OPINION
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Voices of dissent under attack in India
- VIPIN PUBBY
Voices of dissent under attack in India



Right to free speech is one of our most important fundamental rights and we are justifiably proud of it. An independent media is a corollary of this fundamental right even though there is no separate provision for freedom of the press.

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about our democratic traditions during his recent visit to the United States where he addressed Indians settled on that country while sharing the stage with its president Donald Trump. 

Unfortunately there is a growing tendency to attack media and make attempts to restrict freedom of speech. Some of the recent events are a pointer to this fact.
 
It is well known that a large section of media has bowed down to the government, although there are few honourable exceptions partly due to the fear of government unleashing its agencies against it and partly due to their own profit motives.

Even then there are demands for taking action against a section of media and calls for boycotting it. Several videos are doing the rounds in social media where third rate leaders call for boycott of media. While it appears absurd but there are a whole lot of ‘educated’ followers who cheer such leaders and add their voice to such anti-democratic rants. They don’t appear to understand that what they are demanding is censorship of the media which the BJP and other parties had opposed so vehemently during the Emergency.
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It is well known that a large section of media has bowed down to the government, although there are few honourable exceptions partly due to the fear of government unleashing its agencies against it and partly due to their own profit motives.
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Perhaps this disdain for media percolates from the very top. Prime minister Modi has set a record of sorts by not addressing a single press conference since he took over as the prime minister. He has also not answered any question from the media.
 
At a recent "joint press conference” with Donald Trump, after their talks in the US, Modi did not take any questions while Trump replied to every question he was put. Ironically he is otherwise very media savvy and does not leave any opportunity to project himself in the national electronic media. Surely he can’t forget the vital role played by media in spreading his word during election campaigns. As the prime minister he should face questions from the media to enable it to undertake its duty as a watchdog of democracy rather than a lapdog of the government.

Perhaps this attitude is gaining ground even when individual freedom of expression is concerned. The recent registration of an FIR against 49 prominent personalities for sedition is a case in point. All that these persons, including historian Ramachandra Guha, actor Konkana Sen Sharma, and filmmakers Mani Ratnam and Aparna Sen, had written an open letter to the prime minister to express concern over incidents of lynchings in the name of holy cow.
 
It was a perfectly legitimate demand but a junior magistrate in Bihar took cognisance of a small-time lawyer’s complaint and ordered registration of an FIR under Indian Penal Code sections related to sedition, public nuisance, hurting religious feelings and insulting with an intent to provoke breach of peace. Now more personalities have added their voice to protest registration of the FIR.

What’s all the more shocking that the government, both Nitish government which is an ally of NDA and the central government, did not take a stand or spoke against such a ridiculous step. Even the higher judiciary has not stepped in to pull up the magistrate concerned and quash the FIR. What kind of signals emanate from such an attitude is not hard to imagine. It was only after a lot of prominent persons protested that the Bihar Police have withdrawn the FIR.

While the need to do away with the British Raj’s legacy of sedition laws is a subject matter for a separate column, what the government and other concerned must appreciate is that right to free speech and independent media are the most essential elements of a vibrant democracy.

 

 

(The author, a freelance journalist, is a former Resident Editor of Indian Express, Chandigarh, and reported on the political developments in Jammu and Kashmir, North-Eastern India, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab in his long, illustrious career.)

 


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Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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