The Government of India in the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting proposes to recast guidelines for television channels to curb content considered vulgar, obscene, anti-national or hurtful to any community. The Broadcast Editors’ Association has come out with strong opposition to this move. Advocacy groups for freedom of speech and expression, civil liberties, other citizen groups and even political parties on the Opposition Benches have severely criticized the move. They see in it subjectivity and attempts to gag the media, curtail its freedom and unwelcome executive interference in matters which are better left to outside agencies entrusted the responsibility under the law to ensure objectivity.
It raises several significant questions. There are no two opinions that there should be no attempt to curb the freedom of the press. The question however remains: is that the case even when there are blatant attempts to misuse this freedom? The Editors’ Association may subject the content, expressions, gestures, tenor, tone, bhaav(emotions), bhangima(facial expressions), language, vulgarity, obscenity, oral & visual violence, commercialization of human tragedies and political & communal agenda followed by channels in the past two years and judge for itself whether a curb is necessary or not. Freedom doesn’t mean licence as if there is none to oversight the media (param swatantra na sar par kou =totally free because none over the head). They should analyse the air time devoted to the criminals and terrorists, fugitives of the law, and their images repeatedly displayed on the TV screens, without caring for viewer irritation in the quality time of the mornings or evenings ; vendetta against a targeted Chief Minister or community only under the misplaced sense of security from reprisals but blacking out the critical news of violence against people on regional basis for fear of reprisal; taking sides with anti-social elements in utter ignorance of the subject matter or the intricacies or the hundreds of years of valuable experience recorded on government files on very sensitive subjects, only to capture highest figures of TRP or some such statistics. Criticism, especially strident crititicism of those who are unable to rebut it on the spot, is very unfair use of the freedom of speech & expression and a bad example of discharging the responsibilities of the Fourth Estate. The people approach the media in complete faith and what does it do to it excepting sucking? Can the Association honestly disclose the reality of the cash for vote incident, which tended to undermine the very democracy of India? The analysis suggested will throw up hundreds of such incidents of irresponsibility, corruption and blackmail.
The TV channels have such power in their hands that they can contribute to the progress of the country if they take to sincere public service. This is not possible so long as it is simply a “business or industry”. The moment freedom of speech and expression is traded for a price, it loses its moral value. They should draw inspiration from the mythical Naarad Muni, who is known to have not compromised his professional integrity even once since the Creation of the Cosmos! An institution devoid of moral authority has no appeal and no respect, otherwise the TV channels should hold people and governments in “awe”. Alas! They are partners in all kinds of wrong doing so far as the aam aadmi and her/his social, political, economic, Judicial and human rights are concerned. A media person called Dey is killed in Mumbai and an ordinary nurse Bhanwari Devi is simply evaporated in thin air and the situation reverts back to the normal in less time than that takes the aam aadmi regain composure! Freedom of speech has any meaning only so long it is exercised independently, objectively, neutrally and in the public interest. At the moment our media persons are intellectuals, politicians, business persons, nominated legislators, ministers, advisors, committee chair persons and sole administrators of a plethora of government and non-government institutions – all in one person. They are inviting government intervention- which they call gagging. If they want their freedom, let them restore to themselves their pedestal in “morality” and not in “industry”.
Government’s business is to remain in the business of governance. For them there is nothing wrong in love, war, peace or gagging the media. It is their legitimate right to remain in power by hook or crook. For this they are bound to employ all means, including saam, daam, dand & bhed (doctrine of pleasure, punishment or deceit). They used to purchase media persons, take them on free foreign jaunts, allot them government houses, sanction them residential plots for building houses at dirt cheap rates and all other licences in any situation of scarcity. Now that the media has grown wings (something akin to the emergence of the middle class from among the aam aadmi), they have come to own television networks! Avarice knows no limits and when the greed is of lucre and power, it is simply unbounded!
There has never been any doubt about the significance of measured speech and expressions. Literature is replete with beautiful poetry extolling the virtues of good speech. There is nothing like good speech and expressions. In fact, that is man’s supreme achievement of life. He who is master of words is nearer to God, who is mitbhashi & mridubhashi (brevity and sweetness). Word is God. It needs to be used carefully- no easy task. One needs to practice it more rigorously than any other form of Yoga. This site has been named as the Vaaniyog, which consists of two words, Vaani(speech)+ Yoga. One can achieve some perfection by practice alone. If the TV channels and the whole media decide to pay due deference to speech, nobody can gag them, irrespective of whether there is a law or no law. Yogis or practitioners are self-regulated and need no law to regulate them. Vaaniyog can turn life into the most beautiful gift of God. 90% conflicts in personal or professional life flow from uncontrolled expressions and speech. It can make or mar family life. Marriages end in divorce only because the partners use inappropriate language or expressions. What did the Serpent do to Eve in the Paradise? Misused language to seduce her to imbibe his thoughts over the thoughts of the Lord! Our responses are dominated by others in life if we fail to practice vaaniyog. So is the case between the TV channels and the government. Unless the TV channels exercise self restraint in language & expression and improve quality of content accordingly, government would make encroachments into their territory under the guise of infringement of the Guidelines. Can we end this rivalry of the two kinds of “industry”?