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Challenged Again

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Cases are being filed against journalists in UP for their reporting in the newspapers, TV news and social media. The government alleges these are made up stories designed to damage its image. Journalists’ associations deny this and describe the action as attempts to ‘shoot the messenger’. It is a fact that journalists have to be judged by the same yardstick as anybody else practicing ‘freedom of expression’, but long held convention does allow them sufficient leeway to practice their profession. It is also true that some of them indulge in blackmailing activities and the victims should have the right to seek redress in court. In the case of governments and their policies, however, criticism cannot be construed as ‘illegal’, even if motivated.
The controversy was stirred by reporting on children allegedly being fed roti with salt as the mid-day meal in a school. The administration and the government took umbrage at this and have described it as ‘staged’ and a ‘conspiracy’ to malign them. Cases have been filed and the journalist concerned faces the nightmare of facing India’s time-consuming and expensive judicial process. Even if he comes out innocent at the end, he will have suffered disproportionately. This is made worse by the fact that most journalists are not just badly paid but work for organisations that will not back them in such trying times.
Traditionally, journalists had unions and public-spirited lawyers that provided the much needed assistance. This, however, is a thing of the past as the increasing corporatisation of the media has led to their being treated as ‘employees’ rather than an essential part of a free society. They are expected to make compromises and fired if they do not toe the management line. As a result, journalists as entities outside their places of employment are unable to build common platforms. So, basically, they are left to fend for themselves.
These challenges are not new and journalists, over the years, had developed skills to deal with them. Unfortunately, in the present day, owing partially to poor mentorship, the basic understanding of the job is lacking. Too many are in the profession for the clout it supposedly provides and, in the case of TV, the glamour involved – also to promote personal and political agendas. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different and it becomes difficult to stand up to even the petty harassment that governments and bureaucracy can cause at taxpayers’ expense. This challenge to the democratic process is building up and it will take some time for it to be resolved. Till then, unfortunately for all, the journalists are on their own.