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“Freedom” of the press?

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“Informing is not a crime,” said United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, commenting on the shrinking Press Freedom around the world. 

While we popularly believe that the media and the press are the fourth pillar of democracy, it is safe to say that the recent decade has been specially hostile towards various values of “democracy.”

Censorship of media has been prevalent in the society since time immemorial. The first ever sources of censorship came from the Church in the western world in trying to control the knowledge circulated through an emerging print culture. Since then, we’ve come a long way in attempting to control communication through censorship, having developed means of threatening, harassing and enforcing legislations on journalists around the globe, no corner left unaffected.

To begin with, here’s what’s happening in the United States of America – the American President has been restrictive enough to have refused reporters from credible websites and journals such as The Reuters and The Bloomberg from getting involved in his tête-à-tête with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, for the subject of their conversation was ‘sensitive’ enough for the world and the citizens to be kept aloof from. From time-to-time, Donald J. Trump has referred to the practice of journalists asking him questions during his public appearances as ‘discourteous’ and ‘impertinent’, and it now seems like the future of the press in America is filled with lurking authoritative dangers.

Then, when Maria Ressa, a journalist heading the Philippines news website “Rapplers” was arrested, Margaux Ewen, her lawyer told in an interview that Ressa had been sued under ‘libel’ charges for being critical of the Filipino government. Even as we speak, 27 citizen based and 1 professional journalist(s) have been put behind bars under absolutism over press in Vietnam. In India itself has the infamous sedition law been promoting self-censorship, particularly due to increase in nationalist ideologies and emotions playing a role hand-in-hand with politics. Since 1990, 19 journalists have been killed in Kashmir alone, many allegedly at the orders of the government. And it all went down in the world of Journalism when Jamal Khashoggi, Washington Post journalist and an open critic of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was murdered in the “safety” of the Turkish consulate.

The world on the internet is expanding. Ubiquitous news websites or cornered platforms of debate and discussion will all keep catering to one audience or another. A successful example is the ‘Al-Jazeera’, born in the Arabian country of Qatar, ranked 125th on the World Press Freedom Index, 2018. Using a direct, subscription-based ‘satellite channel’ for its dissemination operations, Al-Jazeera has been spreading its word on important issues even under severe conditions.

Mr. Fali Nariman, a noted lawyer, addressing the Press Club of India at New Delhi said that “Freedom of speech is all about freedom after speech.” As true as the essence of the statement is the fact that even though freedom of speech is inextricably linked to the press and media, there is always something that seems to be wrong when a journalist or a reporter exercises free speech.

All for good journalism and all for right information, that which co-exists with tolerance for opinion and liberty to speak up in its truest essence.

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