It is the Independence Day weekend and quite naturally the I-day spirit is everywhere. From freedom to choose discount offers to freedom to sleep, almost every conceivable form of freedom is on offer right now. I decided to take this opportunity to assess the state of freedom of press in our country. As an Indian I have always been immensely proud of the constitutional encouragement that Press gets in the form of Article (19)(1)a guaranteeing freedom of expression for every Indian.
But as we celebrate the country’s 69th anniversary the question is do we actually enjoy the freedom of press as envisaged in our Constitution? Almost every once in a while we read or hear about a certain new story being suppressed by an influential corporate or asked to give a favourable twist during the course of news reporting. There are numerous instances of stories that never make it to the headlines for vested interest, reporters or news persons who are threatened with dire consequences and at times even death as we saw in the Vyapam case recently.
Here is one more shocking revelation. According to the results of the World Press Freedom Index, India ranked a paltry 136 amongst the 180 nations that the Index comprises of. Though a small advance from the last 3 year’s constant 140 ranking, it is a decided downhill for the Indian media industry if compared to the situation in the first ten years of 2000. According to the estimates of Reporters Without Borders, which publishes the Press Freedom Index globally, India ranked 105 in 2009. While the top 5 in this comprises of Scandinavian nations like Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, surprisingly Afghanistan too has a higher ranking than India at 122!
Apart from most media houses in India becoming the acquisition hotspot for aspiring corporates looking to diversify, I believe a lack of centralised body that looks into the rights of journalists is a big problem. Almost left orphan, they battle abuses, confront insults, journalists in India are increasingly paying a heavy price for speaking out the truth. Is it in any way a surprise then that paid news and biased news is the order of the day!