Journalism in Existential Crisis


When the Wire and Cross-current broke the news of the Assam Chief Minister’s family having been involved in a landscam in three different areas of the state,turning govt. land allotted for charitable purposes into real estate with majority shares under their belt,everyone expected the popular press here to raise a huge furore.The report pinpointed the location,the specific category of the land under land revenue regulations and the utterly illegal nature of the transactions in detail,and there was little to doubt of its authenticity.But for two whole days people waited with bated breath and there was not a ripple on the mass circulation dailies here.This was unprecedented and extraordinary. The Social Media on the other hand went on a rampage demanding the resignation of the CM.Two days later a rather tame version of this scam minus screaming headlines and the usual stridency of such reports appeared in some of them.In stead of highlighting there was a clear attempt to kill the news.

This is in any case a rather poor reflection on the press which seems to be under a stranglehold of a government that has acquired unrestrained power under different pretexts.

The press is not only a neutral reporter of events but also historically a watchdog of democracy.In the absence of that role it loses its wholesome impact on society.In its heyday the Soviet Union had two mass circulation dailies———Pravda(truth) and Izvestia(news).Ordinary Soviet citizens used to joke there is no Pravda in Izvestia,and no Izvestia in Pravda.The outcome of this had been the state failing to change direction when it went blindly astray.Whatever the worth of autopsies afterwards the state had no inkling of its fate thanks to curbs on the press.

The astounding hair-raising calls for extermination of Muslims from a ‘Dharam Samsad’ at Hardwar was duly reported in the national press.But unlike say the Delhi Nirbhaya rape-murder case, the national press seems to be treating it as a curiosity rather than an open declaration of war against secular democracy.This looms in the background of a pending urgent appeal by 76 lawyers and activists before the Supreme Court to take suo moto action.

As it seems to hang fire the CJI has given a call to the press to be true to its vocation,the unbiased reporting of news.News and views,he went on to explain,should not get mixed up as it seems to be doing now.

Unlike preceding CJIs Justice Ramana has not held the executive and the judiciary as separate sovereigns that never encroaches on each other’s turf.The notion of separation of power holds only when the executive ,which is vulnerable to the temptation of exceeding its powers,is checked by robust legislature and judiciary.The German courts during Nazi rule succumbed to this pressure from the executive to their eternal infamy.

Is it fair to hold that in the present juncture the executive in India is scrupulously remaining within its bounds? Is it not obvious that it is in a break-neck race to squeeze all legitimate authority out of time-honoured institutions,and Is it not openly arming itself with ever more power than the constitution warrants?The judiciary’s stern warnings seem to have little effect on this offensive,and their orders are met with delays and tepid compliance.The CJI had warned that the government cannot commit acts simply by virtue of a legislative majority.

In this situation the CJI’s well-meaning admonition seems rather unlikely to check the rampage of the executive as it has found another source for its illegitimate authority, a solid mass of prejudiced,irrational fanatical people running into millions.

What can news be in this situation shorn of ideology,which the upright CJI seems to regard as the bane of current Indian journalism? On the other hand we have a plethora of post-truth in the form of outright lies and distortions, reporting laced with communal poison and implicit violence,and on the other hand some courageous and factually correct stories that do not fail to imply the threats to secular democracy upheld by the constitution.The latter too is not without an ideological burden.And that carries on the glorious heritage of the press since its inception.Such are the times as to turn every significant public act,to say nothing of reporting news,into some sort of an ideological affirmation.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator

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