Coming to terms with freedom

The news media is challenged on the 75th anniversary of independence

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Coming to terms with freedom
At a time when the economy is recovering and India is celebrating the 75th anniversary of Independence, we must reestablish our democratic ideals and the rule of law, eschewing all forms of violence. Photo: iStockphoto

The society, culture, publishers, citizens, and their state and judiciary are still, on the 75th anniversary of independence, to come to terms with our republican constitution. No amount of flag-waving should distract us from the central fact of state-sanctioned violence and the principles of justice and freedom of expression for all citizens. And freedom from every kind of violence.

Although we have a constitution and a legal system, the spirit and letter of the law cannot be taken for granted. As we can see from the recent reversal or lapsing of Roe v Wade in the United States, the courts can reverse modern democratic and human and women’s rights orders when they are themselves in collusion with anti-democratic forces. And we cannot say, as some Indian political leaders said in the past in answer to criticism, that “this is a worldwide phenomenon.” All democracies are in the process of becoming more perfect, and what drives them forward in their quest is to expand and establish these rights in the courts. Unfortunately, at this time, our courts are themselves lamenting that they are not being heard.

The problem is more serious for the news media as many of its journalists languish in jail, and others are threatened into silence and self-censorship. On the one hand, the legacy news media needs to establish its credibility among readers, who rightly suspect it of being sold out to the government and advertisers. On the other hand, legacy media is under threat from big tech such as Facebook and Google, which is stealing its readers and revenues. The legacy media’s silence on many instances of cast and minority violence is not improving its credibility and is merely handing over the conversations to digital and social media. 

In the instance of the release of the convicted rapists and murderers in the Bilkis Bano case, the television media has been relatively more forthright. The release of the convicts has brought mostly initial coverage of the release followed by a stupefied silence from the legacy print media about its justice, morality, or the protests that are daily taking place. A notable exception is Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s editorial page column in The Indian Express on 19 August 2022, ‘Is this how justice ends?’ (Subsequently, on 21 August some columnists such as Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyer and Tavleen Singh have spoken out in their regular Sunday columns in the Times of India and The Indian Express, respectively.)

Mehta’s opening paragraph reads, “Let us make no mistake about it. The approval by the Gujarat government panel for the remission of sentences of 11 men convicted of raping Bilkis Bano, the murder of a three-year-old child, and participating in the murder of 13 others is not just a travesty of justice. It is also a dangerous political dog whistle. The government may yet reconsider its order. The Supreme Court may, if approached, overturn it although it gave permission for the remission application to be considered. But the damage has already been done. “Is this how justice ends?” Bilkis Bano’s poignant question pierces through the carefully constructed facades of the Indian republic. The haunting force of this question has no answer. The fact that the force of this question is not even being felt widely is a testimony to a moral numbing of the republic and its blatant communalisation.”

At a time when the economy is recovering, and we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of our independence, we must reestablish our democratic ideals and the rule of law, eschewing all forms of violence. Our newspapers were crusaders for freedom and justice – this must remain their keystone in the agenda of nation-building. 

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

It is the right time to support our high-impact reporting and authoritative and technical information with some of the best correspondents in the industry. Readers can power Indian Printer and Publisher’s balanced industry journalism and help sustain us by subscribing.

– Naresh Khanna

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy.

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