Press freedom: Is it absolute?

Lata Jain

India is a democracy. Therefore, the Indian media has the right to free speech. But, does it mean the media has absolute freedom to publish anything?

Maybe, sometimes it goes overboard, leading to accusations of misusing press freedom. When someone has a right or freedom which gives power to an individual or a group of people, there will always be some who misuse that ‘power’. Nevertheless, they must know where to draw the line.

lata jain

Lata Jain

A case in point is Outlook magazine’s article on Smita Sabharwal, an IAS officer in the Telangana Chief Minister’s Office. The piece, that appeared in a column called ‘Deep Throat,’ refers to how the lady bureaucrat is seen as ‘eye candy’ at meetings, as she chooses to make “fashion statements with her lovely saris.”

A legal notice has been sent to Outlook for derogatory and sexist remark.

Incidentally, Merin Joseph, a trainee IPS officer from Kerala, had faced the “same” kind of remarks about her personality.

Meanwhile, thanks to media in general and social media in particular, Smita Sabharwal has become a centre of attention for all wrong reasons. A satirical illustration that appeared along with the article in the magazine has also been making rounds on the social media. The attention the article is getting is also because of her popularity and reputation of being at the forefront of several projects as a district collector and now in the CMO.

While a legal notice has been sent and Smita Sabharwal is waiting for a rejoinder, many fail to understand why the IAS officer is making it obvious that Outlook magazine has written a derogatory article about her.

Many wonder whether the magazine is gaining popularity by publishing such articles and whether Smita Sabharwal’s interaction with channels of communication on “insensitive remarks” about her has unwittingly drawn more public attention which otherwise would not have been possible with the magazine’s readership.

Among the questions being asked, was such a sexist and personal comment warranted in an article about her professional record, which otherwise acknowledges the constraints she is functioning under? Is this the extent to which journalists go when they do negative stories?

What is the litmus test to decide that one person’s private life is public business and another’s public life is private business? These are questions the media will have to answer if it is to retain the last dregs of its already strained credibility. But there is not a squeak of protest or admonishment when journalists indulge in personal attacks while writing. Is that fair?

In recent times, anger about humiliating portrayal of women by the media has grown at feverish pitch.

The social stigma a woman faces when such articles are written is immense. Suddenly, her attire, behavior and interpersonal relationships come under scanner. She becomes a topic of discussion both inside and outside office. With the explosion of social media, it is easy for anyone to say anything about, well, anything! So the news people, of all others, need to be careful where and how they gather data.

2 Responses

  1. I’d like to narrate a real story :
    1945
    place:London
    context:deep recession after 2nd world war
    scene:people standing in Q at ration store
    problem:people were carrying umbrella,for London weather is unpredictable.A lady’s umbrella noke touching the nostrils of the protagonist gentleman in the story standing behind the lady.
    Man:””Maám,would you please mind your umbrella?””
    Lady:after exchange of few unpleasantries shouts””I don’t care-I’m a free ciitizen of Great Britain!””
    Man:not losing his cool quips””maám,your freedom ends at the tip of my nose!””

    • I’d like to narrate a real story :
      1945
      place:London
      context:deep recession after 2nd world war
      scene:people standing in Q at ration store
      problem:people were carrying umbrella,for London weather is unpredictable.A lady’s umbrella noke touching the nostrils of the protagonist gentleman in the story standing behind the lady.
      Man:””Maám,would you please mind your umbrella?””
      Lady:after exchange of few unpleasantries shouts””I don’t care-I’m a free ciitizen of Great Britain!””
      Man:not losing his cool quips””maám,your freedom ends at the tip of my nose!””

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