The limits of FREEDOM
Newspapers in J&K are working under twin pressures
MAY 3RD: THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY BY DR RAJA MUZAFFAR BHAT
The Press wields immense power in a democratic society. Dickens called the Press "the mighty engine". So great is its influence that some have called it the Fourth Estate. Napoleon used to say— "Your hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets." For, the press forms opinions, shapes movements and controls policies through well-informed criti¬cism.
A free press is the symbol of a free people. An independent, well-informed press is a powerful check on arbitrary governments and irresponsible administrators. For newspapers are agents of the public, which bring to the notice of the people acts of injustice or oppression, or mal-administration that would otherwise have remained hidden away from public knowledge. They augur misgovernment at a distance and sniff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze' (Burke). They exercise a constant vigilance on the rulers, which is salutary for all.
Nowadays it is difficult for the press to be free. Either a newspaper is controlled by some financial magnates entirely or it is a mouthpiece of a political party or it is under the thumb of the government and in that case its importance is reduced and independence compromised.
Constitutional aspect of freedom of press:
The Indian Constitution, while not mentioning the word "press", provides for "the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression" (Article 19(1) a). However this right is subject to restrictions under sub clause (2), whereby this freedom can be restricted for reasons of "sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, preserving decency, preserving morality, in relation to contempt, court, defamation, or incitement to an offense".
Laws such as the Official Secrets Act , Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) Disturbed Areas Act (DDA) and Prevention of Terrorist Activities Act (PoTA) have been used to limit press freedom. Under PoTA, person could be detained for up to six months for being in contact with a terrorist or terrorist group. PoTA was repealed in 2006, but the Official Secrets Act , AFSPA, DDA continue to be an impediment towards the freedom of press in some parts of India especially Jammu & Kashmir. Pertinent to mention here that Right to Information Act (RTI) has an overriding effect over Official Secrets Act of 1923.
For the first half-century of India’s independence, media control by the state was the major constraint on freedom of press in India. Indira Gandhi famously stated in 1975 that All India Radio is "a Government organ, it is going to remain a Government organ. With the liberalization starting in the 1990s, private control of media has burgeoned, leading to increasing independence and greater scrutiny of government.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers"
Freedom of press in Jammu & Kashmir
The real freedom of the press can exist only where a free people can function freely as in true democracy. It may be asked, why do I say there is no freedom of the press in J&K ? The reason is that this part of the world has been in a state of conflict, chaos and confusion since last more than six decades and the press has not at all been so free which it should have been. The unnecessary interference of various state and non state actors , different so called agencies has hampered the growth of the fourth estate in Jammu & Kashmir. Not only the press but other institutions as well could not grow here due to this conflict.
Twenty-seven journalists have been confirmed as being killed for their work in India since 1992, according to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) research, and 10 of those deaths took place in Jammu and Kashmir, a higher concentration than any other state. India ranked eighth on CPJ's Impunity Index in 2010. That index lists countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to investigate. It calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country's population. It is impressed upon the J&K Government to ensure protection of journalists. The Kashmir based press has been literally sandwiched. If it writes what people demand the DAVP advertisements are snapped by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting or even the local Information Department and if it writes in favour of the Government the press faces wrath of the people.
The working journalists in J&K need to undergo various capacity building programmes on the issues related to various aspects of journalism but unfortunately no such centers have been provided by the Government or any Non Government Organization (NGO) where such programmes could be undertaken. It is a matter of serious concern that we do not have even a press club in Srinagar where such type of activities could be held. The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had assured valley journalists soon after assuming to power in early 2009 about providing press club facility in Srinagar but till date there is no progress on this matter and remains only a dream for the journalists.
The continuous ban on Srinagar based local cable news network by the Government also raises a big question on the freedom of press in J&K.
It is impressed upon the Government to understand the importance of the press which is in fact the fourth estate of the democracy. The press must be allowed to function without any pulls and pressures.
I also appeal journalists to be impartial and maintain the journalistic ethics. Before filing any story kindly make sure that opposite party is also heard as well and never ever use your pen for personal gains or for taking any kind of revenge. Kindly make use Right to Information Act (RTI) to obtain authentic information so that the story which is filed is based on truth.
The author is Convener of J&K RTI Movement. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 May 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 May 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 3 May 2012 00:00:00 IST
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