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Ashutosh Mishra

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States who also drafted the Declaration of Independence, once famously wrote: “[W]ere it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Modern politicians, who only pay lip service to the independence of media, will wince at his words. Things are pretty bad in Jefferson’s own country. President Donald Trump is no huge fan of the media and has let his displeasure with sections of the Press be known on several occasions.

Media bashing by politicians has become a global phenomenon. They would either have a friendly media or no media at all. There have also been suggestions for the creation of a pro-state media, a euphemism for state-controlled media. We already have instances of some countries which control media strictly and still claim to be democratic. It is the hypocrisy of the worst kind.

In our own country, the media scene is not very hunky-dory. There have been allegations of certain media houses being subjected to witch hunt. The message from the powers that be is clear—you either fall in line or preserve your independence at your own peril. Powerful politicians running the show at the Centre have been accused of using strong-arm tactics against newspapers and TV channels which refused to do their bidding.

This is gradually becoming a pattern much to the chagrin of democratic-minded people. But part of the blame for media being under siege today should also go the owners of media houses and journalists working under them. Most of them are overeager to please the powers that be and crawl the moment they are asked to bend.

There are undemocratic and unhealthy practices even within the media. Take for example the stringer cult of newspapers which is nothing short of exploitative. Stringers, who often work under trying circumstances, are paid a pittance and continue to be deprived of the basic facilities that full-time journalists on the pay-rolls of media organisations enjoy.

Charges of corruption are often levelled against stringers working in far off areas where collecting news is a challenge. Considering that they take huge risks and often end up spending from their own pocket these part-timers employed by newspapers and television channels cannot be faulted for occasionally bending rules. It is the responsibility of media houses to save them from embarrassing themselves and the wider fraternity of journalists by resorting to such unfair practices by paying them a respectable amount as remuneration. They should at least be suitably compensated for the expenses they incur on the stories assigned to them.

There is a school of thought that complete independence of media is an ideal that like Plato’s Republic exists only in imagination. It is only a theoretical proposition that cannot be translated into reality because of a number of limiting factors, the most important of them being revenue generation for which media houses have to turn to either the government or the corporates who have their own axes to grind. The question to ponder is can media survive these pressures and still maintain its independence?

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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