October, 1988…. The then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, arrived at the Parliament early in the morning. He was not supposed to come to the Parliament on that day. But, he came to announce that his government would withdraw the infamous ‘Defamation Bill’. Gandhi made the move after the press unanimously condemned the Bill as an instrument for bludgeoning free speech. Initially, Gandhi was rigid and decided to pass the Bill in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of the Indian Parliament). Later, he realised that the Bill would be an assault on the press and changed his mind.
Time and again, the ruling class has launched attacks on the media in India. And every time, people across the country have condemned such moves. Indians have always paid the media – considered as the fourth pillar (after Judiciary, Executive and Legislature) of democracy – their due respect. They have never allowed any ruler to attack the press.
Protest against the Rajiv government
Even before Gandhi, the then Chief Minister of eastern Indian province of Bihar, Jagannath Mishra, became a villain by introducing the Press Bill in state legislature in 1982. At that time, there was only one television channel in India (the state-owned Doordarshan) and no digital or social media. Still, the government of Bihar had to withdraw the Bill. In fact, the concerned authorities blinded the prisoners of Bhagalpur jail and when the media covered the news, the Bihar government decided to take action against the press.
Journalists have to criticise the politicians….. Otherwise, journalism has no meaning and political leaders become very much sensitive after being criticised.
Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had declared a ‘state of emergency’ in 1975 for a period of 21 months, as she had her doubts that all the internal unrest was the carefully planned doing of the American CIA to unseat her. Correspondents of foreign media were expelled and severe censorship was imposed on local and national media. Today…..after so many years…. there is no change in the behaviour of the ruling party.
The Smriti Irani-led Information and Broadcasting Ministry of India recently announced that journalists – accused of creating or propagating fake news – would lose their accreditation with the Press Information Bureau pending an inquiry by the Press Council of India for print media and the News Broadcasters Association for electronic media. The ministry also announced that the inquiry should be completed within 15 days and if the complaint were found to be true, the journalists would lose their accreditation for six months. For a second violation, they would lose their accreditation for a year and a third violation would strip them off it permanently.
No ‘honest’ journalist can spread ‘Fake News’ and India has enough laws to tackle this menace. Then why did the government form a separate committee for it? Earlier this year, Chief Minister of western Indian province of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje tried to control the media (and also the bureaucrats) through an ordinance. However, Raje had to withdraw the ordinance. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, did the same as he ordered the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s circular to be withdrawn, saying that it was up to the Press Council of India to look into the matter of fake news. According to sources close to the government, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry had not kept the Prime Minister’s Office in the loop before issuing the circular.
PM Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been in power for nearly five years. The BJP is also in power in 21 Indian provinces. When Rajiv Gandhi introduced the ‘Defamation Bill’, his Indian National Congress (INC) Party had 404 members in the (545-member) Lok Sabha and the nation would have to face a Parliamentary Election within a year. Rajiv’s government was in trouble at that time because of its alleged involvement in corruption. So, he tried to put curbs on journalists, as the Defamation Bill stipulated jail terms of between two and five years. Currently, the Modi government is in power with an absolute majority (282 seats in the Lower House)…… and history repeats itself.
The ruling class has always tried to scare the media in India, as it wants a ‘servile’ press. But, we are sorry. The Indian journalists cannot ‘mortgage’ their brains and spines.
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