Journalism: Digital Siege

Is misuse of press freedom paving way for licensing of journalists?
Journalism: Digital Siege
The theme-2022 spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications. Pxhere [Creative Commons]

Let me start with the World Press Freedom Day, observed globally on May 3 every year. All of us know that the day, also known as ‘World Press Day’, got into the international calendar of events after the United Nations General Assembly made a declaration in this regard in 1993.

Rolling out this year’s World Press Day theme “Journalism under digital siege” is an apt theme in the given situation where Tom, Dick and Harry have taken to journalism by capitalising on the power of Internet and social media only to be known as black spots in this noble profession.

The theme-2022 spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists, and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.

However, the mass engagement of people as self-styled journalists has not only outnumbered, and diluted the credibility of the genuinely professional breed of journalists, but they have on the whole dented the nobility of the profession itself.

In other words, the huge influx of non-professionals in the field of journalism, especially through digital channels of communication, has now challenged the nobility of the profession.

The public trust on this once noble profession is dwindling fast owing to the freedom of speech and expression observed by these self-styled journalists who shamelessly introduce themselves as reporters, editors and experts of everything.

Meanwhile, an important question merits a mention. Is freedom of press guaranteed under our constitution? This question may sound surprising, but the fact is that there is no mention of ‘freedom of press’ in our constitution. Our Constitution provides for “the right to freedom of speech and expression” (Article 19(1) a).

There is no mention of the word “press”. The right to freedom of speech and expression, however, 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 of court, defamation, or incitement to an offence.

However, 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”.

Let me explain the scenario in a local (J&K) context. We all understand that in today’s modern era, the need to be informed is critical. Here emerges the role of media by providing the people with long-term and sometimes life-saving social support through the means of information.

Being one of the students of Journalism for over 30 years now, I have been one of the close observers of the media scene in Jammu & Kashmir and its transformation from a lesser known to a vibrant profession with a modern outlook. We witnessed an influx of trained journalists into the profession.

It was not so strong till 1988, but assumed tremendous significance after the advent of militancy. As bomb blasts here and there, curfews, hartals, encounters, killings, arson etc. became order of the day; media became the first diet of the local people.

In fact by 1990, the dearth of local media channels, particularly in the shape of newspapers etc. surfaced and readers were hunting for more and more news.

With the passage of time, media grew at tremendous pace and the market was flooded with dozens of local newspapers, both in English and Urdu languages. Nonetheless, the growth of media in Kashmir during that period should not be mistaken as growth in quality, but in quantity.

This kind of growth led to a huge crowd in the profession where people remotely connected with the profession, even illiterates, appeared on the scene as reporters, correspondents, editors, printers and publishers and to a greater extent outnumbered the professional/literate class of journalists.

An incident to qualify the above statement makes sense. Some time back, a line in English sent to me by the editor of an English weekly – ‘I sended a mail’ – through SMS mode surprised me. The word ‘sended’ was enough to gauge the capability of the ‘editor’ and I was prompted to reply to him – ‘I getted’.

I am not blaming the editor for his poor knowledge of the English language, but I fail to understand how the authorities allowed him to register a newspaper. There are many such instances which raise a big question mark on the system in vogue for seeking registration of a newspaper or a magazine.

Unfortunately, genuine persons seeking registration are subjected to a lot of harassment and most of the time denied the registration.

Meanwhile, coming back to the breed of self-styled journalists in the garb of reporters, editors, experts etc., the brazen misuse of internet and social media channels where most of the time they run targeted campaigns to malign institutions, communities, societies and individuals, continues unabated. Their activities are widespread and overshadow the genuinely professional journalists.

In this digital era, where the world has in true sense been converted into a global village, flow of information is taking place at lightning pace. Most of the information is mishandled and pushed across geographies in a twisted form to preach hatred and gain maximum possible audience.

Here a breed of professional journalists has also been seen indulging in unethical practices while reporting or commenting on an event for public information.

A journalist should never look for power, but his services with responsibility in the line of duty towards his nation and its subjects. It’s the power which sidelines responsibility and while pursuing it, professionalism is sacrificed. They have to exhibit their ability to mold or mobilise public opinion in a positive direction through their write-ups or productions.

Let them be opinion makers or analysts enjoying readers’ trustworthiness. Basically, we should seek moral journalism - a journalism that cares as well as it knows. One thing is most crucial. A journalist must be careful not to become more important than the event and he should not even prescribe how the audience should feel and react.

Last but not the least, a journalist should be – to the people, by the people and for the people. He should write for society and not for better circulation and money. He should show more concern about social development and not assuming power for money. Once they think of power and not responsibility, then freedom of press is not guaranteed.

Lastly, the current mess is growing exponentially in the noble field of journalism and the situation demands disciplinary approach from its stakeholders, especially the authorities.

The tremendous use of digital media channels and their far and wide reach make regulatory measures inevitable to regulate the operations of journalists in a fair way.

A debate on licensing of journalists has already ignited where experts have been pitching for a system whereby individuals would be required to apply to an external authority for permission to practice journalism, which may be refused or revoked. Here accreditation should not be construed as license.

Accreditation facilitates a journalist to special privileges, most commonly access to restricted areas such as legislatures, courts etc. While as, licensing will take care of genuine persons with professional qualification and background to practice journalism.

For this, there is a need for a regulatory authority where a database of professional journalists would be built up. Once under its ambit, various welfare schemes for the journalist community can be tailored by the government.

Even as licensing of journalist is a rough idea, it will axe fake and self-styled journalists who have been on prowl to rob people of their peace of mind and prosperity. The idea needs brainstorming deliberations. It should not curb the freedom of press.

(The views are of the author & not the Institution he works for)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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