Media Laws Vs Freedom of Expression

There is no such thing as absolute freedom.
Freedom is accompanied by responsibility”
— Jawaharlal Nehru

The fourth pillar of a nation—The Press ­­— is forever on guard when it comes to their right to freedom of expression. Ideally, they’d want absolute freedom with no strings attached. But they are rarely given this gluttonous privilege. Comparatively, Indian media is given far more leeway than other countries. There are always extremes. One on hand, you have the out-of-control US media while on the other you have the ‘gagged’ Afghanistani media (Taliban’s). But do we have to choose between this’ devil’ of complete government control and the ‘deep sea’ of absolute unmonitored freedom? There must be a middle ground…

Law makers opine and quote the apparent effects of media branding it ‘a spoilt child who was spared the rod’. To make up for this historical mistake, they push vigorously for amendments and laws that bring out the cane on the media/press when they stumble on their pursuit of truth. This tug of power has always been around and the press has marked its favourite rivals already. The press usually stands alone in their never ending crusade against all things bad including politician and other powerhouses. Most people in power (Read: Politicians) find it hard to fathom than the press has the ability to expose them and this constant fear is behind their animosity against the press.

In the name of protecting the public, laws are being made to curtail the freedom of press. A hypocritical move indeed! We have the privilege to reside in a nation that calls itself democratic. India gives its people the esteemed right to choose its own leaders out of a bag full of candidates. If the people are rational enough to elect their own leader, why discredit their rationality when it comes to the content in the media and press? They can very well differentiate between what’s good, bad, right or wrong for themselves. Censorships and other laws curtailing the press and media under the disguise of protecting the public are absolutely unnecessary.

There is always a BUT…

But the media does get ‘high’ on this freedom. There have been, are and will be instances when the press and media, so drunk on freedom, lose sight of their responsibility towards society. Instead of hard core laws that will only straight jacket good journalism and gag creative freedom, a voluntary self-regulatory organisation keeping a watch on unethical activities is advisable. Opinions and information that harm national defence and/or instigate communal disharmony obviously require laws which are rightly in place. But cutting scenes of ‘vulgarity’ from movies when you have satellite TV broadcasting worse profanity at the click of a remote is preposterous. Media ethics that come from within the industry are a better solution to the current haywire condition of Indian media. The PCI for example, ought to pull up its socks and take corrective measure where needed before laws restricting media is put into place.

Debating over such a dicey issue, it’s hard to say if laws are a boon or bane to media freedom of expression. Its contextual than hard and fast. Say for example 26/11 terror attacks in Bombay. The minute by minute update about the action of the Special Forces and cops might have unfortunately helped the terrorist drag the highjack on for days. This unintentional err should prod the PCI to include such matters in their code of ethics. Media professionals are sceptical when outsiders draft laws that affect them. Instead if the PCI is given some power to take substantial action, thus putting the onus on media itself, appropriate rules and code of ethics would be in place. As for censorship, a decent and more logical rating system like USA would be appropriate in this day and age.

Chemistry labs teach you more than you know. To succeed in an experiment, you have to get the mixtures right. The exact measurement of liquid X and liquid Y gives you Solution Z. But this simplicity and perfection is rarely possible in real life. Laws often steps on the toes of pursuit of truth and the fingers of creativity thus backstabbing the universal human right of freedom of expression. But having said, one must admit that the press and the media don’t walk around with a halo over their head. Like Peter Parker’s (Spiderman) wise uncle said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Yes I know I sound biased. But I strongly believe that a hand full of journalists still have their heart in the right place and media still has to power to sweep out the dirt under every seemingly innocent looking furniture.

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