The Freedom Express

Search for ‘Voltaire’ on my blog. Go on. It will now show up in three posts. I really must stop quoting him. Well, not him exactly. The quote which actually comes from The Friends of Voltaire (1906), written by Evelyn Beatrice Hall under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre is so apt, how can I not use it when the concept of free press or freedom of expression comes up?

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

According to the Press Freedom Index 2009 list released by Reporters Without Borders, India ranks 105th out of 175 countries (Read this detailed report on the country).

In celebration of World Press Freedom Day, the project India Unheard was launched on May 3 2010, according to Times of India. This video gives us a brief introduction to the citizen journalists who have been trained in using technology like mobile phone video cameras to bring stories to the mainstream media.

Currently the website looks a bit bare, but if the correspondents keep at it, this concept does look promising. On one hand, a handful of people try to report on lesser known stories of the country. On the other, reporters get attacked by mobs because something they printed didn’t sit down too well among certain factions. A certain level of self-censorship does reek through the ranks of the press of the world’s largest democracy. This article in the Telegraph outlines the rife religious undercurrents in the country that can erupt at the slightest provocation or what seems to be one. A line from this article that hit me:

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for press freedom. But when you know the possible outcome, it’s best to be practical and avoid these situations.

Practicality vs Truth. Safety vs Physical harm. What would the rest of us do? What would I do? I refuse to be a hypocrite and say I’d print whatever I want without thinking of the ramifications – I would definitely think of the outcome and work accordingly. But if that’s the case – if journalists everywhere have some semblance of self-censorship, then how can ANY country claim to be truly free?

I may want to defend the right of people to speak freely; that doesn’t guarantee I’ll speak freely myself. Will World Press Freedom Day ever see the press completely free? Should it even be completely free? Playing devil’s advocate – if the media published anything that caught their fancy, then what’s to stop hate speeches or incitement-of-hatred articles to get out there?

But who decides what is okay to publish and what’s not?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or to put it in the words from a 2009 movie, “Who will watch the watchmen?”

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