Chandigarh, May 12: It is an interesting development in the Punjab’s media space with Sangh Parivar supporter Zee news network pitted against cable network controlled by Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s men. Akali Dal has been in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1996 but personal and business interests transcend such partnerships. Newspersons in Chandigarh took out procession today to register their protest against throttling of what has been described as the press freedom and free expression that is a democratic right. It is heartening to see journalists coming out for a cause, even if it is not just freedom of the press and at the end of it, it amounts to protecting the interests of the management and it is too well known that these managements, be in the print or the electronic media, care two hoots for granting rights to their employees, in this case the journalists.
Badal family owns the bucket of channels under the name of PTC. The cable system in Punjab and part of Chandigarh is owned by Sukhbir’s man who is also a trucker with a big fleet. Ever since Sukhbir entered the TV business and his men took over cable operations in the state, it is the PTC that has a virtual monopoly. Such is the iron fist control that other channels have failed to find a foothold. But then the people have a choice as they can opt for dish. One channel set up its studio in Mohali but failed to start its Punjabi news operations. There has been no protest among the media fraternity. Chandigarh is next to Delhi so far as the print media is concerned with regular membership of Chandigarh Press Club being about a thousand now, beginning with 101 members in the very first election. Almost every TV news channel has its presence here.
When talking about the freedom of the press, the basic issue that emerges is as to who is this press- the owner, the modern manage- editors or the person in the field who otherwise is the most insecure and whose freedom is always at the mercy of the managements.
Talking advantage of the freedom of the press, the management of The Hindu last year forced scores of its senior journalists to take voluntary retirement. This is the latest case of mass retrenchment in a big newspaper. There were no protests against this freedom of the management. At one time, journalists of this once among the most respected newspaper were considered to be the most secure. This is one definition of the freedom of the press. The journalists are ‘freed’ at such an age by these managements that they find themselves nowhere as they can’t do anything else at that age when one nears or crosses 50 and the children are yet to be settled if the person happens to be married. This is the freedom of the management, nay the press.
Yet another method is to force a person to resign. Transfer a person to a far off place where he or she can’t afford to take the family along in that meager salary. The journalist, after all, is given the freedom to accept transfer or tender resignation.
Under the era of liberalization, it is marketing that has come to dominate editorial and the managements sell space, not for ads but also ads in the form of news whose worst face is the paid news. It is the editor who has become a non-entity. Few journalists can name the editor of such papers as Times of India or Hindustan Times.
Security of service has lost its meaning with the contract system having been forced on the working journalists, all with the willing connivance of the editors who take sadistic pleasure in harassing their colleagues to force them to resign.
This is the worst scenario in the media that calls for introspection. The slogan of FREEDOM OF THE PRESS is hollow as it has lost its meaning. The person at the cutting edge, the reporter, has no freedom.
Yet another latest example of this PRESS FREEDOM is the way Kanhaiya Kumar’s video was doctored to cater to the agenda of the Sangh Parivar. Journalists in Chandigarh today protested against unplugging of Z PB Hr channel by Fastways cable network. Subhash Chandra, its owner, should also define press freedom in the framework of Kanhaiya Kumar episode that has given a new direction to the political discourse in the country.
Next time the journalists anywhere in the country decide to protest against curbs on press freedom, they should first discuss and debate as to whose interests that are protecting. It is a big challenge to the working journalists as they must start their battle again to protect their rights rather than protecting that of the ruthless managements in the name of freedom of the press.
There is yet a silver lining. Some generous political parties have started accommodating such journalists and they become ‘senior leader’ from senior journalist overnight-a healthy development.