The government’s move bringing online news and current affairs portals along with “films and audio-visual programmes made available by online content providers” under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is as brazen as it is wily. Brazen, because this is an attack on the free press, targeted at a section that has been bold and forthright in speaking truth to power.
How is it making the press unfree?
- It neatly hijacks matters before the Supreme Court of India relating to freedom of the press and freedom of expression to arm the executive with control over the free press, thereby essentially making it unfree.
- Through these controls, the government means that if a TV channel indulging in hate speech is to be brought to book, it must be at the cost of regulating the media. And regulation — other than self-regulation — is nothing but censorship.
Using the court’s consent –
- In other words, what we are seeing is these cases before the judiciary being made an excuse, and the august institution itself being made an unwitting alibi, to erode freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which are a fundamental right and a basic feature of the Constitution that no executive or legislature can tamper with or nullify.
- It seeks to divide and rule the press by creating an artificial distinction between the new-age digital media (the stand-alone news portals which are already struggling to stay afloat) — which is the media of the future, the media of the millennial generation — and the older print and TV news media.
- The explanation that the print media have the oversight of the Press Council of India and the TV media of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA), and therefore the digital media needed a regulatory framework — no less than that of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting — is both lame and laughable. Because, first of all, there is no comparison between the Press Council of India and the NBA as professional bodies on the one hand and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the other.
The fate of the digital media under the control of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting leaves little scope for hope, and dooms the sector for both the media practitioner and the media entrepreneur and for the startups that have been the new vibrant face of contemporary journalism. The move is tantamount to nipping in the bud a promise of combative journalism. It makes our democracy the poorer for it. This move must be seen for what it is — politically and morally decrepit — and must be legally challenged as unconstitutional and autocratic.
Source – The Hindu
QUESTION – Many critics of the recent government’s decision to bring the digital media and Over-the-top content providers under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting say that the move is both unconstitutional and autocratic. Do you agree?