In the 20 months since the Trinamool Congress came to power in West Bengal, the government has been mired in controversies regarding suppression of freedom of expression, so senior party MP Saugata Roy’s remarks that he did not believe in censorship of the media here on Saturday appeared to be in a contrarian vein.
“I think the media should be left alone. That is why I am strongly against any form of censorship of the media,” Mr. Roy said at a panel discussion on “Has the media failed the people?” moderated by journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.
Mr. Roy said that he did not think that media controls voters and he was not among those politicians to have “a love-hate relationship with the media.”
“When a person goes out to vote, he votes on the basis of his own experience, not on the basis of what is written in the press or what is broadcast in the media,” he added.
Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has often spoken against a section of the media, on occasion specifying television channels that she believes spread lies and canards about her government.
Her government has come under scrutiny for a notification that prescribed a limited list of newspapers that public libraries could subscribe to, even as allegations were made that certain papers are being denied government advertisements.
At the panel discussion, there was no consensus on whether the media had failed the people with Mr. Roy believing that it had “by and large failed the country” on the one hand and the editor of Aaj Tak and Headlines Today Rahul Khanwal proposing that it had not, largely because it is a “self-correcting animal.”
Admitting that “the media is guilty of a lot of sins” in recent times, from poor language to the cancer of paid news, Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of The Hindu argued “that the Indian media today does a far better job of informing the Indian public than it used to do thirty or forty years ago.”
He also pointed out that there are several other institutions which are also failing the people, citing the example of an expose of a fake encounter in Jammu and Kashmir that was conducted in March 2000. But a decade later, the trials of guilty soldiers were yet to commence.
“At the end of the day if you don’t trigger correction at the judicial level, at the political level or at the level of civil society, then there is only so much we can do,” he said.
Actor Rahul Bose turned the argument on its head questioning whether it was the people of India who had failed their media.
“After we finished collectively exulting at Ram Leela Maidan or lighting candles at India Gate or collectively shouting ourselves hoarse in some public forum we wait for the next problem to burst. Do we sustain the pressure? Do we support, recognise, encourage or fund organisations that have been fighting for those very causes for decades? Do we change attitudes within us,” he asked.
While Mr. Roy spoke at length about the change in the media from pre-Independence days to present times, Rudranghshu Mukherjee, editor of the editorial pages of The Telegraph, argued that the fall in ethical standards among politicians had been far greater than that among journalists.
Civil society activist Anjali Bhardwaj described at length the expectations that civil society has from the media and the extent to which it had fulfilled them. The session was organised by the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce.