A word for my fraternity

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Taking the press freedom and right to information laws at face value Iftikhar Gilani reported fearlessly and objectively without caring for any perceived or real national interest. He has a word of caution for fellow journalists.

Journalism means several things. Besides having a nose for news and knowledge of rules of grammar and composition inside out and upside down, a journalist is also required to understand the nuances and sensitivities of the people operating our system. A journalist, who is fool enough to ignore this lesson, has to pay through his nose for this serious “lapse” sometimes in terms of his liberty.

Journalism is a risky profession. One can realize the fact when he ventures to tread a path of neutrality- deciding to report the information received without fear or favour. Belief in the right to information of the public is a dangerous creed for a journalist. The journalists know it well. Those who dare to practice this creed come across a myriad web of governmental agencies and vested interest groups. Discretion, a euphemism for withholding information from the readership, is the key word. Indiscretion or indulging in supply of information without fear or favour is dangerous.

To the misfortune of some elements within various governmental agencies like Intelligence Bureau, etc. and other vested interest groups, pursuing professional journalism in a fair and objective manner is not an offence under any law of the country. Rather it has been guaranteed as a fundamental right. In fact, during the period of my detention the parliament enacted “The Freedom of Information Act”, which was later converted into Right to Information Act with “the objective of having a stable, honest, transparent and efficient Government”.

I committed the folly of seriously believing in the written word. And the reward: seven months free hospitality of the government at Tihar Central Jail.

Life is indeed a continuous journey of experiences. However, it rarely happens that somebody’s triumph or tragedy brings out lessons for the whole society.

My story is a story of temerity, trial, and triumph. The story has a beginning and an end for me as an individual. However, the plot, the melodrama, and the tricks involved in my case have not ended. These tactics, I believe, are still at work against someone somewhere by the same or other sets of people.

Delhi is a hub of the most powerful and mighty people in India – some in the politics, some in the bureaucracy and some in not-so-visible intelligence services. Some of these people are really ingenious, creative and imaginative in handling the system. Their ingenuity lies in using or putting it correctly subverting the system in such a manner that nobody can claim or prove that they have done anything wrong. These crafty individuals are at ease with the system, in fact enjoying the fruits of acting in “good faith to protect the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country.”

The rhetoric of “national security” has primarily been aimed at domestic constituency by various governments worldwide. It shall be pertinent to note that use of national security concerns to obtain petty political gains has caused havoc in respect of individual freedoms. In fact, all political parties in India have exploited the issue to the maximum whenever opportunity arose. Enactments like Armed Forces Special Powers Act, Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), Public Safety Act, National Security Act, Official Secrets Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), Public Safety Act (PSA) and Unlawful Activities (prevention) Act have played a significant role in converging the interests of corrupt law-enforcement officialdom and the militaristic political class.

In such a situation, the media has a crucial role in informing and educating the people regarding the state of affairs. Press in India has largely been free. It has played a significant role in nurturing democracy here. However, it seems that some sections of media falter whenever any issue is projected as a “national security concern”.

Heterogeneity of society, convergence of interests of the political class and sections of law enforcement agencies provide an ideal atmosphere to evade accountability. Lack of accountability has led to emergence of parallel power centers within the government.

A lesson for my fraternity. Rubbing shoulders with powers or acting as moles or cohorts on their behalf in the media is no guarantee for your safety and security. Only credibility, objectivity and forthrightness are virtues to help you to come out unscathed from adverse situation.

(The writer is author of Penguin’s 2005 best seller ‘My Days in Prison’. Urdu version of the book ‘Tihar Kay Shab-o-Roz’ won 2008 Sahitya Akademi Award)

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