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Free media is a need, not an option, and it needs our support

Within weeks, the #BackArmy brigade has put on the #BanNDTV hat. Their choice of which key civil society institutions to ban and which ones to back is bizarre.

When our political system crumbles under corruption and fraud, it is not an indicator that democracy must be abolished. All this means is, it must be fixed. When our judiciary delays and denies justice, it cries out for improvement, not abandonment. When religion seeks reform, it does not want removal. For all the bad names we call expensive doctors, how willing are we to see the whole medical industry struggle to stay alive?

As the media seems unable to keep its credibility intact, it does not ask for a gag either. The institution, like all others essential for the society, seeks healthy criticism. Institutions are no better than who they exist for: and they will work well only when the public upholds and backs them, and actively seeks reform.

Essential pillars of the society – the army, the media, the babus, the Lalus, the police, the doctors – work on the tacit acceptance that their existence is far more crucial to people than their quality. And, the fact that there exists something more important than their quality is solely because if the society were to accept and thoroughly understand how a particular pillar works, those of the inferior quality will not survive in the first place.

For once, we must prioritise the principle of why free media must exist, much above the biases of the media (read, paid media) and the biases in our own minds (read, “presstitute”). We must understand why the media exists and how it would serve us best.

In these times when one of our most fundamental institutions is continually under attack, the society needs to reassert the acceptance that the media’s freedom is paramount. By the way, a society must be shockingly foolish if that acceptance is no more tacit.

Sarcastic trolls who ask why NDTV was banned for a day instead of forever, betray their role as citizens of a society that must protect the institutions fundamental to its well-being.

Bad politicians exist because we vote for caste and money. Bad governance exists because we do not stand up for the “other”. We also must take responsibility for armymen who commit rapes, doctors who monetise our ignorance, and lazy schoolteachers who do not report to school. Kindly add biased, loud media to that list as well.

Paid media exists because we do not hold our media to account. Sensational, unverified, loud, tabloid news exists because we lend them our ears and eyes more than we do to serious stuff.

Demand a better, more credible media that serves you, because we’d otherwise be savages. Demand to know why the channel was banned and if a one-day ban was the best punishment available. But, please do not support anyone who blocks its very existence and freedom.

On November 9, there will be people who will have one less reporter to deal with. Two fewer direct questions to answer. Your corrupt legislator. The non-existent principal of the government school your child goes to. The judge in the court, who seems to favour the ones who wronged you. The kidney-thief doctor at your nearest hospital. The policeman who charges you money to give you your passport.

But, again, don’t back the media just because it keeps in fear those who could wrong us. Back the media, because it represents us and shapes whatever we know and think, even though we may not know it.

Added: (from my reply to a comment on Facebook) Banning the channel for a day instead of trying a judicial remedy for what is clearly a “grave” crime according to the government’s allegation, is symbolic of a larger problem: that of controlling the media’s freedom and creating fear. If the government was more concerned about punishing breach of national security than it is about slowly choking our freedom, it would have filed a case against the channel and looked for legal provisions, instead of resorting to a punishment in proxy.

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