Monday, December 6, 2010

freedom of the press

The Indian constitution clearly provides for the freedom of the press in India, however how free is the Indian press from a global perspective? India is ranked 122 of the 178 countries in terms of free press. Hence discussed further in the paper is what the freedom of press is? Is it realistic to expect the press to be freer? What should be the ideal situation for the press to be free in India?

The constitution of India acknowledges the importance of the press in India and thus provides the press certain provisions that help the press perform its duty without any fear. The duty being to provide information to the masses and create awareness about issues that need to be discussed; the press is called the ‘fourth estate’ – the custodians of information and all that is right. The Indian press however is still ranked number 122; which may seem surprising to many considering that the press in India has at times risen up and asked the tough questions, such as in the time of the unearthing of the Tehelka scandal, Manu Sharmas’s defence lawyer Ram Jethmalani and the video released that indicated that witnesses were offered a price for silence. No power seems to stifle the voice of the press, then why is it so? The answer seems to lie in the fact that our social, cultural and economic condition does not allow for the press to be entirely unrestricted and free, as in the case of Sweden, Denmark or Finland which rank number 1. These countries are developed and self sufficient, they have reached a stage where the press can be a self regulatory mechanism rather than be bound by rules, threats or fears. Example attacks on reporters in Kashmir and Gujarat like this curtail the freedom of the press in India.

The press in India can be entirely free only when India is developed in the real sense where the Indian press is self regulating rather than governed by a code of conduct. How feasible is this? Not really, with the rise in population and falling standards of the press in the past few years, one really questions what the condition would be, had there not been a legal framework? News telecasts have moved from news providers to infotainment to entertainment, quality of subjects dealt with are at times handled insensitively. Example news coverage of M.S.Dhoni and his newlywed wife on the front page, personal life of celebrities, coverage of antics by Rakhi Sawant to blatant mistakes such as the Aarushi Talwar case, lead one to believe that the press in its limited freedom in unable to contain itself , how would the Indian media then respond to the no holds barred news coverage as in the west? Newspapers in India have political inclination that in a way affect how the press reports certain incidents, also worth noting is that domination by certain media organisation.

In event of happenings such as emergency, does the press have to forego its freedom, as it did during the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi (1975—1977) the Indian press is free and void of any censorship, however there are few restrictions imposed upon them, such as not publishing material that would incite violence, to not interfere with the legal happenings, such as ongoing court cases, respecting the privacy of public figures ect. However these are guidelines and not laws unless reported. The true test of freedom of the press in the Indian context is if the people accept the stand that the press takes on issues, but being the diverse country that India is, it is hardly advisable for absolute freedom; few restrictions are required to provide a framework to function without it questioning the integrity of a nation. Absolute freedom of press in Denmark may have led to Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon which created a furore world over. These incidents faced criticism in Denmark, however in the Indian context the idea is unthinkable, and the consequences unimaginable.

Thus as a conclusion, to compare Indian press to the freedom enjoyed by the press in the west is illogical, Finland has a mere 55 dailies, while India has 398, the consequence of 55 to 398 is much higher, also the sheer size of the population impose certain sensibilities on the press, the press in India is free in accordance to its need, the restrictions laid upon it, self imposed or otherwise are for the better of the society and its individuals. The press may be given more freedom in years to come strictly based on the ‘real development’ that India will achieve.

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