(Part I of a two-part series)

Introduction 

In the modern world of digitalisation and the all-consuming Internet, Facebook (one of the first and strongest social networking platforms) occasionally has some redeeming qualities in the form of some wise and sagacious posts which pop up from time to time. One that caught my eye recently and pushed me to promptly hit ‘share’ was this: –

“We are drowning in so much information, that we remain thirsty for knowledge”

The significance of the saying proves true in today’s day and age. We live in an India which, today, has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but that which has caused us to, at the same time, become sharply vocal and divided in our opinions on political, religious, social, lifestyle and economic issues. It is in times like this that the role played by the media is highlighted and brought to the forefront in shaping up this vibrant, ever-growing and aspirational democracy. This subject gains more importance in the context of the fact that it is being published in the maiden issue of The Tilak Chronicle to celebrate the life and the emphatic and impactful journalism of Lokmanya Tilak, and one may ponder to juxtapose it with the journalism of the great Tilak. 

Media: a proponent of Democracy

Media in India has a long history, even longer than that of its modern representative democracy, spanning from the colonial past in the second half of the 18th century to the current times. Indian media started as a private enterprise owned by an Englishman during the British East India Company’s regime, and so the newspapers of the late eighteenth century were of interest to the British residents only and were largely a white man’s affairs.

The advent of Indianisation of the press was brought forward by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and then followed by many social reformers like Mahadev Govind Ranade, Dadabhai Naoroji and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. The press, not being under the direct control of the then regime, put up a brave fight in its heroic effort to promote the cause of Independence.

Many editors, particularly of the vernacular press, flouted censorship regulations to keep the nation informed of the freedom movement. Newspapers published in Indian languages played an indispensable role in strengthening popular sentiment.

However, special mention must be made to Tilak’s prolific writings in his newspapers, “Kesari” and “Mahratta”, which at one point of time spearheaded the national movement for the freedom struggle of India. They unified the nation on the single focused agenda of driving the British rulers out and instilling a sense of patriotism in the masses. Tilak’s articles were aggressive and thought provoking, and hence, had a huge impact in bringing about political reform in a then backward and poor India. His editorials vividly portrayed the suffering of the people, and reported on actual events, calling on every Indian to fight for his rights. The language was intended to arouse a passionate thirst for freedom.

Tilak criticized the government for its brutality in suppressing freedom of expression, especially the protests of young nationalists against the division of Bengal in 1905 and for degrading Indians. He demanded that the British immediately give Indians the right to self-government. Tilak’s writings on Indian culture, history, and Hinduism spread an awareness regarding the heritage and consequent pride amongst Indians for India’s ancient civilization and glory as a nation. Ultimately, the combined effort of each individual facet of the media led to the emergence of an Independent India.

Resilience of the Indian Media and Freedom of Press

During the darkest period of the Emergency (1975-1977), there was complete censorship of the press and the media was muzzled by the then incumbent government. The government had a firm grip on the Indian mass media and controlled the radio and television as well.

In the beginning, when a few leading newspapers such as ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘The Statesman’ refused to abide by governmental censorship, the government withdrew its advertising support to these newspapers. The greatest threats to the freedom of the press came not from the restrictions imposed by the government, but from a hardening of the ownership pattern which resulted in tighter control and less freedom for journalists. Various journalists were put into jail for criticizing the government of that period. All of this was done by suspending certain fundamental rights and invoking restrictions to curb the functioning of the media.

Since the Constitution was adopted, the Supreme Court through various decisions conformed that the freedom of press is implicit in freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed under Art. 19(1) (a) of the Constitution. Thus, the rights and restrictions placed upon the media are equivalent to those of and on individuals respectively.  Restrictions may be placed based on any ground as contained in clauses (2) to (6) of Article 19, provided that they are imposed by or under the authority of a law, as well as enacted for a particular purpose i.e., there must be reasonable nexus between the restriction imposed and the object enshrined in the respective clause.

However, the Indian media survived this crisis, not unscathed, but stronger in its criticism and vindicated in the dethronement of Indira Gandhi’s government.

(with inputs and research from Ms. Anushka Mehta, Student, Government Law College).

(Read Part II of the two-part series here)

Adv. Aarti Sathe

Adv Aarti Sathe is a Tax Counsel practicing in the Bombay High Court and a BJP Mumbai spokesperson.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.

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