National Press Day – A closed, yet relevant chapter: MUFP

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

National Press Day is observed in commemoration of India’s commitment to freedom of Press.

With independence on August 15, had come to India a new phase of supremacy of commerce and industry that had organized the annihilation of Mahatma Gandhi, because, had he remained alive, his village Swaraj program and stress on cottage industry could have stymied the spread of their economic empires.

Lest the working class gets proper representation in the Constituent Assembly, the Communist Party of India was banned. Resultantly, such a Constitution was created that Dr. Ambedkar had to admit that on adoption of the same, India shall become a country of contradictions, where political equality, given under one-adult-one-vote basis, shall continue to be rendered inconsequential because of economic inequality.

If the first Parliament comprising elected representatives of the people do not do away with the mischief of fundamental right on property, the victims of economic inequality will destroy the painstakingly created democracy, he had warned.

Thus the very emergence of Republic with denial of freedom from poverty to the toiling masses had given birth to a climate of aggressive activism of the rich to keep the working class suppressed and intimidated.

Press, which is the sentinel of the people, was being threatened with loss of its freedom in this new phase of India.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, a votary of press freedom, was worried. He had, therefore, constituted the First Press Commission in 1954 to advise the government on how to preserve the freedom and dignity of Press.

This Commission had recommended for creation of an empowered organization to function permanently as official watchdog of freedom of Press.

The recommendation was gathering dust till Mrs. Indira Gandhi took over as Prime Minister. She was having the best of relationship with the Communist Party of India and had taken many epoch making progressive steps in collaboration with the Communists.

The Communist Party of India was behind the Indian Federation of Working Journalists and dedicated to keep the Press free from anti-people elements. Under their tactful persuasions, Mrs. Gandhi got ready to constitute the Press Council of India for which the Parliament passed the bill on 4th July 1966 and the Council became functional on November 16, 1966. The nation is, therefore, observing November 16 as the National Press Day.

freedom-treeBut the spirit of freedom of press is lost to corporate supremacy as governments since Vajpayee days have subjugated India to capitalism and rich media has helped the capitalist convert Indian democracy to plutocracy. Whosoever amongst the journalists of the day stay adhered to the true spirit of journalism is being tortured by the State under charges of sedition, harassed by the managements through fabricated charges and/or conversions of regular employment to contracts, assaulted through goons hired by the mafia they dare to expose, to cite just a few quagmires the honest journalists are being pushed into.

We in Orissa, beyond the boundaries of trade unions, had created an organization called Media Unity for Freedom of Press (MUFP). The corporate influence penetrated into our midst has almost killed it. We were gathering under a tree in front of the State Information Center, which the capitalist State has changed into Jaydev Bhawan and were raising our protest against any threat to freedom of Press. We were calling the tree “Freedom Tree”. My son Saswat Pattanayak, formerly a Bhubaneswar based journalist, had composed a poem on this tree as he was marking it from New York, which I have attached to this post above, as a reminder of the romance of our struggle for freedom of Press.

On this Press Day, I am recalling my lost words on the occasion of the foundation of MUFP. The endeavor is lost. But the video of my speech, recorded from quite a distance by a fellow journalist, is available in the net , which I am embedding here to help our future generation to know how those, who struggle for freedom of press, struggle against all odds, notwithstanding the authorities and their pet media persons making a farce of the National Press Day.

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