Saturday, January 31, 2009

Should we put constraints on media for national security?

Hi all,

Been very busy with usual stuff that i have not been able to blog at all. Couple of times it was so bad that i abandoned posts midway.... so here i thought i'll put up something for the sake of continuity, and of course for you to ruminate... this is my speech for the PG Cult'09 elocution competition.

Our Preamble states that India is a sovereign, socialist, democratic, republic and as citizens of a free country we are endowed with certain fundamental rights. The most prominent among them is the right to free speech and therein resides the premise of an independent and strengthened media in the country. Of course, it would be inessential to exemplify the virtues of free and fair media in democracy, a debate long settled by Edmund Burke, when he said looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, 'Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.’

However, in this cacophony of freedom and fairness, a growing section of the populace has started whispering another word too. That word is: Accountability. The world of media and information has changed dynamically from the good old days of Doordarshan and Akashvani. Predictably, the internet is at the forefront of this revolution but there has been enormous development and repackaging of existing channels, with news channels mushrooming overnight and tabloids raking in readership numbers unheard of. The media has undergone an era of crass commercialization and the emergence of 24x7 journalism has guaranteed that anything and everything under the sun is breaking news in India.

The recent Mumbai attacks revealed this dirty underbelly of Indian media, with each TV channel, tabloid and news forum competing with each other to bring the latest piece of action, much in the same vein of reporting the live scorecard of an India-Australia cricket match. Of course, it didn’t occur to them that revealing key operational details of the mission, committing diplomatic farces like commenting on the nationality of attackers 2 hours into the attack, would compromise the diplomatic and military actions taking place on the ground. If you have the guts to pompously announce that the attackers are watching your channel to get ground level information then where are your sensibilities in regulating what you reveal on the show? When it comes to national security, free and fair reporting is a flimsy garb for sensationalism and irresponsibility.

Unfortunately, it seems that the media has entered into a vicious cycle of generating news and creating hype, for sustenance and only external hands can rein them in. If we can have regulators for content on movies then shouldn’t we ensure that the way the sensitive information is presented to the world also be guarded closely and monitored. Lest of course, ladies and gentleman, the next time you want the attackers to have a free and fair chance at fighting back, the media should indeed be constrained when reporting about issues of national security.

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