Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Freedom of Press: Myth or reality?

A Muslim lady from Aurangabad somehow managed to get my e-mail ID from a well-known Urdu daily and mailed me that she wrote to a premier English daily regarding a religious issue with a request to the editor to carry it so that others (belonging to her community) should come forward and make the issue stronger. The newspaper didn't publish her grievance. Nor did she get a reply from the daily that her sensitive religious problem couldn't be addressed through a newspaper. This puzzled her. She asked me, " Isn't the freedom of press a misnomer?" It is and it's always been a misnomer in India. If you're brutally frank and writing about a religion, even criticising your own faith, you're unlikely to find a medium.

Things have changed quite drastically as well as dramatically in the last decade. Despite a number of upright editors at the helm, there're so many inhibiting factors that don't let them work freely. At the same time, this must also be taken into account that there're not very many intrepid journalists and editors in the mainstream media. I remember, I sent a piece to MJ Akbar when he was the editor of Calcutta-based 'The Telegraph'. The piece was about the ' Conversion of the sub-continental Muslims.' My tone was quite scathing. Moreover, the editor himself was a Muslim!!! I thought that my piece would never be carried and if at all the editor carried it, he'd blue-pencil a number of passages.

 I was wrong. MJ Akbar not just carried the whole article, he appreciated my research and candour. No other newspaper (in India) ever carried that piece. The London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat  also carried my write-up but using my nom de guerre. A newspaper ought not to have any leanings, ideological allegiance and preferences (organizational as well as personal). It must express its fearless views as well as of its readers and contributors without flinching and genuflecting. An editor may not agree with the views of the readers and the contributors, but s/he must see to it that their viewpoints, however controversial even objectionable they may be, should be made public. When a year back, I sent my article " Incest in ancient India " to the editor of Debonair, he carried it without a change. There're very few like him. I'll be eternally thankful to the editor of Debonair. The same piece was not carried in any daily in India. The classic Latin term, Mutatis Mutandis (as it is, without a change) has gone.

 The courage of conviction is also waning. No one (read editors) is ready to face the ire of lumpen elements and bigots. Those who think that through the print media, they'd be able to get across their radical views, are expecting too much. We're all frightened and working under duress. To quote Alasdair MacIntyre (1929-), " What's a newspaper? Isn't it the reflection of the society? When the society's so scared. Will not the newspapers be equally scared?" Point to be noted.  
                                        
                                                             -----Sumit Paul



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