘ constrained democracy, liberty and freedom of expression’ please return your Padma Shri along with monetary benefits so that current dispensation hear your voice louder.

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