Authors: Saumya Singh and Rajesh Ranjan*
The central tenets of liberal democracy which forms the cornerstone of its provenance, subsist in the Separation of Power among the three organs of the State viz Legislature, Judiciary and, Executive. The democratic system is widely countenanced across the Globe, being predicated on the electorates, who have the authority to elect or defenestrate a political party from the office. The informed opinion, a denouement of Free Press, provides a helm to the electorates to poise democracy and, eschew its dilapidation or debilitation. Being a watchdog, the Press foreshadows the veracity of the functions performed in proportionate tothe functions as asserted by the Government to be performed, thus, holding them answerable and accountable. Thereby, Press is considered a fourth pillar as it typifies Democracy. It acts as an oscillating factor between the two extremes, scilicet the Government and the governed, and makes an endeavor to subdue the state of incommunicado.
Irrespective of the paramount importance of media, it is garroted by mutually contrived attempts in various democratic countries. The Freedom to express and the expressions to be understood are imperiled due to the stinted press; a road to dampened democracy. The Freedom to seek, impart, receive and disseminate information is ostensibly floundering as the autonomous media sector is relegated in some of the most influential democracies. The constant vilification or cracking down of the Press has undermined its paramountcy, autonomy and has rendered it obsequious. The independency of the Press is enthralled within the confines of Confirmation Bias and Filter bubble, puissant factors hidden somewhere within the human psyche. The critical voice of the people, a cherished possession of democracy, is forsaken by the elected leaders.
The Corona pandemic has necessitated the subsistence of free and robust media but the Government has withered it by imposing an aurora of restrictions. Mr. Antonio Guetress, the UN Secretary General, averred that Free Press curbs the pandemic of mis, mal and, disinformation by providing verified, scientific and fact-based news. Antithetical to the view undertaken by the erstwhile, Political leaders being opportunistic are employing the crisis to excoriate Journalism by punishing Journalists, which is a sobering reminder of the threat imposed on democratic liberties. This has been espoused by many leading democracies and autocratic states, as a way of combating permeation of information disorder in the digital milieu. Amid the already ailing and pre-existing vulnerableness, the desperate grapple of the Press Freedom is exacerbated by COVID-19 outbreak. The Country like India has stopped the regular press- briefing, which was meant to inform the Citizens regarding the intricacies of Corona. In the garb of this Humanitarian crisis the World leading democracies has gridlocked the Conduit of information, through direct and indirect means. The trump’s recent executive order to attenuate legal protections to those platform which censors speech for ideological reasons relevels that the leaders’ across the globe are in the quest of embedded journalism.
Flouting Press Freedom across the Globe
Journalism, across the Globe has fallen prey to the concerted acts of the authorities in cracking down on Press Freedom. Journalist are facing physical assault, threat, intimidation calls and are even being criminalized for disseminating any information which is not a friendly and biased propaganda. Journalism is being regulated through exerting financial pressure, co-opting, legislations criminalizing misinformation, fake news and rumor mongering, psychological abuse, sexual harassment and, criminal defamation. The Governments are using the laws at their convenience for harsh reprisal and stamping over Press liberties. Combating fake news can undermine critical journalism, which aids the electorates in the conformation of informed opinion. The report commissioned by UNESCO portends how free press will fall victim to the laws enunciated to curb the rampage spread of fake news. The goal of the authorities is to force media to take a subservient role in democracy by sub serving the Government.
In order to silence the critical media outlets, either the Journalists are being expelled, murdered, framed, assaulted, harassed, imprisoned and are even abducted or the media outlets are shut down and social media sites are blocked. In the specimen, framing charges against Maria Ressa, Uon Chinn and Siddharth Varadarajan, for tax evasion, espionage and reporting on a minister violating lockdown norms, respectively, blocking of Al Jazeera in Bangladesh, bombing the home of Shillong Times Editor, Patrician Mukhim, killing of GauriLankesh, Shujaat Bukhari, Eduardo Dizon, imprisonment of Kishore Chandra Wangkhem and, Li Zehua being missing et all.
In the world’s most populous democracy, India, every attempt has been made to stifle public narratives and to refrain access to information from deadening station’s uplink to blocking news channels. Incumbent Indian government has solicited news executive to publish only ‘positive, optimistic and inspiring stories’ to foreshadow Governments efforts and, has also knocked the doors of SC to direct the media sector to publish only official records. The extent of deterioration of press freedom can be mapped by the murder of a crusading and intrepid Journalist, Gauri Lankesh, in 2017. Modi Government bristles at the accusations of corruption, economic recession, and human rights violations, exacerbation of hate or bias crimes and accretion in white collar crimes. The political acumen of Modi has led to hero-worship by curtailing critical journalism and espousing friendly outlets. The parable of anti- national element to every dissent is a threat to the democracy. The commitment of current Indian regime to encourage a free and robust media sector and, stamping out Press Freedom by hindering it to inform the public, is oxymoronic. The government endeavors to improve the social cohesion by blemishing it, viz transforming a religiously diverse nation into Hindutva propounders. The mainstream media in India has become a voice of the mandatory and choose to form the narrative which suits the state and incumbent party.
The aristocratic countries, Russia and Hungary, are nailing more power by exploiting access to information in the veneer of battling the unprecedented pandemic. In Russia, if a person or media outlets disseminates fake information about corona virus, can be fined up to €23,000 and imprisonment up to 5 years, in the erstwhile, and a fine of €117,000 in the latter case. Serbia has centralized all the information related to COVID-19 crisis. Other European nations with exiguous media freedom, Romania and Bulgaria, are introducing emergency decrees by enacting and amending laws to control public narratives, to report or shut down the websites spreading fake news sans the right to appeal, to ban publishing or broadcast of any personal opinion, to extend the time limit to answer Freedom of Information requests and, to penalize the spread of fake news.
The modus operandi of the elected leaders in recourse with the fundamental right of access to information has opened a Pandora box. Democracy is built on the Citizen’s access to information and the use of the information to make democracy participative in nature. The virus has sparked the debate on not only on the future of globalization but also on the democracy, rights of the people, nature of the state and the most significantly the morrow of the nature of relationship between the State and its citizens. The tamed Citizen, the surveilling state, and deprived masses are redefining the global democracy and posing the question of its existence. The changing face of information and increasing information warfare, and the elected authoritarian leaders will decide the integrity and resilient nature of Constitutional democracies.
*Rajesh Ranjanis2nd year law student at NLU Jodhpur and Founding editor at Socio -legal -literary.