Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
A couple of weeks ago, the Media Unity for Freedom of Press ( MUFP ) had condemned the criminal attack on several photo journalists by members of an organization that had imposed a blockade on National Highway No.5 in Bhubaneswar. The photo journalists were apparently targeted to ensure that the criminal elements in the mob were not captured in camera. The MUFP had called upon the Press to boycott the organization, which was later withdrawn after the said organization apologized.
But then a new issue arose.
A newspaper editor, named in the FIR filed by affected photo journalists, was arrested by the Police. MUFP was pressurized to stand with the editor; but on principle it refused, as to it, the case of injured photo journalists was more important than standing with an editor who led a political rally that went so berserk that photo journalists were deliberately attacked; some of their cameras snatched away / smashed.
The concerned editor has been insisting that the MUFP should have stood with him as he was framed up by the photo journalists under pressure from the Police that was used by the State Government to teach him a lesson, as, in his paper, he has been criticizing the ongoing misrule.
Onus lies on the concerned editor to show that the photo journalists, acting hand-in-glove with the Police, have implicated him in a false case. He has not done it so far. However, while admitting that there was violent frenzy amongst the mob that he had addressed as an invited speaker, he attributes motive to MUFP for having not stood with him.
It gives birth to a larger question. Should politicians donning attires of newspaper editors or newspaper editors active in politics be treated as journalists on duty even while leading political demonstrations or addressing political rallies?
This question needs deep cogitation.
Majority of newspapers in Orissa is owned by politicians who also are self-appointed editors thereof. All their activities cannot be journalistic in nature. If any of them is prosecuted against because of any specific editorial, article, discussion or report in his/her paper, that should give MUFP the reason to intervene; but non-journalistic activities must not.
MUFP has emerged as the forum of media persons beyond boundaries of trade unions and is, perhaps, the best evolution of collective media conscience. It is a new experimentation in the field of protection of Freedom of Press in a State like Orissa where administration has been derailed from welfare track under impact of corporate intoxication, with increasing numbers of the owners of media organizations having facilitated this derailment by adopting corporate culture more eagerly than staying adherent of ethics, the fourth estate in a welfare state is expected to stand for. In such a situation, the media persons whom journalism is mission of life would not take Freedom of Press as freedom of owners of Press. So, for any owner of Press entangled in any case, other than journalistic by crux, a collective body of journalistic conscience like the MUFP is not available.
On the other hand, it also is possible in a State like Orissa that any owner-cum-editor of a newspaper, notwithstanding not being in politics, may be framed up in false cases in reaction to exposure of misrule by the paper. In that case, alert journalists, as a class, must rally in support of the said editor, come what may.
This explains as to why MUFP had protested against illegal arrest of Suryaprabha publisher Bikas Swain in September 2010 when it maintained silence in case of the editor hinted to supra.
Between vox populi and vested-interest politicians, journalism is the only crosspiece that dedicated media persons must ride most cautiously and competently as they are to bring about the environment for emancipation from the labyrinth of anarchy underneath the system called democracy.