Democracy at bay: Fourth pillar at crossroads

Asok Chattopadhyay

We are fond of pet names. And fondled our predecessors being the representatives of the rich and aristocrat and even those of the then educated middle class of the early nineteenth century Bengal especially of the then Calcutta petted their dazzling festivities by Bengal Renaissance. In the twentieth century we had been familiar with the notorious jails which have renamed the correctional homes! And the news media has fondly been christened fourth pillar of democracy! In fact, such a greatness of pet names and fondling remains unexplained, unfound.

We now do like to deal the fourth pillar of our esteemed democracy. In the nineteenth century Bengal the British colonialists in power afforded the worst to rule over the newspapers and their journalists. If ever any news had failed to serve the then government of its vested interest, the sword of controlling rage did have poured down on the newspaper and the journalist too. So far we know the first daredevil journalist and the editor namely Augustus Hickey of an esteemed newspaper of late eighteenth century Bengal was imprisoned because of his going against the vested interest of the then Government officials and specially that of Warren Hastings, the then Governor General of Bengal. Almost all the necessary articles and instruments of his press were sold on auction and his press got sealed. And thus Warren Hastings wanted to sinew a message to the newspapers and the journalists of the time for future guidance.

The British Colonial government promulgated the infamous Press Regulation Act 1799 to rule over the newspapers and their reporters cum journalists. After a lapse of fifty eight years during the fiery time of the Indian Great Rebellion in 1857, the British Government proclaimed the Gagging Act 1857. Two decades had passed and the Government again promulgated Vernacular Press Act 1878. In the year 1910, the Government again promulgated Indian Press Act 1910 and in the post 1947-era the new free Indian Government, under Congress regime, brought into force another draconian measure by Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1956. This had happened just after nine years of India’s winning freedom! Thus they came and thus they had gone but their anti-people practices had stayed healthily and re-practiced by the new ones coming in power ever. Rulers, irrespective of colors, always promulgate infamous black acts to get down the anti-Government grievances of the people through news media.

Owing to anti-government journalism during the fiery period of 1857 two tender-aged journo went into bad books of the British Government and were imprisoned. But they were escaped because of their age by the Court. Neither the Landlords nor other sharing powers were even a bit careful for the general interest of the oppressed peasantry of the country. The active hands of the Zemindars became the worst tyrants over the peasantry. The police got their lives at stake. The Judiciary was all the most busy at serving the vested interest of the opulent and the Government itself.

Under this context Kangal Harinath Mazumder, the renowned rural journalist and the editor of Grambarta Prokashika, devoted to the general interest of the oppressed peasantry of the thorps, began divulging the sad and worse tales of distresses of the tormented peasants in his journal with due evidences and invited enmity of the Tagore Zemindars of the area. Harinath by exposing the true facets of the tyrants wanted to have the peasants got rid of it only. The Tagore Zamindars at first endeavored to appease him by greed and so to speak bribe, but being failed conspired to wide him out but to no effect.


That a devout and a daredevil journalist and the publisher of the journal he is attached to, has to face much odds, is nothing incoherent. To oppose and standing against the vested interest of the Government and its compatriots is to invite attack on life is not unknown to such a journalist. To teach a refractory a good lesson is an unwritten code practiced by our Governments and their active agents and thus they use to subdue the disobedient journalists. And such ill practices are an oft-seen scene in India too not unlike that of other countries in the outer world.

On July 24 last, Sunil Tewari, a thity-year-old journalist of a Hindi Daily, published from Bhopal, had been murdered. A few days back Vikram Joshi, another journo of thirty-six-year-old, had been lynched and shot dead in broad public. It has been reported that the police is in its all out efforts to save the accused! Sunil had informed police beforehand of his anxiety of being murdered but police paid a deaf ear to his complaint. Media is often called to be the watchdog playing a very important role in the field of democracy of a system in vogue. India is the ‘biggest market’ for the fourth pillar of democracy with more than 82,237 registered newspapers and about 700 television channel ‘running all over India’. And certainly this fourth pillar of democracy should have extended safeguards by the Government practicing and continually speaking for democracy! But what rather the Governments do? We are oft-heart with the prop that the Judiciary, administration, legal belt and media are the four pillars of democracy. But the journalists pledged to serve the general interest of the public are often become the helpless prey of vested powers for not serving them. The apathy of the administration, procrastination of the Judiciary, the lame legs of legal belt conjure as if in a parley and construct an unsurpassable wall for the journo to outswing it to have justice. And as such their safety remains always at stake.

It’s nothing of our business only, but of the whole of the world too. The truth-seeking journo has to face unsurpassable challenge to go forward for his job he is devoted to. It has been reported on June 4, 2020 by the US Freedom Tracker that almost 300 incidents of attack on the journalists there had been made so far. Of these amount of attacks, 49 cases had been lodged in their homesteads, 49 have been arrested and of 192 incidents 160 have been done by the police itself. Incidents of physical assault have been recorded at 69, out of which police have acted culprits for 43 cases. 43 journalists have been attacked with tear gas, more than 24 have been the prey of pepper spraying and 77 have been rubber-bulleted.  

Natalie Fenton while speaking on ‘Defending whose Democrary? Media Free and Media Power’ said in a Nordicom Review(NR), published on March 13 last, ‘it is necessary for media scholars to consider who has power and how power is used if they are to fully interrogate the relationship of media to democracy. By embracing the social dimensions of mediated life and the political consequences of our actions and those of others, we are encouraged to take account of those who hold power and those who seek to claim it, and to critique how each is accountable to the other.’ And while speaking on ‘Radical Media Ethics: Responding to a Revolution’, Stephen Ward claimed that ‘journalism should have an ethical impulse to advance social justice and promote human flourishing and democratic structures worldwide.’ It appears from this NR that journalists throughout the world are being vocal and loud enough to defend their right to freedom of expression. Truth-seeking-journalists are falling under attack throughout the world. Under this context NR has written that right to freedom of expression of the journalists should immediately be guaranteed and even their safety should also be ascertained. Both the Government and the Judiciary should stand by the working journalists by unison. But the problem stays. The state cannot but stand steadily by its vested interest! The Judiciary gradually stoops to the state of autocracy and fascism! Who is to extend safeguard and to whom? In our country, in the Indira Gandhi regime, numbers of journalists had been arrested. The renowned poet and journalist Saroj Dutta had been arrested in the night of August 4, 1971 and was shot dead in the next dawn by the state police and was declared missing! And still now, after five decade, he is missing in office records! And the disobedient journalists are now being arrested under infamous UAPA! Even an octogenarian poet and journalist Varavara Rao is now imprisoned for two years under the infamous UAPA.

In India 200 journalists, during the period from 2014 to 2019, had been fallen under attack and they had been attacked owing to their free and investigative journalism! During these five years 40 journalists had so far been murdered! Of them, 21 had been ‘confirmed as related to their journalism.’  Even 30 journalists, as is reported, had been murdered between 2010 and 2014.  Of these 21 murders, as per a study, ‘the perpetrators of the killings and attacks included government agencies, security forces, political party members, religious sects, student groups, criminal gangs and local mafias’. The ratios of this clique of perpetrators are as follows:  business persons 2, police and politician 2, rightwing hindutvawadi forces 1, state security force 1, village officials 1, Maoists and splinter groups 2, political party supporter 1. Besides, due to expose of illegal activities of mafias relating to mining, sand and liquor, sand mining, kerosene trade murders of investigative journalists were 2, 1, 2, and 1 respectively. 1 journalist had been murdered by stone crushing and 4 cases had been reported as investigative process. Surprisingly enough no accused lodging attack on journalists since 2014 have been punished! Investigation is on and onwards! So far it has been reported that 19 female journalists had become the helpless prey of such heinous attack. Moreover, 14 journalists, between December 11 and 21, 2019, had to face attacks and threats. And most of them were Muslims!

Gouri Lankesh, the renowned journalist, was murdered in Bangalore on September 5, 2017. Shujaat Bukhari, journalist and editor, Rising Kashmir of Srinagar was murdered on June 14, 2018. Shivani Bhatnagar, a journalist of The Indian Express, was murdered on January 23, 2019. 800 journalists had been murdered throughout the world since 1992 and 49 had been murdered in 2019 only. The junior most of them was 16 years old!

What do these data mean for? Yellow journalism or now the popular term or the pet name paid journalism is able enough to have safety of life and property. Augustus Hickey and kangal Harinath Majumdar was staunch enemy to yellow journalism, for which they had to pay much even though they didn’t surrender and departed from their ideology. Many a journalist, in the early twentieth century, pledged to follow the path of Hickey and Kangal Harinath Majumdar and later they surrendered to the establishment, corporate and the ruling class for their safety and personal amelioration. Now the fascist Government of our country imposes strict control over the media. Paid journalism serves the vested interests of capital, corporate and the state power above all. And those standing to the opposite poles are becoming the helpless prey of the rest three pillars and others including the state itself! The corporate power buys the working strength of the working journalists resulting the yellow journalism develop like venom plants everywhere. The Government itself stands for the corporate power and pays deaf ears to the justice raised by the truth-seeking and investigative journalists warring against corruption throughout the country!

And those naturally at the war field to war against corruption, injustice, inhumanity, lynching, rape, communal flare and overall the fascist cult and fighting for democracy are facing tough and sharp time, throughout the world, they ever witness.

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Aug 13, 2020

Asok Chattopadhyay

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