There are conspiracies by organisations with vested interests and foreign agencies to incite people with misleading propaganda.
New Delhi: Social media has played an important role on the issue of freedom of expression. But in a vast country like India, still, a part of the population is affected by superstition, less education, and extreme poverty. There are conspiracies by organisations with vested interests and foreign agencies to involve people in violent riots by inciting them with misleading propaganda. This is the reason that the government of India has started taking some steps by providing rules for social media. Distracted by this, the company that operates Twitter has started a legal battle. In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of photos and videos of serious inflammatory nature on Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and YouTube. In India, whenever there is talk of any control over this anarchy, some people and organisations raise the flag of the rights of civil expression. They ignore the fact that 48 countries in the world have taken action against social media companies in the last year. There have been arrests in 56 countries for the misuse of social media. Social media has been banned in 21 countries for disturbances. Britain and Australia have recently implemented strict rules to prevent content with grossly abusive photos, removing them within 24 hours, etc.
After newspapers, TV news channels, and websites, now there is the new noose of rules and regulations on Twitter and Facebook too. Every other week, the issue of abuse of the freedom of expression or abuse of power reaches courts. Incidentally, a few months back, Bloomsbury Publishers India published my English language book “Power, Press and Politics” and brought it to the market and online for purchase. The result is that many journalists and editors of the media are asking me for answers by linking to the immediate situations on TV or YouTube channels. I got the right of expression from my inspiring editors. I am still against open and irresponsible journalism. On this, many of my new and old friends are expressing their displeasure on social media. They feel that the cry for boundaries and “Lakshman Rekha” is meant to support power. Not only journalists, but acquaintances of different sections also raise the question of whether at this time, the pressure of power is more on the media than in an emergency, or is everything is up for sale?
My first answer on TV interviews or other forums is to buy and read my book. I have written an authentic account of the relations or pressures of power in the last 50 years during the tenure of editors who were senior to me in relations and challenges. There have been some mention in my books on journalism in the past as well. For this reason, I also agree to a great extent with the new rules and regulations for Twitter and social media. Several recent court rulings have increased the belief that a government in power’s attempts to take away the rights enshrined in the Constitution have been strictly blocked. So have faith in the judiciary. As far as pressures are concerned, I will refer to the pressures faced by the editors before or after the Emergency and censor period. An interesting example was told to me by S. Nihal Singh, editor of the country’s major English newspapers, The Indian Express and The Statesman. He was a reporter for The Statesman during Nehru’s rule. He wrote a report after talking to an astrologer that Finance Minister Krishnamachari trusts astrology a lot, and an astrologer from South India comes to Delhi and stays in a five-star hotel, and the minister regularly visits him and consults. This report was to be published in the weekly column of the newspaper “Yesterday in Delhi”. This information reached the minister from a senior colleague before it was published. Then the Finance Minister put a lot of pressure on the newspaper not to print this report, because it would make Nehru very angry with him. Generally, there was no pressure on the newspaper. But even that small report could not be published under the pressure of the Finance Minister. Yes, when Nihal Singh was the editor, he did not accept the pressure of power or management, and due to this, he had to leave his job twice or thrice.
Kuldip Nayarji told me about a case of power and management pressure long before the emergency. J.R.D. Tata used to be on The Statesman’s board then. He called once and said that due to the publication of news of the quarrels of Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai, many problems were being faced. Nayarji told him that he was writing only the correct facts. Then Tata spoke to the board’s own special Palkiwala and asked about G.M. Irani. Such news continued in the newspaper, and then Tata himself thought it appropriate to withdraw by taking back his shares. That means the Tatas and Birlas also lived under pressure. So why should the pressures of the owners and government be considered new these days?
Editors such as Kuldip and B.G. Varghese worked with Shastriji and Indira Gandhi at first, but later criticized her the most. Therefore, why should journalists who 10 years ago considered the policies of the Congress Raj and the work of leaders to be correct and now consider Rahul’s Congress to be ruined and the Modi government’s policies and steps justified, be called sold out and opportunists?
They have their freedom of expression. In my book, I have given authentic examples of many such editors leaving their jobs or being fired under pressure from power or management. These include veteran editors like Hiranmay Karlekar, Ajit Bhattacharjee, Rajendra Mathur, Manohar Shyam Joshi, and Vinod Mehta. Some editors even got their cabins sealed. In the last seven years, there has been no news of the removal of any editor-in-chief of Delhi. If the management removes any journalist under its compulsion or any pressure, then it is its right. Journalists, like e soldiers or generals of the army, have to be bold and take risks. According to the rule of law of democracy and Constitution, the right of expression has to be protected.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his newspaper “Harijan” in 1946 that like the West, newspapers in the East are people’s Bible, Quran, and Bhagavad Gita. What is published in the newspaper, people accept as the divine truth. People accept any printed matter as divine truth. Due to this, the responsibility of editors and other journalists increases. Gandhiji also warned readers at that time that: “I never put too much trust in the reporting of newspapers and I want to warn the readers of the newspapers that they should not be easily influenced by what is printed in them.” From this point of view, the debate continues even today regarding the credibility of print or electronic media and the role of journalists or social leaders. Therefore, society, Parliament, the Supreme Court, and domestic and foreign companies of social media will have to decide on the new “Lakshman Rekha” of rules and regulations.
The author is the editorial director of ITV Network India News and Aaj Samaj.