PUCL Bulletin, April 1999

Fear of Freedom - Press Council's Judgement in H.K. Dua Case
By R.M.Pal, 21 March 1999.

Over the years members of learned professions have watched the systematic erosion of freedom and autonomy with utter indifference, if not glee, of their own institutions. There has hardly been, for example, any protest, not to speak of revolt against measures by the Government and establishment academics to curb university autonomy which in actual practice means curbing freedom of expression.

Now, another institution, the press on which people rely heavily for "fair, objective and comprehensive news and views" appears to be "betraying the trust". It is sad to note that an increasing number of people in the learned professions have utter disregard for, or fear of, freedom. How does one explain the fact that hardly any Delhi based English daily found the Press Council of India (PCI) Judgment in the H.K. Dua case newsworthy? Nor has there been much of a protest against highhanded and illegal methods adopted by the management of The Times of India in this case.

The PCI has censured The Times of India in the strongest terms, and praised Mr. H.K.Dua. (The PUCL represented by its General Secy., Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar was also a complainant in the case. For details, see PUCL Gen. Secy's note in the March 99 of the 'Bulletin, p.20. Extracts from the PCI Judgment are being serialised in the 'Bulletin beginning with this issue).

There are two aspects of the Judgment which merited highlighting if love of freedom was a concern of journalists. One, that H.K. Dua "refused to be a party to the illegal game and chose to stand by the high standards of profession and to maintain the status and the dignity of the office of the editor;" two, that an editor cannot be reduced to the level of a domestic servant, much less can be used as a doormat. In any country which swears by the freedom and the independence of the press" the proprietor of a newspaper cannot use his editor as his personal agent to promote his own personal interest, and if any journalist stoops to do such jobs "does not deserve the calling and betrays the trust the society keeps in him". Furthermore, Mr. Dua was asked by the management of the TOI to influence even the process of law.

What is regrettable is that even civil liberties groups barring PUCL do not appear to have taken serious note of the dangers ahead. The PUCL in a nutshell stressed it was concerned with the freedom of the press which is an essential element of a democratic society.

Also there should have been protests, if not revolt, against the statement issued by the International Press Institute and the India Country Report of the Commonwealth Press Union castigating the PCI and its Chairman. Their crime was to hold that the proprietors who made a business of newspaper publishing are a major source of danger to the freedom of the press in India (see PUCL President and Gen. Secy's statement in the Dec'98 issue of the Bulletin, pp 2-3).

Civil Liberties groups and activists must take a firm stand whenever freedom and democracy is under attack, and must support fighters for freedom like H.K.Dua

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