Parliamentary elections in India are around and political parties are doing their best to win the confidence of the people. While seeking vote, every party comes with manifesto- a public declaration of policy and aims- especially one issued before an election.
Following the tradition, Rahul Gandhi, the president of the grand old party Congress, on Tuesday released party’s manifesto titled ‘Congress will deliver’. The manifesto addresses issues like job creation, agrarian distress, strengthening the education and health sectors besides charting a roadmap to boost economic growth. In addition to simplifying Goods and Service Tax (GST), addressing the issues of Dalits atrocities, women security, internal security and border security, the one striking issue in the manifesto is to regulating the unchecked media freedom.
On the issue of media freedom, the Congress alleged that the sections of media have abused or surrendered their freedom in the last few years. The manifesto promises to pass a law to curb monopolies in the media, cross-ownership of different segments of the media and control of the media by other business organisations. It will refer cases of suspected monopolies to the Competition Commission of India.
The manifesto also promised to amend the toothless Press Council of India Act to protect “freedom of the journalists, uphold editorial independence and guard against government interference”, apart from empowering the council to deal with fake and paid news.
The 1978 Press Council Act is meant for preserving the freedom of the press and maintaining and improving the standards of newspapers and news agencies in India. The manifesto also promises to pass a law to preserve the freedom of the Internet and to prevent arbitrary and frequent shutdowns of the Internet.
The manifesto promises to work with state governments to formulate rules to require the police to extend protection to journalists working in conflict areas or investigating matters of public interest and to journalists whose lives are threatened or otherwise in danger.
The party also aims to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1927 to restrict censorship of films to grounds of national security and obscenity promising to direct the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to certify films according to transparent and reasonable criteria.
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Among other things, the Congress manifesto also promises to scrap the ‘opaque’ electoral bond scheme which was designed to favour the ruling party and set up a National Election Fund to which contributions can be made to the recognised political parties as per the law laid down.
We live in an era where the media has become the government’s lapdog. It is an era where the media has itself become a threat to democracy. Many journalists termed it ‘Lapdog media’ (Godi media) and the ‘Bhajan mandali’. In this critical time for media, the congress party’s promise to regulate and curb media monopoly is a welcome step.