Slipping on the slope
I&B minister cannot be unaware that his proposal of licences for journalists is meddlesome.
May we hope that Manish Tewari was speaking in well-disguised jest — that when he mooted the proposal that journalists procure a licence before pursuing their profession, he was not pulling the weight of his office as information and broadcasting minister to underline authoritarian intent? That by developing the thought at a seminar in New Delhi on Monday he was, in fact, seeking to highlight the ludicrousness inherent in the demand so widely afloat these days to externally regulate the media. That in a country where the media derive their freedoms in the freedom of speech enshrined in the Constitution, he was simply, and sarcastically, making a case for greater attention to firewalling the press from meddlesome government functionaries. Unfortunately, the minister gave no hint that he was doing anything of the sort.
There are enough closed societies where Tewari's suggestion would appear commonplace, where governments are unconcerned by the dilemmas and predicaments that can follow from the publishing of ostensibly objectionable material because they seek to manipulate the information that is put out in the first place, ensuring in the process that nobody may presume to speak truth to power. Is it his contention that India find its place among them? Even as Parliament makes a justified claim to keeping the internal concerns of political parties out of the purview of the right to information, given their greater import to a healthy democracy, the minister cannot be unaware of the undemocratic content in his suggestion. It would be pointless to allow him an evasion by accosting him with questions about the specifics, such as: In the age of mass communication, what are the activities that a journalist's licence would control? Blogging? Tweeting? A post on YouTube? A telephone text? And such as: why and how is it an urgent task before government to keep a check on journalism schools? (Disclosure: The Indian Express conducts a foundation course in journalism.)