Freedom of the media and freedom of speech are foundations of any democracy. And as the world’s largest democracy, it is India’s duty — both to its citizens and to the comity of nations — that these principles enshrined in our Constitution are adhered to. Both in letter and in spirit. Unfortunately, what is happening in Maharashtra right now is a gross violation of these two core values of a democratic country. Clampdown on freedom of speech and the right of the fourth estate to tell the truth are both unacceptable. That is the one message that journalists in India need to tell governments — Centre, state, and at the local level — that restrictions of any kind will not be accepted.
Equally important is the strict enforcement of these cardinal principals. The attack on a prominent editor of a channel and the subsequent 12-hour marathon “interrogation” of a live TV show, smacks of excessive use of state power. Irrespective of the kind and style of journalism by media outlets, this blatant misuse of government machinery has to be condemned. The Editor’s Guild of India issued a statement on the violence that took place a few days back for which two workers of a particular political party were jailed and then subsequently given bail. But it is equally important to raise a collective and united voice against the unnecessary 12-hour interrogation. That requires accountability of both the executive and legislature. Of course, it is the right of the investigator to decide how long should a probe continue, but in this instance the intent was to send a message.
A message that not toeing the ‘acceptable’ line can lead to serious repercussions. What comes out of the probes and the court cases is a separate matter, but what is clear is that the entire episode shows a deep-rooted mindset that “lessons must be taught”. For India to prosper and for the media to thrive, it is important that there should be zero tolerance for any instance of covert or overt intimidation or strong-arm tactics. Journalists don’t take sides, they ask questions and government’s honest answers set the foundation of social progress and furthering of democratic principles. Till we reach that objective, media must keep challenging any attempt to impose restrictions on its freedom.