What can I say?
When the fourth estate, the sturdiest pillar of democracy cuts away not just at its own roots but also hacks at the constitutional heart of this country, then what is left to say? Apparently, the Lok Sabha elections were not much different, although clearly, media managements and marketing teams seem to be refining the system each time we go to the polls.
I really don't know what to make of 'freedom of the press' these days. People in traditional news media keep worrying and debating about whether the business is dying. Perhaps they should do something to hasten its demise instead.
Do we not do our utmost to ensure free and fair elections? Do we not express outrage at booth-capturing, or attempts at influencing votes through distribution of cash, liquor or even expensive food items? Do we not declare elections days 'dry days' for this reason? Do we not place deadlines on campaigns, and do we not prevent threats, intimidation and hate speech?
Why do we do all this, if not to ensure that democracy works as best as it can, in its own muddling, bumbling way? And how can we bring ourselves to stand by and watch this happen?
I vote for a constitutional intervention. Let there be more stringent laws. There have to be limits to selling 'space'. If newspapers and television channels have so little self-respect, so little understanding of what their jobs mean, so little love for freedom or faith in the power of word and image, then they deserve to be regulated.
In fact, there already is a law that says: "Whoever voluntarily interferes or attempts to interfere with the free exercise of any electoral right commits the offence of undue influence at an election. (171C(1) The punishment for the offence of undue influence is prescribed under Section 171 F of IPC, which says punishment of imprisonment up to one year or fine or both could be imposed." But perhaps, this is not punishment enough.
I, as a citizen of this country and a journalist, want those who are guilty to be sued. I want them to be fined for at least an amount equivalent of what they have collectively earned through the last Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, and I want the money put into a trust which ought to go into a national body of ombudsmen, or an independent body of media watchdogs, with a legal cell attached.
And yes, I want all those candidates who paid off the media to be disqualified, and to be barred from contesting again for the next ten years.
Now, somebody please go file a public interest petition. Let the courts decide. Let the lawmakers decide. But for our own sakes, let us put a stop to this.