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Kolkata: Free Press is one of the Preconditions for Democracy, Says Senior Journalist Sashi Kumar

The well-known journalist lamented attacks on independent media at a public meeting to observe the 58th anniversary of Bengali daily Ganashakti.

Images by Sandip Chakraborty

Kolkata: Independent journalism is a yardstick to measure how efficient democracy is in the country, said Sashi Kumar, veteran journalist and chairman of Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, at an event here on Wednesday to observe the 58th anniversary of Ganashakti, a progressive Bengali daily newspaper.

The well-known journalist said a democracy should have versatile independent media outlets serving news with every possible angle, and lamented that in the present times, a wide range of media outlets had succumbed to the ruling party's troll army, or were under their pressure and only present the take of the ruling party.

“A free press is one of the preconditions for democracy,” he added.

Sashi Kumar said he expected that newspapers such Ganashakti would not be so fragile in the future as to succumb under the power politics of the ruling party.

Ganashakti, a leading progressive daily of West Bengal, now run by a trust, observed its 58th birth anniversary here on Wednesday.

The Left-leaning newspaper, which began in1967 as the state’s first eveninger, became a morning daily in 1986. It describes itself as the “torchbearer of the toiling masses”. Thereafter, it went through rapid transformation under editors, such as Saroj Mukherjee, Anil Biswas and Avik Dutta.

Addressing the well-attended gathering at PDG Auditorium here, the newspaper’s current editor, Shamik Lahiri, said that in the past 58 years, Ganashakti had faced many ups and downs. “It is not only a daily newspaper, but a movement which caters to the larger people’s movement perspective. It will never surrender to reactionary forces,” he said.

Earlier, in his address, Sashi Kumar highlighted that news dailies like Ganashakti had a dedicated reader base, because of which they won't succumb to the overtures of the ruling parties. 

The senior journalist said in a true democracy, the citizens should be privy to a wide range of information. Only then an elected democracy gets its real ramifications. Otherwise only the right to elect a government does not tantamount to democracy.

“In fact, Hitler, too, won in one such election to take over the reins of his country and fascism started in Europe”, he added.

Kumar added that in India, the ruling coterie was using “censorship in different avatars to suppress news.” 

He quoted the sarcastic remark of ace legal mind and constitutional expert, Fali Nariman, that now freedom of expression is there, but after expression, there is no freedom. “Freedom after speech – that is really what freedom of speech is all about,” Nariman had said.

Kumar cited the attack being rained on digital news portal Newsclick and arrests of journalists as an example. He said under Section 19(1)a of the Constitution, every citizen has been given the  right of free speech and the next clause 19(2) has mentioned the reasonable restrictions to the earlier clause.

The veteran journalist said “rationality was at an all-time low” and that UAPA (anti-terror law) and such like draconian Acts are being used to rob the independence of independent media of the country.

CPI(M) state secretary Mohd Salim and Left Front chairman Biman Basu highlighted the arduous 58-year-long journey of the Ganashakti from an eveninger to a broadsheet. They also called for revival of Leftist ideals in the state for a “new renaissance” aimed at marginalising the divisive and communal forces, such as RSS and TMC.

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