• Thursday, December 18, 2014

Freedom in the air

CROSS TALK

What's the recourse for demeaning the people?

Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

HENRY David Thoreau writes that disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.Cutting through the cacophony, it skims the gravamen of the controversy brewing in this country over the National Broadcast Policy. The government is pushing the policy because it'sworried about the danger of disobedience. The media are resisting because they're afraid of losing their foundation of liberty.

Anybody who wishes to understand this controversy needs to know the difference between obedience and compliance. Obedience is when one does what one is told, failing which could lead one to negative consequences. Compliance is when one agrees with the rules and follows them because it's the ethical thing to do.

Now we're ready to play on both sides of the chessboard. Why on earth is the government painstakingly reinventing the wheel? The answer is that it definitely feels the need to impose certain restrictions on the freedom of the media. It could be for a number of reasons either rooted in the past, or rutted in the present or routed in the future. But one thing is sure that the government feels it should demand obedience from the media. It wants to preempt criticism of what it has done already or is doing right now or is going to do anytime soon.

On the other side of the board, the media are thinking their own thoughts from the compliance angle. It's not sure if it's ethical that the government should interfere with their freedom of expression. Their concern is that the government's justification for the proposed policy could be as mischievous as cuddling the baby to fondle the mother. However much the information minister tries to allay their fear, the media suspect sinister conspiracies behind this initiative to muzzle their voice.

One of the questions making the rounds in public imagination is that, given many more pressing needs, what's the urgency of this particular one. Apparently, the aim of the new policy prescription is to tie up the loose ends. The information minister insists with a straight face that nothing much is going to change. He vouches the media will remain free without so much as a scratch.

The media minds aren't convinced for their own good reasons. They smell rats and, reading between the lines, find minefields of manipulations buried in the policy under its palliative pretext. They fear, given an inch, the government will take a whole yard. They're also tense lest the perfidy of the policy will give a trigger-happy government a gun in its hand so that it can interpret things to its liking and shoot down dissent.

Sigmund Freud lamented in 1933 over the progress of mankind. He said that in the Middle Ages they would have burned him and now they were content with burning his books. In the same tone of voice one can despair over the progress we have made as an independent nation. The British subjugated us, passing their mantle to the Pakistanis. Forty-three years later our own government is grappling with the idea of rationing freedom to us.

Needless to say, censorship of any kind must be a harebrained scheme in this day and age. Given the Internet, cable television and mobile phone penetration, nothing can be more powerful than an idea whose time will come. Surveys show that a recipient of bad news tells it to 11 other people. A dissent suppressed has every chance of spreading on the multiplier effect of words of mouth.

Censorship also has its own characteristic failure for the same inscrutable reason why telling a kid not to watch pornography further stokes his interest. Mark Twain argues that Adam didn't want the apple for the apple's sake, but wanted it because it was forbidden. He also said in good jest that if the serpent were forbidden instead, then Adam would have eaten the serpent.

If the government goes ahead with the refurbished broadcast policy, that will be its own nemesis.It will only draw heightened criticism at home and abroad for being a repressive regime that has resorted to consolidate its illegitimate power by questionable means. In the eyes of the world, this government will make its position more untenable.

Anything that undermines democracy also undermines people, and vice versa.The world takes pity on those who aren't respected by their rulers. That brings us to what should be the most burning issue in our hearts: the dignity of our people.

The proposed National Broadcast Policy has it that anything demeaning the armed forces, law enforcement agencies and government officials, who can punish people for criminal offences, cannot be broadcast. Be that as it may, what about anything that demeans the people and their country? What's the recourse if leaders embarrass them before the rest of the world?

The writer is Editor, First News, and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
Email: Badrul151@yahoo.com

Published: 12:00 am Friday, August 22, 2014

TAGS: national broadcast policy

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