Not the time to celebrate

Every year, November 16 is marked as the National Press Day. This year we commemorate it on the theme: “Who is not afraid of Media?” which can be viewed from several perspectives. Even the perception of the Media through the prism of the theme is note-worthy and provokes more questions than answers. Well, at least some answers that may not be very palatable to the Central Government itself ~ because every year it decides the theme. For one, the theme begs the question: which Media ~ because the media was never monolithic in the past and more so today in India, even more markedly after 2014. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, so much about geography, since we like to talk in terms of “mainstream”, “regional” and “local” media. It’s more about ideologies, politics and more importantly economics. We are witness to numerous attempts to subvert and suppress some sections of the Media across the country hence the most vulnerable foot soldiers of the Press ~ individual journalists ~ have been under surveillance and targeted. Quite a few have even been murdered while a lot more have been imprisoned under trumped up charges. So, who is not afraid of the media is answered by how the institution is treated and tended. While we may wax eloquence on India’s rich democratic, heritage, culture and traditions, the fact is the Media still remain in the periphery of these democratic guarantees unambiguously enshrined in our Constitution. The very atmosphere and environment under which the Media performs reveals how well ~ or badly ~ we respect, or disrespect, our rich democratic heritage, culture and traditions, as much as how journalists are treated in society and State. So, probably we must ask: who is afraid of the Media? Even in a small State like Nagaland, the strength and indispensability of the Media has been proven several times over, yet we remain in the periphery of the subconscious mind of our society and State. This definitely is fear of the Media, which by extension is the fear of the truth that entails upholding transparency and accountability of society and State so there doesn’t seem to be too many who aren’t afraid of the Media. Now, because the Media is not monolithic, a lot depends on who is not afraid of which media. There is reason to fear some Media because they have their own agenda and great potentials to harm people and democratic institutions that stand on the way to their agenda ~ therefore, many will not fear them due to convergence of interests and agenda. Alas, these interests and agenda are not only harmful to the health of the Press but also to the health of democracy in the country. The threat to the Media is a threat to democracy, as much as the threat to democracy is a threat to the Media ~ and reasons for this encompasses multi-dimension factors and forces. One of the biggest factors is ignorance that is endemic in the country, even amongst the so-called elite. Ignorance makes us all vulnerable to forces that flourish in chaos and de-stability and it is these forces that have reasons to be afraid of the Media ~ therefore the attempts to make it pliable. These forces come under numerous attractive and convincing guises. Now that the world lives under the reign of technology, it has certainly become even more difficult to identify and pin-point adversaries. Never has our ignorance ~ therefore our vulnerability ~ been more pronounced. Interestingly, the theme “Who is not afraid of the Media?” also obliquely suggests inter alia that the Press has supra-constitutional powers. Yes, the Media has enormous powers to take a society and State forwards but only in an undiluted and undefiled democratic atmosphere and environment. So, if a democracy is fettered, so is its Press ~ and unfortunately in the past decade we are seeing the fettering of democracy even in the most democratic of nations. Inversely, it also means that more people, more societies and more countries are indeed afraid of the Press and seem to deem that the only way to fight the Press is to fetter democracy. In Nagaland, this is done by adamantly consigning the Press as Society and State’s publicity and public relations wing thereby proving that there are many here who fear the Press too. Despite our inadequacies, we must be doing something right. But now is not the time to celebrate.