PUCL Bulletin,

July 1982

Bizarre censorship: A case study

A bizarre form of censorship exists in Kerala, and I cite this merely to stress the need for a vital human base for media freedom, in the absence of which even a trivial retardant can cause great havoc. This censorship is imposed at the level of reflexes. It concerns three things, namely, the Arab States, Islamic fundamentalism and Israel. No free critique of the Arab states, their administrative culture and jurisprudence, can be made in a Malayalam newspaper or periodical. Islamic fundamentalism is perhaps not that sacred, but then if you tackle the fundamentalists as people and not as abstraction, then you would be criticising the Islamic political apparatus and the ban would creak into action. The last, namely Israel, is to be referred to only in terms of the sheerest derogation. The Israeli version of the Middle East problem which goes back to the diaspora in the past and to the 'Final Solution' in our time, will not find guaranteed media space.

The censorship operates because there are large Malayalee populations slaving away (for attractive wages) under fairly harsh and backward Arab employers, and to cater to these literate emigree proletariat most Malayalam newspapers and periodicals have Gulf editions. Gulf circulations have grown large enough to determine the economics of these publications.

I had the embarrassment of hearing from one of my editors that 4000 copies of his weekly got destroyed in the United Arab Emirates because I had dwelt on Israel in my column. That was disaster.

I have written about this only to submit that media freedom can be secured only by a readership base, perhaps a larger people's base, and not merely by a professional superstructure, however, vital the latter may be.


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