Indian journalism: The glory and the shame

The journalism of Kerala has plummeted beyond all levels of integrity


It was clarion call to the fourth estate of India against losing its credibility it has been maintaining right down from the days of the nation’s freedom movement. Journalism should not confine to “just take photos and publish”, and should caution against the lack of credibility, a wrong practice which has of late been creeping into the newspapers. Manohar Parrikar, the Chief Minister of Goa, was in fact reminding the nation’s press on the need of it becoming leonine to call the spade a spade. The mediaperson should be a warrior who should not be pressurized and intimidated and his war totally impersonal and untouched with any malice. Fight without hate is the hallmark of any journalism. Parrikar’s statement on the occasion of the death anniversary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak whose journalese had unchained the tigers of patriotic sentiments, sending tremors to the foundations of the British administration, prove highly corrective.

After all, India has a proud tradition of journalism which in its pursuit of truth and fact-finding was unmindful of threats and challenges, however much massive their dimensions were.
Tilak was its leading exponent and his press Kesari, the lion as its name implied, remained leonine throughout its career. Its exhortations to the Indians to be bold even amid problems threatening life were an epic. The 1896 calamity of famine and epidemic spread its large cloud over the Maharashtrians. But Tilak’s oak-like stature and his call to become fearless even at the face of death helped the Marathis cross all the adverse currents. It was fear with no panacea which had been the bane of India. Hence his Kesari’s call: “Can you not be bold even in the face of death? We can stand any number of famines, but what shall we do with sheepish people?” Besides, Kesari, born at the time when Lord Lytton had passed his most notorious gag law, the Press Act, taught the people “to be fearless to fight for their rights” and deemed itself duty-bound to work people’s awakening, “to teach them sincerity and the sense of unity”.
Tilak, the doyen of Indian journalism during India’s freedom movement and an arch enemy of British government in India whom the latter swore to do away from the theatre of freedom struggle, upheld sincerity and fearlessness as the van and rear of the press. Still bolder was his friend, Sri Aurobindo whose pugnacious style and journalistic barrage bristling with patriotic overtones put the British Indian administration many a time in the dock. Aurobindo’s writings in Indu Prakash, Bande Mataram and Karma Yogin, expressive of nationalist’s intolerance of foreign dominance, and idealism and a wise man’s deep and abiding wisdom were uncompromising hammer blows to the then Indian National Congress which he disparaged a “blind led by the blind” into the ditch, and the British imperialism in India. They were of much sensation no nationalist writing made ever before. His writings in Indu Prakash headlined ‘New Lamps for Old’ intended to offer new light to replace the old and faint reformist light of the Indian National Congress, were of monumental importance in the annals of Indian press. His diction tempered with passionate love of mother land did not leave even the British queen from scathing criticism, however much adored she was. He was equally critical of the hypocrisy and meanness of both the British rulers and the Indian leaders. To him the English people were very ordinary men, the type of middle class or philistine with their narrow hearts and commercial habit of mind to whom Congress’ prayer to be lenient and generous or “to quarrel with them for not transgressing the law of their own nature” appeared a folly. He criticised the barefaced hypocrisy of Congress’ enthusiasm for the Queen Empress who, Aurobindo wrote, was only “an old lady so called by way of courtesy, but about whom few Indians can really know”.
Such a tirade, that too against the very British crown, would amount to nothing less than crime invoking the highest punishment. But this young patriotic writer was unconcerned of it, be it expulsion, imprisonment or capital punishment. Indian journalism had thus fared the superhighways of integrity and pugnacity and it continued to be so throughout the preceding times.
Even in British times, the administration in India pinned its ears to what the fourth estate voiced and brought in changes accordingly at least to safeguard the British Empire in India. But as time passed and the political standard began plummet with Indian politics, as the Tamil press Ananda Vikatan once cartooned, having become the asylum of dacoits and pickpockets, the press began to be intimidated with its persons at times arrested just for telling facts as such. True, it is quiet natural, the ugly collusion of swindlers, looters and agents of murder politics, many of whom are presently in jails which await many more of the kind, would array up against scooping the grains of truth. But it is unnatural that those commissioned to expose the truth before the public timorously kowtowing before the demonic force that lacks even in civility.
What Parrikar told the Press had its right reverse in Kerala where of late its Chief Minister in his muscle power ordered the press reporters an arrogant ‘get out’ which was obediently responded with a canine bow out by those who thus far styled as with claws and teeth. Where have gone the canines and claws they used to attack the progressive forces of India which according to them are fanatical and anti-secular? Where have gone their hundred meter long tongues and the incessantly flowing quill engaged in fighting nationalist forces and Modi baiting? Were they on pilgrimage to Kashi? Shame that the journalism of the much eulogized God’s own Country plummeted beyond all levels of integrity. These scribes, as they describe themselves, had better leave their present job and take to other ones suited to their kowtowing psyche than making a leonine profession kowtow.