For media and journalistic freedom in India
The dawn of the post-truth era has forced journalism of every conceivable form to confront several pertinent questions. Should, for instance, the goal of the media be limited to disseminating information for citizens? Or should the fourth estate vigorously pursue its traditional goal of speaking truth to power? Is there, for that matter, any conflict between these two roles? After all, an unfettered access to information — truth — is only possible in a polity where journalists remain willing, or are allowed, to ask questions — mostly uncomfortable ones — to those who occupy the corridors of power. The resultant exchanges between State and scribes, in spite of being caustic on occasions, end up nourishing the roots of democracy.
These reflections and others have been brought to life, once again, by a comment made by one of India’s foremost journalists. Responding to the Supreme Court in a case filed against him by a functionary of the Bharatiya Janata Party for his critical comments against the prime minister, Vinod Dua stated that it is the right of a responsible journalist to be critical of the government. Another crucial point must not go unobserved in this context. The investiture of the right to free speech and expression should, under ideal circumstances, make journalists immune to coercive demands of explanation. The highest court, which has permitted Mr Dua not to respond to a second questionnaire presented by the police in the sedition case, would certainly do what is required in the matter. But Mr Dua’s plea has implications that transcend the contours of this particular case. His terse reminder has critical implications for the future of Indian democracy. A scrutiny of India’s political trajectory would yield instances of the weakening of the media corresponding to the erosion of constitutional rights and principles. Indeed, during the Emergency, the media were made to crawl, dragging an enfeebled democracy along with it. There is reason to believe that the media are facing a similar, but concealed, challenge in New India. Repeated attempts to silence critical voices, complemented by the transformation of a large segment of the media to being the cheerleader of the State, are indicative of this unprecedented danger. Mr Dua, battling intimidation, must be thanked for reminding the media of their primary responsibility to a democratic nation and its citizens.