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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 27 New Delhi June 23, 2018

In Defending Press Freedom Real Tributes to Shujaat Bukhari can be Paid

Sunday 24 June 2018

by S.N. Sahu

The killing of a journalist, Shujaat Bukhari, in Kashmir speaks volumes of the safety, security and independence of the press in India and that too in regions which are subjected to conflict and terrorist violence.

The attack on journalists and journalism is an attack on not only press freedom but also on our very independence. Before the ‘Quit India’ Movement was started by Mahatma Gandhi in 1942 he began individual Satyagraha to protest against censorship imposed on the press by the British Government. It was the only Satyagraha launched by him for the cause of press freedom which he described as the foundation of Swaraj.

The serial killing of journalists in this country during the last few years constitute an attack on the foundation of Swaraj. Last year alone some 18 journalists were killed to silence the voice of the Fourth Estate. Let us juxtapose the killing of Gauri Lankesh in South India and the killing of Shujaat Bukhari in Kashmir. Such killings of journalists have become an all-India phenomenon and compromise press freedom immeasurably.

But let us be mindful of the revelations made by some sting operations exposing the media houses ready to peddle doctored and fake news favouring certain forces in the name of religion by taking huge amount of money. It brought out the intent and purpose of the media barons of our country to sell away their freedom, journalistic independence and ethics and subject them to the dictations of rabid and fanatical forces to achieve political purposes. While India has a vibrant press, the country occupies an unenviable place and ranking in the world in terms of press freedom. It was 136 a year back, and now it is 138. In other words, it is witnessing a downward trend which is extremely worri-some.

In this age of embedded media there is considerable weakening of press freedom and its severe curtailment poses a grave danger to the very freedom and independence of our country.

Joseph Pulitzer’s ringing words that our Republic and Press would rise or fall together sounds so true for the twentyfirst century world and India. The killing of a journalist in Kashmir combined with the proliferation of embedded media are a grave threat to press freedom both from within and without. In early 1980s Professor Amartya Sen, while delivering an illuminating lecture in Delhi on the theme “Famines and Food Battles”, had said that free press and democracy are the best guarantee against famine. He explained the recurrent famines in pre-independent India in terms of absence of free press and democracy during British rule. Famines constituted manmade disasters. In the twentyfirst century India demo-cracy is under serious attack from communal forces. The manner in which the press is now submitting itself to such forces indicates or rather generates a situation which would cause and have caused many manmade disasters of catastrophic proportions. This is very disturbing and earth-shaking. The father of Indian press Raja Rammohan Roy had said in 1823 that where freedom of press is suppressed conditions for rebellion were created. How prophetic he was indeed. The rebellious conditions prevailing in society prove Raja Rammohan right. The politico-journalistic-industrial complex is creating rebellious conditions by severely compromising press freedom. Dr B.R. Ambedkar had observed that “journalism in India was once a profession”, and then he bemoaned by saying: “It has now become a trade. It has no more moral function than the manufacture of soap. It does not regard itself as the responsible adviser of the public.” Strong indictment indeed!

Can the press freedom and security of journalists constituting foundations of freedom be salvaged and rescued from such incessant onslaught? That is a big and important question.

The public reasoning which remains central to communication and the communicator is getting considerably weakened in today’s age of hyper-connectivity and transmission of news, views, data and image. The high decibel levels of so-called debate and discussion in the electronic media and the triviality of news and views indicate the decline of public reasoning in public discourse. This is gravely affecting the media. The killing of Shujaat Bukhari and many other journalists clearly constitute the decline of public reasoning and destruction of the culture of debate and dissent. In his last speech in the Constituent Assembly Dr B.R. Ambedkar had said that with the enactment and operation of the Constitution the constitutional method should be followed for achieving the objectives and redressing grievances. He cautioned that the failure to adhere to the constitutional method in independent India would create the grammar of anarchy. In fact the tragic killing of journalists has caused the grammar anarchy and jeopar-dised the constitutional method. It is as dangerous as any other method to control or muzzle the press.

The dastardly killing of Bukhari in Kashmir is nothing but an attempt to muzzle the press and silence the voice of the advocates of dialogue and peace. It is rightly said that he through his activities raised the prospects of peace in Kashmir. In a way he represented the “journalism of hope” in a conflict zone like Kashmir where he worked hard for bringing together Pandits and Kashmiris and the use of the Kashmiri language across the State. His assassins’ aim was to spread fear and terror among the people and devastate the prospects of peace in the State. This cannot be allowed to succeed at any cost. It has to be countered by adopting the constitutional method which can demonstrate the might and valour of the pen over bullets and the muscular method. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have time and again pinned their faith on democracy at the core of which remains the freedom of the press. In upholding it and securing the life and liberty of the journalists in Kashmir and other parts of our country real tributes to Shujaat Bukhari can be paid. Long live his legacy of journalism!

The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late K.R. Narayanan.

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