India has no aspirations to be a liberal haven. We’re a place where you can get jailed for a cheeseburger and assaulted for wearing a skirt, nothing about us makes sense. You could suggest that the voice of reason we could turn to is the media, the blessedly unbiased, neutrality that is supposed to be the news. That of course, is not always the case, but unlike other places across the world, Indian press still has the freedom to make their opinions known, however baffling, for the most part. All over the world, there are countries where mainstream news is filtered out by layers and layers of bureaucracy and prejudice before it reaches the people. Journalists are curbed, threatened and even killed for expressing their views and voicing things that the higher-ups don’t want them to hear.
In a huge statement against this, on Wednesday, the Malayalam newspaper Mathrubhumi redacted their entire front page. They did so in a show of solace for journalists across the world on May 3rd, World Free Press Day. They supported this move with the hashtag #PressFreedom along with this explanation to their 1.5 million readers.
“Today is World Press Freedom Day. Mathrubhumi, that began nine decades ago continues to fight for freedom. Mathrubhumi was born as a means to fight the British rule in the country and when it published its first edition, it printed the following pledge: ‘A man needs to have freedom to carry out his responsibilities. Likewise, citizens of every country must have freedom to develop their own culture and contribute to the larger good of the society. Therefore, we will not only fight for the freedom of our own country, but also to attain the freedom for those countries, who have lost their freedom. ”
This tactic has been employed in the past by newspapers such as The Indian Express and The Statesman as a motion of dissidence during The Emergency but now speaks to a much more current affliction. While India enjoys media freedom, in the most recent Press Freedom Index, we rank 136 out of 180 countries having dropped three places since the previous survey with countries like China, Syria and North Korea bringing up the rear.
The fact that a newspaper like Mathrabhumi, which was on the forefront of the Independence struggle has felt the need to make a statement like this again in a time when media censorship is supposed to be behind us, speaks volumes. Not only about the sorry state of public awareness but also the lackadaisical attitude of those within the industry to take action against the epidemic of complacence sweeping the nation. Like Matrabhumi, in the spirit of our freedom, we can stand with those journalists who are being penalised for their dedication to the true spirit of free press.
Feature image courtesy The News Minute