Justice Markandey Katju-
The brave, upright Indian journalist Ravish Kumar richly deserved the Ramon Magsaysay award, and his acceptance speech in Manila expressed the bitter truth about the Indian media ( which also applies to the Pakistani media ). Ravish rightly mentioned that the mainstream media has today largely become part of the state, and spouts the ideology of the state, spreading hatred and irrationalism among the people. Dissenters are branded as anti-national and shouted down by biased anchors (like the one I call Lord Bhow Bhow) on TV.
However, with great respect to Ravish, what he has missed out in his speech is the historical context.
Firstly, both India and Pakistan are poor countries. Our national aim must be to rapidly industrialize, for large scale modern industry alone can generate wealth for providing for the welfare of our people, and creating millions of jobs. We must become a highly industrialized country, like North America, Europe, China or Japan. To achieve this goal, a mighty historical united people’s struggle leading to a Revolution is required.
But every great revolution has to be preceded by a long ideological struggle, to change people’s mindsets. After all, in every Revolution millions of lives have to be sacrificed, and people will sacrifice their lives only when they know what they are fighting for. For instance, the French Revolution of 1789 was preceded by decades of ideological struggle by great thinkers like Voltaire, Rousseau and the French Encyclopedists (Diderot, Holbach, Helvetius, etc ).
It is here that the media becomes extremely important, for it has to not only inform facts to the people but also educate them (e.g. by combating feudal mentality and practices like casteism, communalism and superstitions).
No doubt, as Ravish pointed out, the mainstream media (newspapers, journals, and TV) will rarely do this, as it is largely in the hands of corporates and is sold out, with profit motive and pleasing the political rulers as its sole objective. But the social media (websites, Facebook, etc ) can do it, and hence it can play an important role in this connection.
Historically, the media arose in Western Europe (particularly in England and France) in the 18th century as an organ of the people against feudal oppression. At that time all the organs of power were in the hands of the feudal authorities (kings, aristocrats etc.). Hence the people had to create new organs to represent their interests, and the media was one of such powerful organs created by the people. The media represented the voice of the future, as contrasted to the feudal organs which wanted to preserve the status quo.
There were no electronic media at that time, and even the print media was rarely in the form of regular newspapers or journals but was mainly in the form of leaflets, pamphlets etc. which did not require much money to print and publish. These were used very effectively by Voltaire, Rousseau, Thomas Paine, Junius (whose real name we do not know even today) and others, who attacked the feudal system, religious bigotry and superstitions, and promoted rationalism, secularism, and modern values. This was of great help in transforming feudal Europe to modern Europe.
The people of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should, therefore, use social media for this purpose.
Secondly, both India and Pakistan are presently having a terrible economic crisis ( see my article ‘ Shekhar Gupta’s inanity ‘ published in indicanews.com ) and the state institutions have become hollow and empty shells ( see my article ‘ Why celebrate Republic Day when the Constitution has become a scarecrow ‘ published in theweek.in ). Most of our ‘intellectuals’ are superficial, pompous, pedants ( see my article ‘ The wailing, howling of India’s ‘liberals’ and ‘intellectuals ‘ in theweek.in ), who have little understanding of India’s realities.
Historical experience shows that whenever there is a serious economic crisis which makes the rulers feel their rule endangered, fascist tendencies arise, and freedom of speech and expression is often suppressed, as it happened in Italy in 1922 and in Germany in 1933, and seems to be happening in our subcontinent today. The same happened in America in the McCarthy years when there was a ‘ Red Scare ‘. So what Ravish has complained about is nothing new.
In this situation, though expressing and publicizing correct ideas has become more difficult, it is even more important, for showing the people the way out of their plight and taking the country forward. These can be voiced by patriotic intellectuals in social media. However, these must be genuine intellectuals and not the self-centered pseudos’ who are pompously strutting the fields of academia and the media today.
[Justice Markandey Katju is former Judge, Supreme Court of India and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own