US press shows the way

An open letter to the US President Donald Trump by the American media should serve as a lesson to the journalists around the world, more so to the media in India  too.  There is a lesson for us here in Kashmir too. The letter issued a day before Trump’s inauguration throws down a gauntlet at Trump and dares him to control the media. The unprecedented step has followed after Trump’s attempts to reign in the media and pile pressure on them to follow his agenda. But as the letter makes it clear they have refused to do so and instead chosen to close their ranks against such attempts.  “We, not you, decide how best to serve our readers, listeners, and viewers,”the letter read.  The immediate provocation for the letter has been the Trump’s refusal to take question from a reporter from CNN at his recent press conference.   However, the message of the letter rises above the specific circumstances of what led to its being written. And it is in the clarion call to the media to stand up to the demagogues who display dictatorial tendencies and try to curb media freedom or influence to a certain political line. .

However, if we go by the state of affairs in media in India since Modi took over, there is a telling contrast. Far from asking the questions, the large swathes of media have simply played along with the government. In fact, sections of media became spokesmen for the government policies. In one of the worst instance of media’s lure of the power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was mobbed by media persons for selfies during an interaction last year at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi.   This fawning admiration for the PM among the members of the fourth estate generated a huge public outcry.  Any wonder then that Modi has got such positive coverage over the past four years. In fact, his prime ministerial campaign was led by the big media houses, with some television channels at the forefront of it.

In J&K, media has shared an ambivalent relationship with the successive governments.  Similarly, some media organizations have been generally close to power and some have been hostile. We have yet to establish a healthy and balanced relationship where the media engages with the government but also knows where to draw the line. A professional distance from the government is important to retain the ability to speak truth to the power. And this we certainly can’t do by attending the official feasts at the drop of the hat. Or by choosing to overlook the government’s failures. More so, its performance over the past six months. While we should resist tooth and nail the government’s tendency to muzzle the press, we should also resist our temptation to be close to the structures of power. In Kashmir, the threat to the media’s independence is more from the later tendency than the former.

 

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