Media personnel covering parliamentary proceedings have come under fire for not reporting some speeches in full. It is reported that they are now under pressure to carry statements that politicians make, without anything being edited out.
We grant that the media must not distort what parliamentarians say inside the House, or elsewhere for that matter, and if mistakes occur in their reports, they must be promptly corrected. But, on no ground could it be conceded that everything that MPs utter must be carried verbatim. For, newspapers are different from the Hansard and journalists from stenographers.
If each and every word that MPs utter is to be reported, there is no need for journalists to go through the bother of sitting in the parliamentary press gallery for hours on end. Copies of the Hansard reports could be delivered, maybe a few days after a sitting, to all publishing houses for reproduction in their pages. But, the problem is that in such an eventuality the newspapers will have to pay the public not the other way around to read those reports!
It was only the other day that we argued in these columns that the media must desist from joining forces with politicians in a bid to protect their rights. Politicians, save a few, are never desirous of having a free press around. They only want the media to be independent of their rivals. That`s all! Seeking politicians` help to protect media rights is, therefore, like entrusting the safety of poultry to a fox!
Politicians usually become good (or less bad) when they are relegated to the dustbin of politics aka the Opposition. During the past few years we have seen the Opposition politicians shouting slogans together with media personnel at various protests against the suppression of the freedom of expression. They parade in funeral processions of slain journalists denouncing as they do their rivals for attacks on media persons. They also thunder from political platforms about the need to protect the media and democracy. But, they lay bare their true face when their interests are threatened.
If politicians out of power are capable of issuing fatwa on media persons or using the bludgeon of privileges on them unflinchingly, how dictatorial they would be, if they were elected to power, goes without saying. In fact, we have seen them in action! Media rights outfits should know better than to invite such hypocritical elements to join their campaigns to protect press freedom.
Forcing the media to publish something or to black it out is as bad as assaulting journalists. Neither the government nor the Opposition must be allowed to play Big Brother and frighten the media into submission. For, at the receiving end of such repressive action is democracy. It is too dangerous to allow politicians to tell reporters how to report and editors how to edit and, most of all, to issue veiled threats. However, they may reserve the right to do so only with regard to the scribes of easy virtue willing to lick boots.
What moral right does anyone who seeks to suppress the rights of the media have to call the Press Council law draconian?
Thomas Jefferson famously said, `Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.` These words of wisdom equally apply to the Opposition` as well, don t they?
It was a supreme irony that Jefferson, too, came to despise the press during his tumultuous presidency. (He was a politician, eh?)
We have a situation where politicians are trying to safeguard their privileges at the expense of the rights of the media. The right thinking people of this country, we believe, will agree with us that rights must always take precedence over privileges.