Shoot me, the messenger
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Why is Indian media suddenly nervous of its own power? Why is it promoting the idea of its 'regulation'?
The late Edward S. Behr (Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English? besides much else), a delightfully versatile journalist-writer, used to tell us, fellow travellers in conflict zones, a story from his days as a captain in the Indian Army's Garhwal regiment. Apparently, a jawan of his battalion fired and killed two men leading a peaceful anti-Partition procession in Peshawar in 1947. The jawan had fired apparently without provocation, and he had fired to kill, rather than shoot at the legs as the instructions in those angry days were.
At the court martial, the jawan's defence was very simple. These two guys were leading the procession. The moment they saw us, they unbuttoned their shirts, turned their bare chests at us, and started shouting, chhaati mein goli maaro (shoot me in the chest), chhaati mein goli maaro. So, the earnest Garhwali shot them in the chest.
We do not know what view the court martial took of this defence. But we do know for sure that the two protesters with bared chests died on the spot. Why, then, are we in the Indian media now walking around like those two unfortunate Pathans? For several months now, we are ourselves holding discussions, debates, seminars, even inviting politicians, high officials, eminent regulators and the sort, to discuss the idea of media regulation. At all these, we acknowledge that we have a problem. We also, naam ke vaaste, keep on repeating that a state-mandated or -controlled regulator is not what we want. Yet, we call politicians and retired judges to seek their views. They hold forth on how much they respect and value the freedom of the press, but how they also share "our" view that the time has come for some kind of regulation, some institutional mechanism to ensure "accountability". Of course, at a time when everybody, from politicians to the judiciary, is being confronted with new instruments of accountability, how can the media, now so powerful, be left out? And the permanent footnote: but, of course, we (the political-bureaucratic class) should do nothing about it. Irrespective of who is speaking, the Congress or the BJP, this is always spoken with that Gotcha! smirk.
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