Freedom of Speech & Expression Faces Fatal Attack
Democracy is different from other forms of government in ensuring various freedoms and rights to the citizens. One of the most important freedoms and rights is the freedom of speech and expression. In most of the democratic constitutions of the world freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right, constitutionally guarded.
In order to test a country’s democratic credentials freedom of speech and expression acts as a benchmark. In case this right is safeguarded, it indicates that majority of the rest of the rights are also protected. In the reverse case the situation in respect of the other rights, in all probability, is also not encouraging. Indeed, there should be reasonable restrictions on this right in the interest of maintaining public order and security of the people and the country. But, in the garb of the reasonable restrictions we must not impose the unreasonable ones, which is the case in many democratic countries of the world. If all the other rights are safeguarded and this single freedom and right is violated the country can simply be called as not fulfilling the democratic credentials and not ruled democratically. This right is a litmus test which separates democracy from all the other forms of government. And, not all the governments of the world pass this test and as such prove as incomplete or pseudo democracies. In Indian context, the freedom of speech and expression is included as a fundamental freedom in the Article 19(A). In this Article it is stated, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”. According to this fundamental freedom many constitutional authorities are empowered, and duty bound, to safeguard this right and freedom.
India boosts about this freedom available to the citizens but the actual position is not too encouraging. There are many lacunas and loopholes which put the prognosis as unsatisfactory in case of the right of free speech and expression. The conditions have further fallen much below the satisfactory levels since the time the current political executive gained power at the Center. The freedom of speech and expression can currently be stated as safeguarded in its violation. The constitutional authorities which are duty bound to protect this freedom, it seems, have closed their eyes to the violations. They show least concern about the violations and in most cases follow the line of the political executive thereby making the political executive unchallenged in the democratic set up which is purely antidemocratic trait. The balance in the democratic governance has been shifted in favor of the political executive since the time this dispensation gained power in the country and many states of the country. Many dictates and orders from the government in the recent past are intended to curb the freedom of free speech. Besides, there are methods that the ruling party employs at the party level, and perhaps in connivance with the government, and by these methods trolls are engaged to stop the free speech of the people and citizens. The trolls try to plug the genuine voices of people from coming to the fore. Every time a person raises a genuine question of public and national interest that person is trolled, abused, treated badly and certain cases have been reported where some persons have been tortured and even murdered with impunity for raising the issues of the country.
The social media and the other forms of media have been hijacked by the ruling party to the extent that many “sane voices” like that of Burkha Dutt have gone into the oblivion. The revelations that she made in an interview uploaded by NewsClick.in on 8th June, 2018 with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta suggest that the things in respect of the freedom of speech are terribly wrong in the country. According to her she is by hook or crook prevented from getting associated with any media outlet. Whenever she has tried to start an independent media outlet, or when others have decided to hire her, she was prevented in both the cases. She said the people who wanted to start a news outlet were involved in the maze of formalities and guidelines where the owners thought it better to give up the idea altogether. Following guidelines and laws and regulations of the country are by no means bad, they need to be followed in letter and spirit but there is a problem. The Republic TV which is thought to be very close to the people in power was granted license in the exceptionally shortest possible time period when others were engaged in fulfilling the formalities. She made many other revelations which indicate that freedom of speech and expression in the country is under threat. The condition of the NDTV is also a point to consider. This TV channel was at the verge of closing down due to the hostile and apathetic attitude of the ruling political executive and their favorable attitude towards the competitors of the NDTV. The owners and managers of this channel have been involved in many cases where, according to many people, no fair trial is expected owing to the partial behavior of the party at the helm of affairs of the country. This hostile and favorable attitude of the ruling party towards different people associated with media shows that the freedom of expression is facing unprecedented challenges in the country. The Press Freedom Index of the country has fallen to the 138th position as per the annual report released by the Press Freedom watchdog, Reporters Without Borders in April this year. The reasons given for this low ranking is the intimidation and physical violence against journalists and other covert or overt restrictions on the freedom of expression. This, it is reiterated, raises questions about the democratic credentials of the country and the answers forthcoming are not encouraging by any means. The freedom of expression that exists in the country is a deception actually. It is deception in the sense that the people are apparently allowed to say anything and there is no restriction on that. But it is actually scripted where some news items (which though critical of the people in power pose no threat to their posts and position) are allowed and the rest (where the real deeds and misdeeds of the same people in power are brought to the fore) are restricted all together.
If anything is against Pakistan it needs no approval of the government no matter if it is fake news. But, if it is about the atrocities that are committed in Kashmir no mention of that is made in the nationalist media of the country. If the dog of a Bollywood actor is ill, it is breaking news and if there are killings taking place in Kashmir it is of no concern to these news channels. If some of them show courage to show some truth, they are reprimanded and punished. The lynching of people, the attacks on religious minorities, the continuous suicides of the farmers and all the poverty and poor human development indices in the country are no news. On the other end of the spectrum if it is to disgrace Pakistan and Kashmiri people the anchors of these news channels are ever ready, the anchors are awarded and rewarded for that. Keeping a news deliberately hidden is an attack in the freedom of expression, speaking half truth about the state of affairs is also a violation of this freedom and presenting news in such a way to get exactly the same outcomes that one can get by telling lies is again a violation of the right to freedom of speech and expression. And, the fact of the current status of this right is that the truth is processed in this post truth age to modulate and manipulate the emotions of the people in such a way where certain people, and parties, in power are benefited at the cost of the majority of the rest. This takes the freedom of speech to the other extreme without giving any indication of the same to the people.
The Indian state is fighting an armed struggle in the Jammu and Kashmir since the last three decades. They present the killing of militants as a success and killing many of them is presented as a great success. There are no other criteria for them to measure the success. The news channels are used show the killings of the armed rebels as great successes that the country has ever achieved. But, viewing the entire Kashmir dispute realistically there is no success in killing people, militants including. The real success would have been to cure the causes that result in this armed struggle, to resolve the issue and the dispute. Instead of doing that killing of armed men, even that of army and police personnel is victory for them. Many families are devastated from all the sides and the news channels are showing this as success! And, this is going on since last thirty year. Anybody who tries to present the real story and the real side of the story to the people of the country is branded as anti-national which is equivalent to killing the right to freedom of speech and expression altogether. Realistically, this is a betrayal with the country which the news anchors commit each day and more of it is committed during the prime time of the day. Wrapping a bomb in national flag of a country can never save that country from the destruction that is caused by that bomb, and same is the approach of the news media to deal with various problems that the country is beset with, including that of Kashmir. The purpose of the India state should have been to deal with all the problems that the country faces with a realistic approach. The media of the country has a great role towards that end. The freedom of speech and expression is a constitutional guarantee to help the county in her endeavors of peace, progress, security and development. But, the benefits that should normally accrue to the country on account of this right are not allowed to be reaped by the country owing to the hostile attitude of the people in power towards the right of freedom of speech and expression. Nobody in the media, especially the corporate media, dares to ask genuine questions about why the problems of the country are still lingering on. Nobody asks why still there exist two states within the country; one of the poor and other of the rich. Nobody asks why the gulf and gap between the poor and the rich is widening. Nobody asks why the problems in the North East and Kashmir are not being resolved. And, nobody asks why India and Pakistan and India and China are still enemies as great dividends could accrue to the country by friendship with these countries.
There seems a nexus between some people in power and majority of the media houses who gain power, prestige and position out of the problems of the country. If the problems are resolved these people would be left with nothing to play with the emotions of the people. So, when Pakistan and Kashmir is selling they want to keep it selling to gain as much profits as they can. When poverty is giving these people and parties the electoral gains why to cure this malady and this is their way of thinking and acting. Indeed an unfortunate way of dealing with the problems of the country where problems are never tried to be solved and resolved. Media is fourth estate of democracy, its proper and impartial working is a sure guarantee that the country would be run as per the democratic principles and guidelines. Media has to keep an eye and check on the other three branches of the government and also on the society and societal needs. In case a branch of government trespasses into the jurisdiction of the other, if a branch fails to perform its role and if a social organization works against the interests of the country, it becomes imperative upon the media to report that to the popular sovereign. In short, the media must make the people who hold power answerable and accountable. But before that, and to achieve that, the media has to put its own house in order. In the current circumstances media clearly is falling behind and failing. Hence, before the media houses are put in order and the influences of other forces and factors is minimized, it becomes imperative upon the masses, especially the educated people, to not get carried away with what is show on the media. They must always try to verify, and re-verify, whatever is shown to them from the credible sources.
This way the freedom of speech and expression could be saved from further violations and digressions. Saying anything is not the freedom of expression but instead saying the real thing is. The people of the country, and all the countries, should compel the media houses to say only the real things and without processing the real things. They must also force the rulers to desist from creating hurdles in free speech and expression. Let there be freedom to say things, nay the real things, democracy needs that. Otherwise there is very think line which separates democracy from autocracy and anarchy too.