Democracy, Dissent and Media

By the Editor: Siddharth Sehgal

India is perhaps the only country in the world that pioneered the art of peaceful protest. Peaceful protest or Satyagraha, as phrased by Mahatma Gandhi, was a major modulus operandi of our freedom struggle, and yet, in this very country, peaceful protesters are labeled as terrorists. The roads are dug by the government so that Indian citizens cannot exercise their right of peaceful demonstration. Protesters were sprayed with water cannons and police used brute force upon them.

The irony is that those who are supposed to speak the truth and present the fact as they are, many media houses are busy calling peaceful farmers all sorts of names such as Khalistani and Pakistani. Things got so worse that farmers have called out the TV channels whose anchors are vilifying the protesting farmers without any understanding of the core issues and ground reporting. The reporters from these channels were booed away from the protest site on the Singhu border. Farmers have started their own newspaper and IT cell to dispel the rumors and misconceptions that are being spread in news studios. If farmers are finding it difficult to get their voices across, imagine how difficult it would be for teachers, doctors, laborers to get their concerns heard.

There use to be a time in India when the politicization of media, journalists, and news channels was something of shady activity that was rumored about, yes there use to be pro-government outlets but things were not sycophantic as they are today. It’s not at all a closed secret, it’s out in the open; many news outlets are not only towing the government line but also willing to mortgage the journalistic principles for keeping their bosses in power happy. False narratives and fake news are a norm now and somehow no one seems to be bothered about it. Instead of debates on our news channels, we have shouting matches where people throw insults at each other. Just recently, the news and broadcasting regulator in the UK penalized a news channel in India, which is quite well known for its decibel levels, for hate speech. Imagine the dire straits of Indian journalism where a news outlet is being fined for promulgating hate and this has become a norm for the news.

Whoever takes a different line or opinion is labeled anti-national. The way our journalism is going will become an end road for the fourth pillar. We should re-think our media landscape if we wish to have a stronger democracy.

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