People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 26, 2005
Emergency & Press Censorship Revisited
promulgation of Emergency and Press Censorship on June 26, 1975 constituted the
darkest chapter in press history in free India.
The period had its immediate and long term repercussions for the press.
The moot question today is how far have the lessons been learnt by
succeeding governments and the press? In fact, in the past decade, dark shades
of press censorship were indeed hovering over the country. And more dangerously,
new forms of have been invented in the changed scenario of globalisation.
a bit of flash back into the past. It
was the censorship of 1975, which showed how the press at large became a tool in
government hands. News was moulded purely to serve the party in power and its
leader and the ministry of information and broadcasting became a virtual
caricature of the Hitlerian German Information Minister Dr. Goebbels set up.
It is true that in Delhi some papers and editors donned the mask of
crusaders, only to later on become government tom-tommers.
are some examples as the Shah Commission of Enquiry pointed out:
guidelines issued by the Chief Censor even exceeded the scope of the Rule 48 of
the Defence and Internal Security of India Rules insofar as they prevented
editors leaving editorial columns blank or filling them with quotations from
great works of literature or from national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, or
Rabindranath Tagore. The I&B ministry did not attempt to find out whether
these guidelines were within the scope of Defence and Internal Security of India
Rules or not. Parliament and court proceedings were also subject to censorship.
merely publication of court judgments was censored, but directions were also
given as to how judgments should be published.
practice, censorship was utilised for suppressing news unfavourable to the
government, to play up news favourable to the government and to suppress news
unfavourable to the supporters of the Congress Party.
press today, often without any justifiable reason, is sought to be gagged by the
executive, suppressed by the legislature, silenced by the judiciary or muzzled
by motley pressure groups. It is an
easy victim not only to government's wrath but also one finds more and more
instances of what even the Press Council had to say on the subject, editors
being reduced to doormats by the governments and lately by press barons.
The devaluation of the institution of editor in general has become a
reality It had to be commented upon by no less than two chairpersons of the
Emergency undoubtedly left behind it shades and censorship, its hangovers and
residues. Journalists for a while,
however, found themselves more united to fight for their rights and opposition
to the Bihar Press Bill, the Karnataka Press Bill and the J&K Bill were a
few instances. In some cases, Delhi
showed the way on how to resist. Some all-India joint movements yielded
however, one saw another facet under the BJP regime when newspapers were sought
to be muzzled either by ham handed attempts or by black mail or by direct
threats and in many cases by a carrot and stick approach.
In fact, it was this approach which was perfected during the BJP-led NDA
regime. It was controlled by
unofficial means where wily BJP spin-doctors perfected a quid pro quo policy
and became selective in denying access to information. From Tehelka
to Outlook to Iftikar Gilani, one saw this approach. The rise
of papers like The Pioneer tell the other part of the story. And the
India Shining TV shows, mixed with religious mumbo jumbo tell the final story.
the last ten years, contractualism, or hiring of journalists on contract, has
also taken its toll as it has given rise to a new kind of censorship. The former
Press Council Chairman P B Sawant agreed with many organisations of scribes on
the dangers of contractual journalism to press freedom.
the threat of foreign direct investment in the media sector is posing another
danger to press freedom. New forms of censorship by way of invasion of the media
by vested interests represented by the foreign players leading to abridgement or
exclusion of our sovereignty cannot be far behind. With permission for facsimile
editions of foreign newspapers already granted, a look at the US scenario would
be revealing. Whereas you had three newspapers in a town, most towns in the US
today are single newspaper towns. There are chains and the number of top players has come down
to fifty or so. As scholar Bagdikian commented "Together, they exert a
homogenising power over ideas, culture and commerce that affects populations
larger than any in history.
for what Rupert Murdoch represents, Bagdikian says “He is the world's
principal purveyor of blood-and-breasts journalism. This has become the standard
at almost all his publications, a mix of lurid crime tales under souped up
headlines and pinups with bare breasts pushing out of page three.” In India,
in the hot race for foreign collaborations, what to talk of the English papers,
even the Hindi chain, Jagran group has struck new foreign pastures after its
earlier date with saffron.and Hindutva.
is acknowledged that in America today, step by step, a new system of information
imperialism is taking root. Two years ago Rupert Murdoch became the world’s
“most honoured ‘Star’ entertainer”. Recognised officially by US
President George Bush for giving a super information propaganda edge to Bush and
Blair and their allies’ invasion of Iraq and the deceitful hunt for illusive
weapons of mass destruction. His information conquests, of course, are more
diverse with India, China, all in the news kitty.
ago, the famous cartoonist and columnist, our very own Abu, in an article titled
'Dial M for Murdoch' stated “So desperate is the competition all around for
circulation and advertising that almost the entire range of newspapers is
engaged in entertainment rather than imparting serious information and
commentary. The tabloid formula and
trivia is triumphant. Everything is
trivialised. If there is any variation in the personalities of the newspapers,
it is only in their size or style of printing.” Today, in India the position
is worse. You have advertorials - advertisements converted into editorials - and
what not. In Delhi alone, two leading dailies are engaged in a cut-throat war in
defeat of the BJP-led NDA government and the installation of the Congress-led
United Progressive Alliance government at the centre raised expectations of
significant changes in some journalistic circles.
However, many of the media community’s hopes were dashed. The repeal of the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance
(POTA) was welcomed. But caution: Unlawful activities (Prevention) Act contains
several draconian measures that may well curb democratic rights.
sum, since the Emergency and Press Censorship period, clear facets can be
discerned. However unlike the past, there has been no Third Press Commission or
Media Commission, in view of the expanding media bazaar with
international linkages. Add to this the shrinking journalist and devalued
editor and contract worker amidst crumbling small and medium papers,
cooperatives and trusts. The BJP
government would not concede this demand because its findings could have been
embarrassing to it. The Congress seems to be at its old game of “under
consideration and active consideration”.
The trouble is that governments have to cover up their lapses and the
patronage doled out to the sections of the media, for a good quid pro quo.
conclusion, it can be said that real freedom of the press today is indeed a
chimera. Successive governments
have sought to muzzle the press. There
have been attempts made by several governments to muzzle or at least whittle
down press freedom and curb free flow of ideas as they would aid the struggle
against the very system.
TAILPIECE: A prominent national newspaper has its own code for coverage of news pertaining to organisation of journalists. The code makes it clear that news of journalist bodies, trusts and clubs, and their elections specially should appear only if cleared by the top management. The result: even the death of their own scribes cannot figure in the paper and obituaries are rarely allowed. Well, is this not another form of censorship? (INN)