PUCL Bulletin, July 1982

Media and Civil Rights: A Perspective

The Emergency exposed us to a new dimension of State control of the Press. This was of two kinds, direct and indirect. In exercising direct control, the formally appointed censors killed all critical news and editorials. Direct censorship also extended to radio and television which was, in any case, always under government control. Indirectly, the State enforced its directives and its so -called "ideology" through manipulating newsprint subsidies, through with-holding advertisements, through editorial appointments and through subtle and not-so-subtle intimidation or reward.

The Emergency experience has helped many among us understand censorship in its different dimensions. Earlier we were conscious of one kind of control - the control by owners and proprietors who had major industrial interests and their moulding of public opinion through editorials and news. Some of them also became channels to perpetuate international interests and a one-way information flow. Both these forms of control still continue though the State control and manipulation dominates and now makes this a triumvirate private commercial interests, foreign interests and the interests of the ruling elite.

But there is one more kind of censorship being practiced of which most of us are not aware. It is censorship by the journalist's themselves-self-censorship. It is informed by the values and attitudes which are so much part of a journalist's life and experience. These values and attitudes consciously and unconsciously pre-empt the gathering of certain kinds of news and determine what kinds of interpretations are to be published. Till very recently it was difficult to find in the newspapers and magazines reports of events and struggles of the poor and the exploited, violations of their rights and a true picture of their socio-cultural life. If at all any of this was reported, it was there for its "man-bites-dog" value. Similarly, even now there are hardly any critical exposures of the working of foreign interests in the country.

We can be justifiably proud of a section of the Press which has highlighted a vast a range of civil rights infringements and issues. However, this remains confined to a few publications and except for these, the world of journalism continues to be a part of a process of silence and sensationalism.

Press censorship can be both conscious and unconscious. The need is to critically understand and confront it at both levels. Self-conscious awareness among journalists must be fostered. Debates and continuous questioning of the content, its potential impact and its capacity to inform and activate must be undertaken. It is only then that journalism can become of the people, act as their eyes and ears and give expression to their sorrows, pains, hopes and aspirations. Only thus can they fight along with the people against domestic injustices and foreign pressures.

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