The present times should not be compared to the Emergency as there were still spaces where one could air strong opinions and fight repression, N. Ram, Director, The Hindu Publishing Group, said on Saturday.
He was speaking in a webinar organised by Live Law on “Criminalising Journalism and Cinema”.
Mr. Ram said uneven implementation of law, and the higher judiciary, on more than one occasion, have failed to protect press freedom. “The recent arrests and filing of criminal cases against several journalists and also other creative persons, has exposed and widened the fault lines in our Constitution. We used to think we have pretty good protection, but actually we don't. There are many escape clauses in law which is aggravated by executive overreach and failure of the judiciary to adequately protect.”
India, he stated, had regressed in terms of freedom of press. “There was a time when, in terms of freedom of press, India was in an enviable position among the developing nations. But that was 40 years ago, we had just come out of the dark chapter of Emergency. Political scientist Robin Jeffrey, in a book dealing with the Indian language press, called it India’s newspaper revolution. Today if I were to claim that we are in an enviable position, then I will be accused of spreading fake news,” he observed.
One must not fall into a temptation of exaggerating today’s times as the Emergency. “I wouldn’t say that this is like an emergency. That would be a mistake. I have lived under Emergency, when there was total censorship, detention of journalists. Let’s not rush out to conclusions. There are still spaces where you can express vigorous opinion, strong condemnation of the acts of the executive, criticise the judiciary and so on,” he noted.
Far more sinister: Akhil Sibal
Senior Advocate Akhil Sibal said what was happening was far more sinister. “There is a larger narrative that is being orchestrated, which is to attack freedom of speech as a value and a concerted effort is being made to promote a competing value of so-called nationalism. And, therefore, those who dissent are being branded as anti-nationals and terrorists.”
Agreeing with Mr. Ram, Mr. Sibal said, “we may not have reached the stage of Emergency, but we are definitely on the way. What we are seeing should be something which alarms us at a deeper level and we must not be dismissive about it as something which is just a temporary blip, but see it for what it is”.
Screenwriter Jyoti Kapoor said that especially after the controversy over web series like Tandav, screen writers were a vulnerable lot. “Producers are now making the screenwriters sign undertakings that there is nothing in the script that could be blasphemous, libellous, defamatory towards any religion and so on,” she pointed out.