From the press censorship during the Emergency to Rajiv Gandhi’s proposal for an anti-defamation legislation to Rahul Gandhi’s aide, Meenakshi Natarajan’s private member’s bill for regulating the media to Union minister Manish Tewari’s suggestion for holding examinations for journalists before they join the profession, the Congress’s eagerness for strangling media freedom is obvious. Not surprisingly, its appointee to the Press Council, Markandey Katju, also holds similar views, given his prescription for laying down minimum qualifications for scribes.
Since a free press, like a free judiciary, is one of the hallmarks of a free society, Congress’s desire to extinguish this flickering flame can be likened to a death wish, for one of the reasons why it suffered a resounding defeat in 1977 after the Emergency was that the press censorship of the time prevented its leaders from realising the intensity of popular feeling against the party. If Rajiv Gandhi’s abortive initiative was intended to prevent publication of news and commentaries on the Bofors scandal, the reason for Tewari’s (and Katju’s) preference for “educated” newsmen is odd, not least because of the presence in Tewari’s own profession of people with not only limited education but even with a criminal background.
Nor is it clear from where the information and broadcasting minister has picked up the idea of journalists having to pass a test to secure a licence. Since it cannot be from any democratic country, it may have sprung from a hankering for the licence-permit raj or from a perusal of the websites of the (dis)information ministries of authoritarian countries. Whatever it is, he is preparing to shoot the party, and himself, in the foot, for only the very naïve can expect such a ridiculous proposal to pass unchallenged. The seemingly uninformed minister should realise that it has been a venerable convention in India to leave the media alone (except 1975-1977) and to enable it to overcome its deficiencies through self-regulation.