Use and abuse of freedom

Freedom of the Press is a sine qua non of democracy. Not only newsmen but the entire society defends this freedom zealously. Any restriction of the freedom of the Press is taken as a narrowing of the democratic space. But every freedom has its duties and responsibilities. No freedom can be used as a license to do what is patently wrong and indefensible. Truth, objectivity and an unbiased approach is what is expected of those engaged in this profession. But for quite some time, a trend has developed in certain sections of the media, especially the electronic media, to promote political parties and interests, to manipulate and even manufacture news. Propaganda passes for news. Opinion passes for news. This charge has been levelled against sections of the media by those who have suffered from dissemination of patently one-sided or factually incorrect information.
The West Bengal Chief Minister has expressed her anger and anguish over certain news channels having used in their telecasts scenes of incidents happening in Bangladesh, even scenes from a cinema and passing them off as scenes from the violence-torn Basirhat. This was done deliberately to inflame communal passion, to add fuel to fire, instead of doing everything possible to bring down tension, foster amity between sections of the people and generally to help the speedy restoration of normalcy. She has hinted at taking legal action against two channels. Provocative propaganda, targeting of individuals for holding views that are at variance with the concepts of patriotism or nationalism held by those running the channels have become the rule rather than the exception for certain channels.
Disseminating news in a way that breeds enmity between castes, creeds or communities is an offence that is actionable under ordinary criminal law. If this is deliberately done over a period of time, legal action against those who are doing it becomes unavoidable for a government. While the media has to defend its freedom and repulse any attack on that freedom, it has to act in a way that does not give a handle to the authorities to have recourse to law against the media. Self-regulation is the best way to ward off unnecessary and unwarranted encroachment on the freedom of the press by the government. Those who violate the norms of objective and unbiased reporting or resorts to tendentious reporting should be taken to task by bodies of media persons themselves.

Thursday, 13 July, 2017