London, July 11 (PTI): Any initiatives aimed at strengthening media freedom around the world should be focused on deepening the democratic traditions and steer clear of being agenda driven, senior media representatives from India said here on Thursday.
A three-member Indian media delegation, including Prasar Bharati Chairman Dr A Surya Prakash, Rajya Sabha MP and journalist Swapan Dasgupta, and journalist and political analyst Kanchan Gupta, are in the UK to attend the first Global Conference for Media Freedom co-hosted by the UK and Canadian governments.
“All initiatives for strengthening media freedom are welcome across the world but the only aim should be deepening democratic traditions,” Prakash told PTI on the sidelines of the conference.
“India is not only the world’s largest but also the most vibrant democracy. Such a democratic environment provides a natural vent for all opinions and views,” he said.
Making a specific reference to a 2019 World Press Freedom Index which had placed India at 140th position out of around 180 countries, the Prasar Bharati chief questioned the analysis behind such an index. He said: “Some of the countries placed ahead of India are not even democracies; there are some non-democracies or quasi democracies on that list.
“To put such nations way ahead of India smacks of some kind of an agenda in the preparation of the list itself. We are not furthering the cause of democracy by running India down this way. Being the world’s biggest democracy, press and media freedom is a direct by-product as a result in India.” He also highlighted some facts and figures on the “media boom” in India over the last 20 years as a sign of the vibrancy of democracy in the country.
In reference to the print media, the circulation of daily newspapers and periodicals stood at 53 million in 1990 and jumped to 430 million in 2018. The daily print order of newspapers stood at 22.6 million in 1990 and went up to 242 million in 2018.
A crucial factor unique to India, he pointed out, was that all these print media publications are published in dozens of languages because India has an estimated 121 languages and 270 dialects up and down the country.
As for the broadcast segment, the number of television homes was at 80 million in 2002 and last year it shot up to 197 million and in terms of radio, the number of FM channels in 2008 stood at 210, which has risen to 324 in 2018.
“This kind of a media boom and growth would not be possible without a healthy and happy democracy,” said Prakash.
Describing the first-of-its-kind Global Conference for Media Freedom as “work in progress”, fellow delegate Dasgupta also sounded a note of caution on a disturbing activist-driven agenda that should not lead to an attempt to impose a particular kind of politics or democracy on other nations.
“This is a very agenda driven conference. The rationale for it is not all that apparent to begin with,” said Dasgupta. He noted: “The ostensible reason is to provide some succour and help to journalists in vulnerable conflict zones or journalists who may be in danger from their own repressive regimes. That is the non-exceptional part. There is however a disturbing element.
“Looking at it, I suspect there is an underlying agenda which is that a particular version of democracy and the media is sought to be, very subtly, made the dominant narrative.”
Describing both the host nations, Britain and Canada, as friendly countries, the senior journalist said it is relevant to stay engaged freely with such initiatives and continue to air any misgivings India may have.