Public should be aware of impact of restricting press freedom: M.D. Nalapat
“There is an effort by the successive governments in India to continue the colonial policy of putting lot of restrictions on the freedom of the citizens”
“If you want a better India, you need better journalism”
Madhav Das Nalapat is currently the Managing Editor, Sunday Guardian, India, and Professor of Geopolitics and UNESCO Peace Chair, Manipal University. In an interview given exclusively to Inquirer, he shares here his views on a variety of topics such as press freedom, commercialisation of news media, Justice Katju’s remarks on media, WikiLeaks, Hazare, and condition of journalism and social science education in the country.
Muhammed Sabith: How do you as an experienced journalist see the development of journalism in India?
M.D. Nalapat: I think journalism in India has got exceptionally bright future for the simple reason that good and strong journalism is very important for the future of India. There is an effort by the successive governments in India to continue the colonial policy of putting lot of restrictions on the freedom of the citizens of this country. Even today we have colonial system of law, we have colonial attitude of the administration, and the politicians and officials believe that they are the masters. Unless you have strong, good journalism, this kind of arrogant attitude will continue among politicians and officials. So if you want a better India, you need better journalism.
M.S.: talking about better journalism, sir, we see the media is being corporatized and has become a full fledge business industry. What seems to be a beginning of the Indian ‘Murdochism’, Reliance now largely buy the shares of various media groups. There already is a strong criticism that media is being used with commercial interests. How do you comment on it and how the Indian media could get rid of the commercialisation?
Nalapat: See, if you take talk of the media as one of the important pillars of the society, then it is very very clear that there have to be laws that ensure that those who run the media houses are basically dealing only with the media. For example, you have Washington Post, or The Hindu or the Times of India family in India. These are people who are running media houses and nothing else. I think your point is well taken. I think it is very important to ensure that media companies are controlled only by those who are in the media itself so that they cannot utilize this for other purposes.
“Transformation cannot take place because of the government, it has to take place inspite of the government.”
M.S.: I think it is impossible not to talk about the Press Council of India chairman Just. Katju when we talk about Indian mass media today. His recent remarks on the media have been very critical. He opined that the Indian media persons are of poor intellectual capabilities. How do you comment?
Nalapat: I don’t agree with Justice Katju at all. I think, you know, Justice Katju seems to be out of touch with the young India and definitely with the aspiring India. I go to villages and I see youngsters who have seen the computers for the first time and within two weeks they become experts in that. The reality is that the Indian people including journalist, if they are given the right opportunity, they will do extremely well. In India, unfortunately, journalists are not given that opportunity. For example, how many newspapers spend money on doing good stories? Very few. So given the constraints they have, I think our journalists are doing a very good job.
M.S.: I think it is too earlier to leave out WikiLeaks from our talks on independent journalism. How do you comment on the works it does, the controversy, and its impact on the freedom of expression?
Nalapat: No, I am really sorry that we are still a colonised country and we still are not a free country or not a really perfect democracy. If we were a perfect democracy, Julian Assange would be welcomed in India. We would have at least twenty Julian Assanges in India. Unfortunately, we don’t have even one. The reason is that, unfortunately, the overwhelming power of the government. That power is used by the politicians and officials to suppress dissents and independent voices. The state agencies are misused in order to blackmail and bully and, in some cases, bribe journalists and media houses which follow Particular point of view. I am for internet freedom. There may be some misuse of this freedom; there may be some license as result of this freedom. But it is much better to tolerate the misuse and licence than to block internet freedom and to block media freedom. In india, we really don’t have internet freedom and media freedom. I think WikiLeaks shows the amazing potential of a group that does operate in a very free atmosphere.
M.S.: do we really lack potential laws to protect journalists or whistle-blowers? Is it either because of the lack of effective laws or because of the absence of effective and proper utilization of the existing laws? do the journalists face problems while telling the truth?
Nalapat: I think it is not so much of the lack of the laws with there are too many laws as they are. But the fact is that the public do not realize how important their own welfare is with journalistic freedom and freedom of speech. The point of the matter is that the Indian public has to be conscientious. We saw during the Anna Hazare campaign in which hundreds of thousands of people were participated in that campaign on the fight against corruption. So, in terms of press and internet freedom, as yet, our people are not aware of the impact this can have on the future India and of how important internet freedom is to the development and research. India is a pigmy in terms of creative development and scientific achievement comparing to its potential. So we need to create a much freer system, for that there has to be public pressure. More than law, there has to be public pressure. I am not believer in new laws. For example, Anna Hazare is talking about Jan Lokpal. I don’t belive Jan Lokpal is a solution, I believe increased public awareness and pressure is the solution.
M.S.: Sir, coming to a new topic, journalism institutes is flourishing in the country. But, as Justice Katju’s remarks indirectly pointed out, our J-schools often fail to ensure that the students have basic understanding in the social sciences like economics and history which is very important in journalism. So how do you think our media or journalism education should be like?
Nalapat: well. I think it is what is very important as it has to be grounded in reality of the country which we belong to. One problem which we face in the academics across the boards is that most of the text books are derived from foreign countries including the social sciences and the text books are basically based on the examples of the society which is very different from ours. Take for example International Relations. Most of the International Relations courses are taught in the point of view of the United States, or, may be, of the United States and Europe. But nothing or very very little of the curricula is based on the specific needs of India. Therefore what is very important in journalism courses is to have many more text books that are local, and many more case studies that are local so the journalists have clear understanding of the ground reality. Unless a journalist understands what is taking place in the country that he is part of, he is not going to be a good journalist.
“What is very important in journalism courses is to have many more text books and case studies that are local so that the journalists have clear understanding of the ground reality”
M.S.: As a journalist and academic, how do you look at the future of the country?
Nalapat: I am very optimistic when I see our young people. And I am again very optimistic about the fact that these young people are not going to accept second or third class options in the way people of my generation had accepted. I think India within a one generation can be a very different, very advanced country. I have told you what I have seen, for example. People coming from village area into a town and within two, three years they change themselves completely. A man goes from, let us say, Patna where the situation is chaotic, to Singapore and within the matter of two or three weeks, he becomes a very good citizen. So that transformation is possible in India. And journalism has to be part of that transformation. Looking at the young people who are there in the communications today and who are very optimistic that this transformation can take place.
It cannot take place because of the government, it has to take place in spite of the government. And the mistake of the people of my generation had is that we did depend on the government for transformation, for hand outs, for reservation where as we should have to depend on ourselves and understand that the government and power structure would be obstacles.
So we need to empower ourselves through education, through knowledge, through confidence, and this process can only take place if we have a dynamic media.