Who is not afraid of media?

Written By: / Articles / Sunday, 02 January 2022 16:51

…… Who is not? Who is not using media in today’s world? The corporate world, politicians, Human Rights Activists, Environmentalists, government or private establishments, entertainment industries, etc. all rely on media to advance and further their cause. Media has always been a tool for social engineering and is still the most effective tool for societal reformation. With the understanding of the effectiveness of media, for some people, media today is power – a power that can be used for their own vested interest, a power to suppress the dissent of the common people, a power to promote their images, and so on and so forth. Having said so, it was also the media that helps our freedom fighters who were waging war against the British colonial ruler, in mobilizing the people to wake up for breaking the chain of slavery. The great father of the nation Mahatama Gandhi, Bal GangadharTilak, BR Ambedkar, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Jawaharlal Nehru, etc. all use media as a medium to mobilize the people to fight for justice and freedom. The legacy still continues. No matter how some people keep control of media for their own purposes, nowhere in the world none had/have ever succeeded in suppressing the voice of the common people. It is next to impossible for even a country run by a dictator to suppress media that carries the voice of the people. To understand more about the power of media in the context of India, let us begin with the challenges of media (print media) as well as the role of media during the Indian freedom struggle.
The rise of media (print) in India - British Government reaction
The rise of the print medium of mass media started after the arrival of Printing press machines from Portugal at the Jesuit St. Paul’s College in Old Goa in 1556. The printing press was brought for missionary purposes. However, it was only in 1780 that the first newspaper in India was published by James Augustus Hickey in 1780. The name of the paper is “Bengal Gazette”. It was an English newspaper. In that newspaper, James Hickey exposed the corruption of the East India Company. Warren Hastings, the first British governorsgeneral of India did not like the report published in that newspaper and the publication of the newspaper was shut down within two years. Then comes the Calcutta Gazette, Bengal Journal, Madras Courier, and Bombay Herald from 1784 to 1789. Bombay Herald was later changed to Bombay Gazette. With the publication of certain newspapers, the then British colonial ruler first introduced the ‘Censorship of Press Act” in 1799. That was because Lord Wellesley wanted to control the media from using it as a tool by the French government. As per the Censorship Act, publishers are forbidden from publishing any articles or reports against the government. The then regime was so afraid of the press that all publishers were to submit the materials to the censor board before any publication.
The Censorship Act was however abolished by Lord Hastings in 1818. That was when first India’s vernacular Bengali newspaper called ‘SamacharDarpan’ got published. In 1882 Raja Ram Mohan Roy started ‘SambadKaumudi’. The newspaper started publishing injustice meted out to the people during British rule. After a year the then acting Governor-General of British East India Company John Adam introduced the
Licensing Regulation Act in 1823. That act restricted the publication of newspapers without getting license. Because of that act, many newspapers have to be shut down. Three years later (i.e. in 1826) India’s first Hindi newspaper “UdantMartand” was borne. Since then every 30th of May has been celebrated as Hindi Journalism Day. In 1835, Charles Metcalfe, the then acting Governor General of India abolished the Licensing Regulation Act. Charles Theophilus MetCalfe is considered to be the Liberator of Indian Press due to the execution of liberation policy by repealing ordinances that control media in 1823. The East India Company was not in favour of abolishing the act and thus he had to resign from his post within one year.
In 1868, Amrita Bazaar Ptrika started publication in Bengali language. From then till 1870 many Indian language vernacular newspapers came into existence. Those newspapers started criticizing British Policy. In 1878,Lord Lytton, the Viceroy of India passed the famous Vernacular Press Act. That act banned all Indian language newspapers. At that time there were around 35 Indian language newspapers. The Bengali newspaper Amrita Bazaar Patrika was converted into English language newspaper. In 1882, Lord Ripon, the Governor General of India repealed the Vernacular Press Act.
The shutting down of James Hickey’s Bengal Gazette by Warren Hastings, the introduction of the “Censorship of Press Act” in 1799, the passing of Vernacular Press Act in 1878, and the Licensing Regulation Act in 1823 by the then colonial master showed the might of the media.
Media in Post independent India
As a student of journalism, it will be interesting to get a glimpse of media in post-Independent India. For media, it makes no difference on the role it played whether it was during a colonial regime or a regime elected by the people. The media always highlights the voice of the people. It acts as the nation’s conscience keeper. Like it did during the colonial era, media reports or editorials condemn the venality of politicians and corruption in public offices. If there is a slippage in public morals or slackness in national purpose media is sure to deplore the trend. The media gives us advice to - protecting the environment, driving the highways, preventing deforestation, and even voting. If there is a political or social controversy, a large section of the media has an opinion in one way or the other.
In his book ‘My Country, My life’, Lal Krishna Advani, the former Home Minister of India wrote that, for the first time in the history of post-independence India, the Press censorship has been imposed in June 1975. Significantly, Mrs. Indira Gandhi used All India Radio to announce that the President had proclaimed a state of emergency under article 352 of the Indian Constitution at 8 am on June 25, 1975. (page 204, My Country My Life, by LK Advani).
The period from the year1975 to 1977 was perhaps the darkest history of Indian media leaving aside the political activists. It was the time when freedom to report reality was shattered. It was the time when journalists were jailed for expressing the truth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also term the period as the darkest days in the history of the post Independence era. Almost all those who got imprisoned were from the media fraternity. Is not it because late Mrs. Gandhi had a complete understanding of the power of mass media, or else why should she target the media?
When it comes to the state of Manipur, Nongmeikappam Sanajaoba, popularly known as NK Sanjaoba, who is the pioneer of investigative journalism in Manipur faced several kind of harassment and intimidations from the then government.
His writings over those two decades during 1960s-70s in Lamyanba, a monthly journal published by Pan Manipuri Youth League, were against the anti-people system and its power brokers. In his regular column “Yukhal Marumda” NK Sanajaoba exposed nexus of corrupt officials, thikadars and suppliers, who are but the looters in the name of democracy and freedom.
His fearless expression of truth became a model for the educated youths of his day. Obviously, the men in power, unsurprisingly, tried to suppress his views in Lamyanba. As a testimony of his courage and commitment, we can recall two instances in his life. His home was raided by the police coming in two full police trucks in cold nights of October 1969. This was published as a letter to Inspector General of Police, Imphal on 22 October 1969.
The full Text of Lamyanba Journal Editor Nk Sanajaoba letter to the Inspector General of Police, (IGP)
Imphal: LAMYANBA (An Organ of PANMYL)
Head Office, Yaiskul, Police Line,Imphal
Ref. No. Panmyl /DC/ 6-69 Date22.10.69.
The Inspector General of Police;
Imphal, Manipur.
I beg to state that the raids on my house by two truckloads of your Armed Police personnels at the late hours of night both on the 9th and 11th October, 1969 had not only caused grave harassment to the members of my family but also created panic among my neighbours. It has not only constituted a serious encroachment on my privacy and personal liberty but also caused a great damage to my reputation and prestige both as a responsible citizen and a social worker of the country.
I take the strongest exception to your action in causing the raid on my house. I demand from you an unqualified apology for such actions of yours. In the event of no such apology being received from you on or before the 25th October 1969 during office hours, I shall consider myself free to send to the press the full text of this correspondence.
You may take note of the fact that I am always busy in the office of the Pan Manipuri Youth League, Imphal in connection with such works as the management and edition of its most popular Journal Lamyanba besides keeping a number of other engagements in my capacity as the Head Master, the Hindi High School, Imphal and the Joint Secretary, the Manipur Cultural Integration Conference, Imphal, Manipur.
Yours Faithfully,
N.K.Sanajaoba Singh Editor, Lamyanba, Panmyl.
N. K. Sanajaoba was arrested from his office. He was kept in prison. The arrest and re-arrest of NK Sanajaoba repeated multiple times, because the then government of his time fear his courageous report on corrupt government officials. The post-1990s media was a completely different scenario. It can be translated as a blessing in disguise. The advent of the internet and simultaneously the digital media has brought so much change to the media.
Television medium though came to India in the early 80s, its real impact reaches out to the public in the 1990s. It was when Pranoy Roy started his own private news channel in collaboration with the Star TV that the real taste of television medium news started giving a new taste to the news consumers. Since then there is no stoppage to the growing of the television news channel in India. According to a report published in indiatelevision.com in July 2016, there are 892 private satellite television channels operating in India as per source from the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The report further said that of the total 892, 403 are private news and current affair channel. This was a report about 2016, in December 2020, 907 channels were available on satellite television across India.
When television came into existence there was apprehension among the public particularly the news consumer on the fate of print medium newspaper. As for the radio it has its own unique taste and it continues to remain as the most convenient medium accessible by everyone. The coming of smart phone did not change the popularity of radio medium.
The apprehension of affecting the print media with the coming of the television media just turns out to be a misplaced imagination which never happens. Of course the coming of the digital media did impact the marketing of the hard copies of print newspaper, but there were no dearth of print media publication by more and more people notwithstanding the fact that there are over 900 private television broadcasting news, current affairs or entertainment 24x7.
In 2020, the number of registered newspapers and periodicals across India peaked to more than 143 thousand. Despite a declining growth rate in the country’s print market, the number of registered publications has increased consistently and significantly since financial year 2001.
Despite the advancement in the internet enabled communication technology and the invention of new smartphones with all the surfing and browsing facilities a factor that impact not only in print media marketing but also in the television media marketing, print newspapers in India sees a significant surge in revenue in the past one decade. The same is with the Television media as running of media house – both print and electronic media like television depend on the revenue for running of the office like, production of programme, printing of hardcopy newspaper and besides payment of salary to the journalist and non journalist team working for the specific media firm.
In the last couple of years almost all conventional media houses has been severely hit with financial crisis. Covid-19 pandemic is not an excuse, the crisis started even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. This opportunity has not been missed out by any of the game players of India who are in different profession. It was at this time that the multinational companies, corporate giant, political parties started funding either illegally or illegally to make use of the media for their own purpose.
If one recalled, the 2014 pre-election, every student of mass media will certainly remember how political parties particularly the media used to reach out their election promises to the people. Several printed leaflets, hoardings or bill boards could be seen incurring huge amount of money for publicity matter. Some political parties having understood the impact of the social media even open IT cell to reach out to the public for election campaign. The nation had witnessed certain TV news channel reporting and analyzing or debating in favour of a specific political party. Circumstantial evidences showed that huge amount of money is being spent to media of any kind – either it maybe in print or electronic, to garner vote during election. And except for some journalists with integrity who still continues to stick to their professional ethics, almost all media houses, both print and electronic media have today set their agenda to make sure that their media houses sustain with the kind of financial assistance they accrue from either the political parties or the owner of the corporate houses.
Why all these big shot never missed out any opportunity to grapple media houses and wanted to remain in the upper hand and to make them set agenda to promote them. Is not it because they are really afraid of media and if not why should they do that?
Tools enforce due to fear of media (an effort to silence report)
Even as the constitution of India has guaranteed freedom of speech and expression under article 19, there are also certain provisions under various sections of the Indian laws which put limitation to common people particularly to the journalists. Irrespective of control of media by either the owner of the corporate houses or the politicians, it is always next to impossible to silence the media. That must be the reason for the establishment to impose certain laws to curtail the free speech and expression to curtail the media. Controversial sedition laws(Article 124 A, 153 B of the Indian Penal Code), National Security Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, etc. are some of the tools in the hands of the establishment to control the free speech particularly free reporting by the journalist community. According to a report available in Scroll.in, 154 journalists were arrested or faced government hostilities between 2010 and 2020. 40% of these journalists were reported either to have arrested or faced hostilities in 2020 alone. Most of them are from among those who refused to bow for mercy of the so called powerful individuals who wanted to control media. In today’s India there are reports of government utilising various statutory or autonomous bodies or even the judiciary to curtail the voice of journalist. But the fact is that all those machineries when left with no means came to media to seek justice. We all know how four senior judges of the Supreme Court of India –Justice J Chelameswar, Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justice MB Lokur and Justice Kurian Joshep, all top and high profile judges of the highest court of the country came to press on January 18, 2018 mounting a virtual protest against the Chief Justice Dipak Mishra.
When it comes to the state of Manipur, every media houses had information about the district police issuing reminders about what not to publish or broadcast in media.
With election time approaching nearer, political parties are busy setting agenda to use media as a tool for their campaign. There are reports of some even employing dozens of people to monitor the reports and analysis appeared on media.
Well in democratic society media is often considered as the fourth estate. American President Abraham Lincoln once said that a country with media is more preferable to a country without governance. From the common men working from hand to mouth to people running the government or any establishment, media in any medium is a tool for their own protection or a weapon that can destroy their images or the voice of the people. Even a government run by a dictator is keeping their own watchdog to control media. Communist countries like China or Cuba have strong censorship legislation to make sure that their system is not ruined by the media.
(This article was presented on National Press Day observance 2021 organized by DIPR, Govt. of Manipur.)

About the Author

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham

Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 25+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents. Rinku can be contacted at [email protected] 

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