Thursday, May 6, 2010

On The Value Of Talk: Freedom of Speech, Journalists and Fascists

The third of May is marked as World Press Freedom Day. To commemorate this event, the Goa Union of Journalists (GUJ) put together a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Freedom of the Media and Rights of the Reader - Viewer’. To GUJ should go much praise for organizing the event. It allowed not only for an interesting discussion, but also allowed also the articulation of a number of concerns, regarding the security of the Goan press while on the field, as well as placing these concerns before the authorities that matter. In this latter regard, the presence of the current Inspector General of Police, Ms. Nanda was an absolute delight. Unlike some of her predecessors in this post, who were quite frankly uncouth, this lady is in fact a lady. Ms. Nanda is possessed of not just an articulate tongue but charming civility as well. Not only did she present her views in the panel discussion, but wonder of wonders, stayed through the entire event, listening to what other panelists and the audience had to say. May her tribe increase!

In the course of the event, two remarks gave reason to pause and contemplate. The first of these was the remark that the people we should be talking to were not present in the hall. The suggestion was that we were preaching to the choir and since we were all basically in agreement, there was not much of a point to the exercise. The second suggestion was that, there is always so much talk. All we hear is talk. What we need is action, else all the talk is wasted and pointless. It is these two issues that this column would like to respond to.

An interesting position to begin a response to these suggestions would be to address another dictum that is invariably preached to the press. ‘Report the truth’ they are told. ‘Stick to the facts’! This is easier said than done, given that there is no one single ‘Truth’. There are only points of view from which one can report an event. Each perspective provides us with one way to experience the reported event, and together, with all the conflicting reporting (that results from the different perspectives) we could perhaps hazard a guess as to the event. But the truth itself? The truth is something that we will never, ever fully grasp.

From this position then, we can move towards addressing the rather pessimistic suggestions that surfaced at GUJ’s commemorative event. The first suggestion, which implies a wasted exercise since we are all of one mind, assumes that we are all in fact in the possession of the truth. Our point of view (in this case, left leaning) is the final word and we are all in full and total possession of this truth. Since we are now in possession of this truth, what more is there to learn? Thus we come to these functions only to perform the moral obligation of swelling numbers and keeping up morale. Or so the story goes. If however, we dispense with this rather arrogant and frankly, deluded assumption, a whole other world opens up. We can realize that we share a certain perspective with other people. This perspective however, is always only partial, and additionally open to renewal. Situations and contexts could help us nuance this understanding. A new experience could cause us to shift focus and emphasis. An abandoning of this ‘truth’ assumption, allows us to be open to newer experiences and ways of looking at the world, even if it is from within the confines of our ideological team. It helps us to grow and learn.

Abandoning the ‘truth’ position allows us to arrive at another conclusion that would help address the other critical suggestion encountered at the GUJ initiated discussion. If one is unable to arrive at the truth, then one is unable to arrive at a solution. Indeed, if recent human political history has taught us anything, then it is that we should run a mile from those who promise us a final solution. These solution providers have cost us too many lives, and too much blood. Abandoning the truth position and recognizing that there are a number of perspectives on the problem, does not however necessarily lead to social, political or even intellectual paralysis. On the contrary, merely because we realize there is no solution, it does not mean that our point of view cannot lead toward alleviating the trouble. A little push here, some silence there, a pull at the right moment, and we could alleviate the problem. In this process, the problem does not remain the same. Thanks to our interventions, small and personal as they may be, the scenario, and hence the problem changes again. A whole new world once more opens up before us. Cause for more contemplation, discussion, and an attempt, be it private or communal, towards alleviation of the issue. Gandhi would have called this karma yoga. In eschewing the grand political mobilization, that has so often led us to social violence, perhaps it is the better solution.

The point that this column seeks to make, is that this general call for action, the kind that remarks on the pointlessness of discussion, is at the end of the day, a thinking that stems from arrogance and a tendency to fascist thinking. We should not forget that the leaders of State socialism were as fascist as their colleagues in Western Europe. Being left leaning therefore, does not necessarily make us better than the rightists. What is scary about the rightists is their refusal to dialogue, their firm belief that their point of view has a truth value, and their commitment to action, to see it through, regardless of the dissension that may exist around them. As good leftist boys and girls, we don’t want to go down that path do we?

(First Published in the Gomantak Times 5 May 2010)

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