Anguished by the ritual to which Press Freedom Day has been reduced, the author reflects on changes in the ownership patterns of the media which have led to the retrenchment of journalists and the distortion of what we call “ news “ by a plaint media.
ON May 1, 2020: Government showered praises to the working class in cyber universes whilst millions of labourers trudge and drag themselves watching the milestones morphing into tombstones on the unending harsh highways to home. Now they are being made to pay for the journey back home by a train while the National Carrier billed the Government and not the passengers returning back from China and Japan and other countries, so much for their concern for the invisible migrants who for the first time are now visible to the general public.
On May 3, 2020, World Press Freedom Day is being eulogized about, while journalists quietly join the growing queue of unemployed with each passing day, information trickles from news organizations of salary cuts, retrenchment, sacking and job cuts.
The corrosive iron chains of proprietary organizations that used to fetter the practitioners of journalism in past, today, has been replaced with toxic intangible corporate shackles. Censorship is kicking and alive as is evident from the fact that Ramchandra Guha had to withdraw his column from Hindustan Times.
With a few honourable exceptions, the mainstream media has not espoused the causes of homeless migrants and farmers in distress, nor played the role of the “ fourth estate “ in a democratic society, but there existed a modicum of integrity towards journalistic ethics before the corporatization of the media.
The advent of neo-liberal policies ushered in subtle tectonic shifts, in the structural functioning of press. These seismic changes came out in the open by the late nineties whereby the media while still displaying a crusader’s armour, was brazenly supporting the interests of the ruling classes.
It was through mainstream media, the corporate lobby carried out carpet bombing of the glories that the neo-liberal economy would usher.
It was through media, that corporate houses derided people’s movements who cautioned against the greed and exploitation of the planet Earth by industries which has today that created conditions for the coronavirus pandemic.
It was through the mainstream media that the values of empathy, freedom of thought, right to have rights, right to livelihood, right to protest, right to food et.al, were eroded and replaced by narcosis induced delirious dream.
A dream that today has gone mad with the practice of demagoguery becoming a ritualized normative practice. Today, the press channelizes the anger on the streets of those rendered jobless and acts as a cathartic agent for those helpless and voiceless human beings who live despair and helplessness.
The media- conventional or non-conventional—has become more of a tool and a weapon in the war of perception not just on the political chessboard but also warping the minds of the masses by reducing them to minions of right-wing forces.
The need of the hour is to unshackle the press from the clutches of proprietary and corporate interests. The functional freedom of the press is essential to the democratic processes in a society and a press which acts as a drum beater for the ruling class and the rulers is only acting as a catalyst to the perpetuation of the social structures which led to the pandemic.
And the World Press Freedom Day would be just one of the token festivals like the International Labour Day observed in the words of a poet:
“ May Day
Sings every year
To the fixed notes
Of rules and regulations.
The rulers are clear, that May Day may be observed, but the pledges are not to be kept
(May Day –in the eyes of an Adventurist-Nirmalaya Ray).
[Prabhat Sharan is a senior journalist who has worked in newspapers and news agencies like Indian Express, The Pioneer, The Daily, Free Press Journal, IANS, BenarNews and others as a special correspondent]