This is a work of fiction. Although it may appear closer to reality than fiction.
According to a report in Bar & Bench and other publications, when Justice K.M. Joseph observed during a hearing in the Supreme Court on the Bilkis Bano case that India ranked 161st in the World Press Freedom Index, solicitor-general Tushar Mehta feistily joined the issue with the judge. Never the man to back down, Mehta remarked that rankings depend on who is giving it. “It depends upon the person. I can have my own form and give India the first place.”
Now, it transpires that after this testy exchange, the apex court received in sealed cover a report on the state of the Indian Media. Given the very nature of the document, no source on Tilak Marg can confirm the existence of the report. However, we are given to understand that the document below is a work in progress and should only be read as such.
HIGH-POWERED MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE, DRAFT REPORT:
WHEREAS this government is fully and completely committed to the values and principles of a free press, as provided for, and protected in the Constitution of India;
And, WHEREAS we believe that a free press is a vital part of the superstructure of democracy and constitutes a critical element in the doctrine of the ‘basic structure of the Constitution” as defined by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the S.R. Bommai vs Union of India judgment;
And, WHEREAS we believe that like all other believers in constitutional values and republican virtues—like the legislature, the judiciary, political parties and civil society – the media too should have a robust and vibrant role in re-building India into a strong and prosperous nation,
And TAKING NOTE of various reports, national and international, suggesting the shrinking of space for a free media in this age of Amrit Kaal, it was decided to take stock of the matter at the highest level of government.
It was decided by the competent authority that a ministerial committee be appointed consisting of:
Shri Amit Shah, hon’ble Union home minister
Shri Anurag Thakur, hon’ble minister for information and broadcasting, and
Shrimati Smriti Irani, hon’ble minister for Women and Child Development and Minority Affairs.
By way of broad-basing the committee, the ‘IT Cell’ was requested to second a senior functionary to serve as secretary to this committee.
The Committee’s tentative report (with score on each count) reads:
1) In our deliberations, and investigations and judgments, we were guided by the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s most noble and most innovative exhortations to the nation to become ‘aatmanirbhar’ in every single sphere of national endeavour;
2) Rather than being guided by western models and definitions of a “free press” (which, it should incidentally be noted, has reduced America to be the most divided and polarised nation in the democratic world), we insisted on listening to the members of the media fraternity itself (except, of course, to those sections which remain indifferent to the cause of the Glory of the Hindu Rastra and who mock the Thought of our Great Leader).
3) According to most editors and anchors, the Indian media enjoys maximum and unfettered freedom to praise, extol or project the national leadership. There is complete freedom to do so in whatever form works for a particular media outfit. There is no prescribed format for hailing the Leader. The only expectation is that a respectful tone be always maintained towards Him. (score: 9/10)
4) Most officials associated with telling the governmental story are of the view that the India media has complete liberty to become a positive and purposeful partner in ushering in Amrit Kaal. Many officials expressed the view that most journalists felt a sense of great personal joy and professional satisfaction in bridging the gap between our National Saviour and the masses. In doing so, the journalist fraternity appreciates the role of responsibility and criticality assigned to it by our government to rationalise and explain our policies and actions to the readers and viewers. (score: 9/10)
5) Most anchors and editors noted, off the record, that their readers and viewers appreciate “positive” and morale-lifting stories about the government and its top leadership. Negativity, as the Hon’ble Prime Minister had recently pointed out, tends to become a hindrance in the nation’s onward march towards vikas, or developed status. (score: 8/10)
6) Most anchors and editors acknowledged that they were at complete liberty to criticise, berate, and degrade the Opposition and its leaders. Again, off the record, these professional men and women were grateful for all the leaks and inside information that our officials and party colleagues could provide them against the opposition figures, particularly against the Gandhi family. There is perfect understanding and coordination between the two pillars of democracy. Nowhere else in the world does the media receive so much professional help and assistance as in India since 2014. (score: 10/10)
7) Some veteran editors were of the view that rather feel any kind of embarrassment, the much-derided godi media professionals should stand up and say with garv, or pride, that they are grateful for being given a small part in India’s historic tryst with destiny. (score 7/10)
By way of a conclusion:
Our tentative conclusion is that the India Media is alive and kicking; both on an organizational and an individual level, the journalistic fraternity has rarely known this kind of economic prosperity; there seems to be enormous satisfaction with the government and its senior functionaries.
In the context of critical western reports, our view is that as a prosperous, powerful, potent, assertive nation under a world-leading helmsman, we must learn to simply ignore these outside voices and concentrate on deepening the current, two-way approach of cooperation and cooption between the government and the national media.
These conclusions can be shared with the honorable Supreme Court, if required.
Atmanirbhar is the pen-name of an aspiring satirist, who irregularly contributes a column, From the Vishwavguru Archives, and believes that ridicule and humour are central to freedom to speech and expression.