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Let us have no illusion of the nature of power. If a BBC documentary has been banned for criticizing the government (or more precisely the prime minister when he was the chief minister of Gujarat), this is not something new: Mrs. Gandhi had stopped BBC from broadcasting, immediately before the promulgation of the emergency. Mark Tully, a ‘friend’ of India, was advised to leave the country. No one in power tolerates criticism, even though in wiser times they say that in a democracy, the media has the fundamental right to speak out freely. It is often adulated as the ‘fourth pillar’ of democracy.

During the emergency in 1975-77, Mrs. Gandhi’s government had suspended the functioning of the Article 19 of the Constitution, which allows every citizen the ‘freedom of speech’ as a fundamental right. It was a direct act – tampering of the fundamental tenets of the Constitution – which she admitted, later when the emergency was withdrawn, was a ‘mistake’.

Today however we see a different scene though the intention is the same: muzzle the media voice. The actions are ‘indirect’: no tampering of the law, but curbing the citizen’s voice by threats, imposing inquiries or by direct buying over the media establishments.  CNBC, News 18, India Today, Times of India are no longer considered as ‘critical’ voices because they have new owners who are ‘friendly’ to the government. The last to fall was NDTV, whose take over is well known. The Republic of course is described a government mouthpiece.

 The Doordarshan, which was professedly built on the BBC model, never attained the professionalism it was meant to achieve since the journalists there remained in the pay roll of the government. The autonomy of the Prasar Bharati did not help because it never attained a financial autonomy which the BBC has. All movements within Doordarshan to delink the organisation from the government failed because the journalists could dare to risk the uncertainty of their pay. So the inevitable happened: it remained almost a government mouthpiece like the Press Information Bureau (PIB), which is the propaganda wing of the government.

 Now comes the moot question:  would the government choose to turn the entire media establishment into a loyal propaganda wing? Would that be good for the democracy, something which India is so proud of? India cannot become another China, though its progress India would like to compete with, retaining its democratic structure.

The Indian government needs a strong and transparent media policy which would greatly improve the image of the country in global politics. Media education, sadly, is a much neglected area in the country. Even till recently, most state universities treated the communication and media department as an ‘extension’ wing of another ‘major ‘department. As late as 2001, the University Grants Commission in a note to revise the media syllabus superciliously added that the revision is necessary because the subject has outgrown its function of “crossing the Ts and dotting the Is”. The authorities clearly look at media playing a subservient role.

At a time when the government thinks big through its National Education Policy (NEP), communication and media could have played a crucial role in   implementing one of its dominant themes: make education ‘interdisciplinary’. A basic need for making subjects  work together  is to give equal weightage to the intermingling subjects. That is precisely what is lacking in the authority’s attitude towards media and communication studies and training. Everything is geared to turn media into a propaganda tool. If we want to retain the democratic structure of India, a robust, not a subservient, media is absolutely essential. It’s not for nothing that the makers of the Indian Constitution allowed ‘freedom of speech’ a fundamental right.

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

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