By Tapakshi Magan
2020 has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for India’s political environment. In the history of Indian Democracy, never was it so apparent that the voice of the people did not count as the voice of the nation. This surging imbalance between the ambitions of the government and the demands of its people has had a massive spillover effect in the journalistic freedom of India. A closer look into this becomes relevant when we place India’s ranking at 142 in the World Press Freedom Index in the broader discourse of how journalism as the fourth pillar of democracy has become more important than ever.
The rising fear factor in Indian journalism brought about by the (mis)use of India’s Sedition Law, as well as the brutal crackdown on journalists and media outlets has sparked what we can term as ‘self-censorship’. However, if we take a step ahead, we can also see a trend of what I would call ‘skewed-censorship’, the idea of which is determined by political interest and patronage. Enshrined in Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), India’s Sedition Law classifies any act that encourages disaffection towards the government as a non-bailable offence. This act can be in the form of words (written or spoken) or any other visible representation. So while we have journalists taking on the role of media jurists and swaying public opinions on legal matters to one side, we also have journalists like Siddique Kappan (who was arrested on sedition charges when he tried to reach the Hathras Rape Victim); Gauri Lankesh (who was murdered at her doorstep in 2017 and spoke extensively against the spread of fake news) and Supriya Sharma (who was accused of misrepresenting facts about the impact of the lockdown on a small village), to mention a few; on the other.
A leading journalist in India was recently arrested and dragged out of his house by state police officials when he failed to comply with police proceedings on a case that was registered against him. This case, in particular, is interesting to look at because it highlights how biased Indian politics has become towards journalism. The same politicians who shouted the clarion call, asking where the freedom of press has vanished to in India at this journalist’s arrest have also been the ones who have kept quiet, when even media outlets like Huffington Post India were shut down, in addition to the cases mentioned earlier. Adding to this, what is also interesting to note is how, in this case, the due process of law was not even followed by the state police, which was instantly linked with elements of a personal vendetta between the journalist and the state police.
Journalists and media outlets today are identified on the basis of their political affiliations. People choose to consider the facts spewed by one as the Magna Carta of Indian politics, based on their own political leaning. The nature of demand thus conditions the nature of supply. In this entire process, those who dare to step out of line push themselves into rather dangerous territory. The crackdown on journalists has only exacerbated this, as have political influences on any journalistic content being produced. Dissent has virtually lost its significance. Rather, it has been replaced by the lust for power and fame, even if it comes at the cost of presenting facts the nation needs to hear. In an era where the power of journalism to shape public opinion can potentially save failing democracies; situations like these become a cause of worry.
And this raises the eternal question: Is the pen still mightier or the sword?
Tapakshi Magan is the External Communications Director at The Graduate Press, you can find her at her Instagram @tmagan4
Letters from the Editors is a rotating column, written by The Graduate Press Editorial Board. It is meant to serve as a platform to discuss regional, personal, and political issues surrounding the role of a journalism in their respective societies.