On November 16, the media in the country marked the National Press Day. Events were held at some places to mark this day. There was exchange of messages over social media related to the event. A number of messages from various places laid stress upon the freedom of the press, and the need to uphold it.
I am all for freedom of the press. The media is the fourth pillar of our cherished democracy. With the power and reach of social media, this role has deepened and widened more than ever.
Your Freedom To Punch Ends Where My Nose Begins
Many journalists in Kashmir also shared posts related to National Press Day. They also sent messages speaking about freedom of the press. On reading the messages of some of them, I was reminded of the old American saying. “Your freedom to punch ends where my nose begins.”
In the 19th century, this statement was a reminder of the limits that necessarily exist for all freedoms. A judge in an American court put it this way: You can swing your arms, but you are not free to punch someone else’s nose.
This statement is extremely relevant for the media anywhere. It must be especially understood and followed in Kashmir, which has greatly suffered for more than 30 years. Yes, we want freedom of the press in Kashmir. We stand up for liberty of the media.
My Liberty Must Not Injure Anyone
At the same time, let us equally appreciate an old truism. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else. For decades now, many of our journalists in Kashmir have sold the single story locally, nationally and internationally. Their story always speaks about the so-called oppression by the Indian state.
This narrative was easy for them to sell because it was the separatist narrative. The separatists were on the payroll of Pakistan. They had created the space for this narrative to flourish. But the question is – why were our journalists supporting this narrative?
They were supporting it because they forgot the basic premise: Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else. The liberty being practiced by many of our journalists has injured thousands of radicalized youth of Kashmir. Our journalists romanticized militancy. Sons of poor men were swayed by this sugary talk about militancy.
Over the last 30 years, thousands and thousands of parents were left crying and alone in old age because their sons got impacted by the radical writings in the media and other sources, and decided to pick up the gun against the state.
Is this the liberty that we stand up for? Is this the freedom of the press that we want to practice?
The Vitiated Media Scene Of Kashmir
Over the last two years, there has been non-stop criticism of the government for initiating action against those journalists who have been indulging in incendiary and inflammatory writings. Many sections of the national and international media have been scathing in their attack on the government for the so-called restrictions on the freedom of the press.
Those journalists who call the action of the government wrong either do not know, or they do not want to admit how vitiated the media scene in Kashmir was. They do not want to admit that the media reports churned out by many journalists did not adhere to the standards of truth that honest journalism must uphold. Those media reports were churned out to serve one or the other agenda.
Many titans of the media believe that a journalist should not have a political bias. Or at least – his journalism must not get affected by his political bias. Stalwarts of the media world have also achieved this consistently in their works. Whatever their political bias, it is not reflected in their media reports.
Why Govt Initiated Action Against Some Journalists
But journalists in Kashmir went far beyond the political bias. They became significant underpins of the terror network in Kashmir. They started playing an active role in aiding and abetting terrorism.
In the last few years, the government has tightened the noose around these so-called journalists. Cases under different sections have been registered against them for their role in supporting terrorism. Many others have got away scot free.
The damage that has been done in the past cannot be undone. But we can and must be responsible for our present and our future. When we talk of freedom of the press, we must remember that freedom is to be exercised in a responsible manner. Rights exist only where they are balanced by duties. If duties are not fulfilled, we also stand to lose our rights.
Hence for journalists in Kashmir, the real contribution to National Press Day will be to uphold responsible journalism that shall uphold and strengthen national unity and harmony. This shall be the true way to mark National Press Day every year. Media freedom and responsibility is a continuing promise. We have to keep this promise every day.