“Internet Journalism is reshaping the freedom of press”

Orissamatters Representative-in-Chief Subhas Chandra Pattanayak speaks about media reforms in India, Orissa headlines and Price Rise, on Sambad Samikshya.
Video courtesy Subham Television, Dhenkanal.
Interview by advocate Diptish Prasad Pattanayak.
Date: March 31, 2008, 6-7pm

(Transcripts by the Bureau)

DPP- Allow me the pleasure to introduce Sri Subhas Chandra Pattanayak who has been actively involved with journalism for over four decades now, contributing immensely to the growth of media in Orissa. He has written extensively on burning issues of Orissa. And it’s heartening to note that he has transcended the barriers of print media and has been lending support to electronic journalism for over six years now. And it’s also matter of joy for us to invite him as the pioneer in the field of web journalism for being the first and the only such journalist to have been accredited by the government.

Subhas babu, you have been a journalist for over forty years now. Do you think the place of media in nurturing Indian democracy is still gaining importance at this stage?

SCP: If that were not the case, one could not envision a cable network right here in a small city like Dhenkanal. People are growing more conscious about their rights by the days, and this is so, mainly due to media’s proactive role in information dissemination. Media have been instrumental in not only educating people about their political consciousness, but also in enacting an “Applied Democracy” in the process.

I feel we are witnessing a glaring plutocracy in India, but at the same time, it is also true that the masses are equally getting equipped to continue their struggles against the monopolists. As a result, owing to continued public pressure to gain access into the power structure, today we have the Right to Information made available. Likewise, if the large-scale conscious opposition to the ruling parties are thriving today, both in the state and at the center, it is because people have been expressing the countercurrents through the media. In a way, the enrichment of democracy in India has been depending on the responsibilities of journalists.

DPP: In that case, how does a journalist carry out his/her responsibilities? What are the roles of journalists in the most ideal situation?

SCP: Of course, the most ideal role of a journalist is to present the news for, and on behalf of the ordinary masses. This is the most fundamental role of a journalist. What is ideal is for the journalists to educate the masses about their political rights to overcome systematic obstacles imposed by the ruling classes. Sadly, the newspapers are refraining from their primary roles these days, which is to render political education to the people.

If we look at the history of our media, we shall see in context how journalism was deeply committed to the freedom movement. It was this commitment to freedom movement against the colonialists that also in process, granted the rightful freedom to the press in return. However, as time passed by, the elite classes of our society — as though the new colonialists — have started snatching away the freedom from the journalists. As an instance, the owners of the newspapers — the core management– have started claiming themselves as the editors.

In the past, this was not the case. What used to happen then was, only a professional journalist could be the editor of a publication. This used to facilitate the process of transparency since the bureau or desk staffs were carrying out tasks based on instructions from their senior colleagues in the field of journalism.

Since the time Birla Group took over the editorial team under the wings of its corporate management, journalists have been working for the media, no doubt, but at the same time, they are also serving the interests of the management. This has created a great dilemma for our press, since this corporate takeover of journalism has become almost a norm throughout the country.

And to counter this trend and fight the corporate monopolies, most conscientious journalists have now turned to Internet Journalism. This is so because Internet Journalism is the only such field which enables journalists to present their news and views to the entire world without necessarily remaining obliged to one specific corporate concern. In this way, Internet Journalism is reshaping the freedom of press in a novel manner. In this zone of immense possibilities, grassroots journalism is growing in its presence. The flow of news is no more vertical. In fact, many mainstream publications are also using the grassroots media as their primary resources.

The dialectic of media as it stands today involves these two parallel and powerful processes. On the one hand, there is an attempt on part of the corporate media to suppress information that may empower the people. Certain information can be so powerful that the masses may use it to their advantage which certainly can topple the plutocratic nature of our republic. So the mainstream media are very meticulously trivializing the profession of journalism so as not to enable it as an emancipatory tool for the citizens.

On the other hand, what is also true, and more relevant to me, is the fact that most journalists are working to overcome such limitations and wage their battle against the management, albeit in a passive form. As a result, we still see human interest stories appearing in the mainstream media from time to time. The struggle that journalists have with the management is not new. It is only becoming more apparent these days, since the realization is dawning more that a democratic society cannot be envisioned without free press, just as the press cannot be imagined without a free society.

DPP: Thank you, Subhas Babu, for enlightening us about the role of the press in our democracy. Amidst all the press freedom that we enjoy, we are also acutely aware how the media have been hijacked by the rich, business class, the capitalists. And hence many information remain within their control, leading us to believe there is even more need of freedom for the press.

Let’s now turn to an article in Times of India which Subhas Babu has brought to our attention today. It’s written by Nalini Hazare who says we need another revolution. This revolution is in sphere of agriculture. Going by the agrarian nature of Indian economy, we all know that the common masses will greatly benefit from agricultural reforms. And yet, as this article points out, the reforms in agriculture have been absolutely inadequate when we compare to how much of investments the country has made towards industrial progress. Hazare says that people have been bereft of the resources the country has allocated towards agriculture in its various plans, thus leading to mass-scale poverty.
Subhas babu has recommended this article for our discussion today. So let me now ask him what his views are:

SCP: Needless to state, there can be no progress of India without substantial progress made in the field of our agriculture. Even those who claim that India is making economic progress are well aware that in the name of progress, the national wealth is merely getting consolidated in the hands of the few upper class families. And the huge majority of Indians are growing poorer by the days. Such is the situation right here in Orissa that, our abled, skilled youths are leaving our state to work as bonded laborers abroad. Mothers are selling babies just to survive a day or two more. Poverty is such widespread that people are eating tree roots, and even in many cases, as news attest, consuming stones. Poverty is widening in its scale and nature even as wealth of our country continues to remain controlled by a handful of people.

The root cause of such economic disparity lies in the systematic apathy towards agricultural growth on part of the government. Ever since India has gained independence, we have rampant unemployment problems. Prior to that, no one was unemployed. We have observed during our childhood, everyone used to contribute to their household works. Every village was a self-sustained, economically independent unit. All these have crumbled. Its because, no matter if someone was a carpenter or potter, they were dependent on agriculture. Forest was there, rain was abundant. Cultivation was excellent. We were leaders in agriculture which is why India was called an agrarian society. Unfortunately, in the post-independence phase, we have only emphasized on industries and businesses, and various laws have been passed and implemented only to favor the industrialists. As a result, the most fertile lands for agriculture today lies barren.

What’s even ironical is that we are being deprived from perfecting our inborn talents. No modern scientific textbook ever taught us about seasons and crops. As children, as well as neighbors, we were naturally brought up to understand agriculture as part of our lives. Seeds, seasons, crops, irrigation, and cultivation were our second human nature. Our skills, dedication and experiences in the field of agriculture were part of our subconscious since time immemorial. People could sustain on their own utilizing this knowledge.

However as we started the process of industrialization, deforestation was going to be one outcome. Subsequently, we noticed there are infrequent and irregular rains, and seasonal disturbances that are naturally illogical. At this point, what we should have done was to shift back our attention to agriculture and at least ensure that agricultural lands are provided with sufficient water. Unfortunately, that did not happen. And today, its as though our Mother Earth is crying for water and we are unable to provide the same when she needs it the most. Not only Orissa, many states of India are affected by drought. This is so because of a simple reason: cultivation is impossible without sufficient provision for water. How did our planning boards overlook this fundamental aspect? My suspicion is that it was a deliberate omission on their part.

As Diptish babu would be knowing, being a prominent advocate, our Constituent Assembly during the time we were framing the constitution for India, comprised of people, only from the propertied class. There was not a single representation from the farmers and working class. Dr Ambedkar in his last speech to the Assembly, in desperation declared that when we shall have the elections for India, it will be an India of deep dilemmas. It is because, he said, we are merely granting political equality meaning each citizen is equal with the other simply because everyone has one vote to spare. But the reality is, we are only forcing them to economic inequality. As a matter of fact, Ambedkar said, the ruling Congress is itself funded by the capitalists and hence it’s only natural that the right to property has emerged as a fundamental right. It’s only necessary that the free India pass laws to abolish such property rights and actually implement ways to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, otherwise the freedom won through such relentless struggles will become meaningless.

While agreeing with Dr Ambedkar, at this stage of my life I am of the firm opinion that India is on her way to lose the independence that was so relentlessly fought for. Today, my country is once again colonized in the hands of the few, and every government that should be serving the mass, instead are serving the interests of this elite class.

So sad is the scenario that in Orissa, 70% of people are landless. Landless! Even a news item appeared this morning that said how anAdibasi student who has passed matriculation is unable to qualify for an interview in reserve category because he could not receive a caste certificate. He is unable to get a certificate because he has no land or house anywhere. There is nothing in his father’s name either. Without this, it’s becoming difficult to determine his caste. The tehsildar in his locality is trying to get him a two decimals worth of land to facilitate the process. Such students are seeing their dreams getting shattered throughout the state, only because of their landlessness. They are waiting for the day when they can raise their heads as citizens of free India. The time is nowhere to be seen.

The indigenous population in our country used to dwell in the forests and had never claimed the land to be their own property. They of course never had a land in their or their father’s names. Now that the corporate houses are encroaching upon the forest lands for their private business interests, and displacing the tribal people from their rightful lands, it’s becoming impossible for these landless people to claim their land, or their identity as free humans.

Such injustice is prevailing because we have no laws that govern property acquisitions. No law restricts how much land one can grab for private purposes. So the more one can grab, the more one can own. As a result many government officials, politicians (as World Bank has cautioned against) who know the loopholes in our system are facilitating the business class to encroach upon, or grabbing the lands on their own. Press has the capability to educate the masses on this, but, sadly, the avaricious fellows control this capability.

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